Written by Jean Hodges, PFLAG National President, 2014-2018, and a long-time member of First United Methodist Church of Boulder.
In 2016 I was honored to be invited to participate in a backyard wedding of Sarah and Susanna, the lesbian couple who are my son and his partner’s best friends. The wedding date was set for August 13, 61 years to the day that my recently-deceased husband and I were married. They had been together over twenty years, so I had to ask why they decided to marry now? “Because they could” was the obvious answer. But our conversation went deeper than that, and is worth recalling now as we mark the five-year anniversary of Marriage Equality.
Why did you decide to marry? Why have a wedding ceremony with friends and family? Why include me? Our thoughtful conversation can be summed up in three words: Equality, Community, and Orlando. I was proud to articulate their thoughts at their wedding.
“You two have been together for 25 years, why have you decided to get married now?”
Sarah and Susanna believed that Marriage Equality matters! They stand on the shoulders of those who have struggled for decades for the time when equal dignity before the law was a reality. Sarah wanted her grandchildren to know that truth. To ignore that costly accomplishment is to deny the importance of sacrifices made by generations of those who made this moment possible. To live this long for this moment in history and witness this new birth of freedom demands for same gender loving couples that they claim that right to marry by owning it in a “public” celebration.
On June 25th, 2015, when marriage equality for same-sex couples became the law of the land, equal rights for committed same sex couples finally flowed from the Supreme Court in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s eloquent affirmation:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
Since 2015 the marriage rate for gay and lesbian couples has soared. In 2017 Gallup estimated that 61% of same sex couples were married versus 38% before the ruling. Most newspapers today include wedding announcements of all couples without discrimination. In the Sunday, May 17, 2020, Vows section of The New York Times, an article about lesbian couples entitled, “The Power to Name a Bond” affirmed the power of naming their relationship: “This is my wife.” No ambiguity now in naming their relationships. Progress in LGBTQ equality allows their relationships a narrative of legitimacy.
“Getting married is one thing, but why did you decide to have a wedding?”
Marriage is a legally-binding social institution. Traditionally a wedding ritualizes the depth of commitment through promises made in the presence of friends and family. A wedding is a time for the community of those who love and support the couple to encircle them with that love and witness their solemn commitment to a long-term relationship. It cements the deal!
The presence of so many friends was a delightful surprise for Sarah and Susanna. They sent out invitations more as an announcement with low expectations that people would attend. To their surprise and delight, “We’re coming!” responses came from near and far— friends in Mexico, Canada, and family in Switzerland. “We never knew that people would care so much to make the effort,” they told me. Their wedding guests filled their backyard with communal joy! A wedding can transcend social distance; it elevates and affirms the couple to expand this special celebration of love.
The reality that laws don’t automatically erase hate came with tragic consequences in June, 2016, when a shooter entered Pulse, a gay Nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring many more. The year after Marriage Equality was a deeply sad time for LGBTQ communities everywhere.
My role was to speak on their behalf and add my personal affirmation as a PFLAG mom, representing some 200 chapters of families who love their gay family members unconditionally. We understand that gay marriage is about more than a private affair between two people who love each other and agree to be life partners.
I could easily imagine that some of their friends would say with a smile, “Well, finally! They waited long enough!” Others of their younger friends would think to themselves: “Who needs a marriage ceremony? Isn’t their being together for so long enough to prove that they’re married?” We all know about the 2010 census statistics that reveal that more and more couples are living together without legal marriage. Times are changing, especially as fewer couples are no longer part of traditional faith communities.
The power to name a bond: new narratives are being created in 2020.