When my friends asked me if I would officiate at their New York wedding, I did not take it very seriously. I am not a clergyman. I am not even religious. I thought it was hilarious that I could be ordained online in five minutes and that I could pick my own title: Deacon, Minister, Goddess, Child of the Universe, Apostle of Humility, all for just $13.99. When I told my partner Brian, a costume designer, we had a good laugh as we conjured up outfits I could wear that had me looking like a drag queen pope. My cavalier attitude was somewhat justifiable. After all, we live in Pennsylvania, where gay marriage is as real as the Tooth Fairy or Brigadoon. Unfortunately, Paul and Mark had chosen me to officiate because amongst their friends, I was the most likely to handle the job with a certain level of respectability. So I hid my smirk and said yes.
One rainy morning a week before the wedding, Brian and I drove to the City Clerk's office in Manhattan to officially register me as officiant. We waited for about an hour until my number was called, all the time watching the hustle and bustle of hundreds of other wedding planners and participants. Couples straight and gay were being married, dressed in tuxes and gowns on a Tuesday morning, trailed by loved ones with camcorders filming everything. There were tears and hugs, and lots of congratulations thrown around. People assumed Brian and I were there to get our marriage license. We just smiled and accepted their well-meaning glances. We have never really discussed getting married to any serious extent. Pennsylvania is far from legalizing same-sex marriage any time soon. But the New York hoopla and excitement made me realize how real and how important this was in the lives of these other people.
When my number was finally called, I had a new appreciation of what I was doing for Paul and Mark. I handed in my paperwork and showed all the necessary documents stating that I was, in fact, ordained. The clerk pulled out a giant, leather-bound book for me to sign. Under a dozen others' signatures, I added my name and my self-appointed title: Right Reverend. I figured that didn't sound too over-the-top. And also, I liked the idea that I could tell Brian that I am officially right all the time.
Paul and Mark have been together for 25 years, and they had a commitment ceremony at the start of their relationship. For their 25th anniversary, they willingly entered the wedding machine: choosing color schemes and invitations, planning seating arrangements, etc. People have been getting married for thousands of years, and now it is finally the gays' turn. Who wouldn't want to dive right in? Actually, Brian and I weren't ready to jump the broom so, when we were finished, we promptly found a bar and drank some happy hour drinks.
A week later we returned to New York for the actual ceremony in a private little cove on a Central Park lake. As we walked to the place, Brian (best man) and I (officiant) were again mistaken for the married couple, and we received lots of congratulations. We did not correct anyone's assumption. It was nice to be in this alternative universe where almost everyone wishes you well and marriage between two men is seen as charming, hip and romantic -- very different from being called "faggot" on the streets of Philadelphia and having a soda thrown on me by a passing car.
I chose to wear a simple, grey, pin-striped suit with a burnt orange tie. This matched Paul and Mark's plans and color schemes much better than the fuchsia chasuble and mitre that Brian and I had dreamed up. I also wore a stole, which is a tasteful piece of fabric draped around the shoulders. Brian made it with a rainbow ribbon running through it. This one touch was the only sign that this wedding was a "gay" wedding. Well, that and the fact that the wedding couple had two penises.
During the ceremony, Paul cried and Mark choked up. As I spoke the final words, "By the power vested in me by the state of New York...," I noticed that the guests were all teary, too. As the couple sealed their vows with a kiss, a great cheer went up from the dozens of previously unseen onlookers standing on the other side of the lake. It was lovely. I felt guilty for having been so flippant about the whole thing when I was first asked to participate.
Now, a few weeks later, we are all back to our daily routines in Pennsylvania. It is like a mirage, my friends' marriage. You can see it so clearly in the distance, but when you get up close, it doesn't really exist. Well, it does exist for them, clearly; Paul and Mark do love each other, and their commitment is genuine. However, in our home state, their marriage does not legally count. I find it odd and somewhat infuriating that we could travel just a short distance to some Shangri-La where gay people can wed and crowds applaud in celebration, only to return home to file separate tax forms with "single" checked at the top of the form.
As a result of our experiences, Brian and I are now starting conversations with, "Well, when we get married...," and, "For my wedding, I want...." Brian is also fond of saying, "I don't see any ring on my finger yet." But, really, why bother going through all that trouble if marrying is not legal in our own home state? Did Paul and Mark make the right choice? Well, yes. For them. Brian and I will wait until Pennsylvania changes its laws. And, in the years we have to bide our time, we will dream up some really fabulous outfits for our own wedding.
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