I got married in New York City on Saturday, March 31, 2012, to my partner of 24 years. I thought planning and executing a wedding, not to mention a nontraditional one, would be a major headache, with the added problems of dealing with friends and family. It was the greatest moment of our lives, and the most profound "family values" moment I've ever experienced.
All along we wanted to have some sort of show. A memorable wedding in New York last year was a Four Seasons restaurant extravaganza that featured the Naval ROTC Honor Guard, the Gay Men's Chorus, and Aretha Franklin as the wedding singer. Since Aretha was unavailable, we opted for a simple show with talented friends from the New York theater and cabaret community.
Once we decided on the date, we contacted an event planner, who assured us that an event at a suitable Manhattan venue with liquor, catering, chairs, tables, flowers, lighting, sound, decorations, staff, musicians, and photographer would require the budget of a Wall Street insider trader. I also discovered that many venues engage in creative price gouging for gullible couples hoping to impress friends, family, and business associates. Forget it. We wanted a simple yet classy and entertaining event, not the Oscars. And the father of the bride would not be paying, because there was no bride.
I then got the idea to hold the wedding in a beautiful cabaret space I'd worked in dozens of times. Far from recoiling from hosting such an event in his establishment, the owner offered us a great package, including cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, waiters, staff, lighting, sound, piano, everything. It was all already there. All we had to do was show up.
We wanted some loot to replace the dilapidated kitchen items we'd had since college, not to mention the bedclothes destroyed by the cats, so we decided to register. Because Macy's solicited gay couples to register the moment marriage equality passed in New York last June, we went with them. They were very agreeable and treated us like a typical bride and groom from New Jersey. But to or surprise, they had still not changed the "Bride" and "Groom" categories on the registry to include gay couples, so for the register record, I was the bride. My dad laughed that he was suddenly the father of the bride, but he still would not be paying. But to my great joy, he and my mom would be singing. And, just for the record, they are conservative Christians in their '80s.
We contacted six friends, all professional entertainers, to possibly perform. Every one of them immediately said yes. We also learned that deciding whom to omit from a wedding invite list is a painful ordeal, but because we were limited to around 90 people, we started with family and filled the remaining spots with our closest friends. Everyone who could possibly come said yes, many of them undoubtedly curious as to what an event like this would be. We would have loved to invite at least 75 more, but there would have been nowhere for them to sit.
Weeks before the wedding, gifts began arriving: wine glasses, Cuisinarts, knives, dishes, china, comforters, sheets, even the Martha Stewart Rotating Spice Carousel. It seemed that the invited guests were taking our marriage as seriously as we were. People came out of the woodwork to offer their best wishes. I started hearing from octogenarian peers of my parents I hadn't heard from in years, most of them fellow Southern conservative Christians, all sending us their love and congratulations.
The Monday before the wedding, we went to City Hall to get our license. Far from being an Earth-shattering event in history, it was like waiting in line at Whole Foods: "Now... serving... A... 160... at... window... seven." When we approached window seven, the bored clerk said, in a New York accent that could cut through built-up bacon grease, "OK, I need ya driver's licenses, a credit cahd, and $35," with all the gravitas of collecting a traffic ticket. After we got the license, we posed for a picture in front of the same City Hall backdrop where countless couples have posed. The assembled couples, all straight, applauded us. I thought, "So, this is what destroying the institution of marriage feels like."
The ceremony was a transcendent experience, with far greater impact than we expected. The performers knocked it out of the park, giving a show anyone in the room would have paid to see, and at the end of the show, my parents sang. I knew what to expect, having watched them sing all my life, but the crowd didn't know what hit them. Most of the room was sobbing. Friends came up to my parents later and said, "That was incredible. My parents would never have done that."
Then we had the actual ceremony, which was moving, hilarious, and, yes, sacred. My best friend, at whose wedding I was best man 30 years ago, was my best man. And I don't care what anyone says: even after 24 years together, when you say marriage vows in front of a room full of people, you feel different afterwards. You feel whole. You feel like you have made a commitment before family, friends, and God.
That audience of family and friends included Orthodox Jews, conservative Christians, Indians, New Yorkers both gay and straight, blacks, Arabs, Latinos, and Asians. All that was missing were the Amish. The oldest in the room was 94 and the youngest 17. Everyone in the room felt the same thing: an avalanche of love.
I share all this not because I want to say, "Look at me, I had a big old gay wedding," but because I had never truly realized how much our family and friends really love and support us, and how much America's anti-gay marriage zealots live in an alternative reality. They just don't live in the real world. Unless it's an Alabama shotgun wedding or a quickie drunken lark in Vegas, a wedding is a serious expression of love and commitment between two people. It isn't, as thrice-married serial adulterer Newt Gingrich said, a hallmark of the "rise of paganism" and a "fundamental violation of our civilization."
The fundamentalist Christians just don't get it. Marriage equality is the very definition of "family values." It brought our New York family together with our North Carolina family in a way that was not possible before. It solidified an already solid relationship in the eyes of everyone. It was everything a wedding should be. It wasn't a "gay wedding" -- it was a wedding. If you have problems with this, you really need to get out more.
I wish that Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum could have seen it. They would have loved my parents. Maybe they would have given us a toaster.
Jim David's first comic novel, You'll Be Swell, is available on Amazon and other online outlets.
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