So there I was, standing on the altar, swaying back and forth anxiously as the clergyman read the passage: "Christian marriage is between a man and a woman."
I felt a pang. To me it sounded like a George Bush advertisement straight out of his 2004 political campaign. I felt excluded.
But now was not the time and place to speak up. This was not my wedding; it was my close friend John's. In fact, it wasn't even the wedding, it was the rehearsal. And if John and his bride Maria, both devout Christians, had selected a pastor who wanted to read that line, who was I to stop them? After all, I knew how John felt about gay people -- he loved us! He is one of my closest friends, and I knew that one day, when I get married, he'd be just as thrilled to be a groomsman as I was for him.
So I let myself feel the momentary pain, and moved on.
The next day, I woke up early, shaved, showered, put on my suit and prepared myself for my role: the ring bearer. I was intently focused on my one goal: not to lose the ring. My nervousness was mixed with joy for my dear friend as we approached the church. I can barely remember the details, though it happened just a few short days ago. All I can envision is a swirl of dresses and suits and photo shoots galore.
We walked down the aisle, smiles beaming from side to side. I proudly stepped up to the altar and readied myself for the 45 minutes of standing that I was about to do -- and, of course, the passing of the rings to the pastor. As the service began, I would continue to fidget about to make sure I had the rings, checking every minute or two to make sure they hadn't gone anywhere.
Then, as I was halfway between dazed and confused, the pastor's voice boomed, "Christian marriage is between two people who...." My ears perked up. I immediately looked at John. I couldn't catch his eye, but I found Maria's. She winked. I smiled and winked back. I couldn't believe it; I instantly relaxed. As I confirmed later that evening, Maria had talked to the pastor about changing the words. I thanked her profusely. I told her that as far as I'm concerned, she's got the gay vote. She laughed. We hugged and said our goodbyes, and I wished the new couple health and happiness as they started their new journey together.
I've come to appreciate several things from this event. One is the courage and sensitivity shown by Maria in talking the pastor into changing his words at the ceremony. Someone who barely knows me was considerate enough to think of how I might feel hearing such exclusionary language. And for the act of speaking up when I could not, I will always be grateful to her. The second thing I realized is the importance of being out of the closet. I was the only out gay person at this wedding. If it hadn't been for the simple fact of my presence, this issue may not have even come up. Shoot, my friend John didn't even notice the problematic passage! But not out of maliciousness in the least. Straight people often don't think about the language they use (for example, the use of the word "gay" to mean "bad," "stupid," "unfair," etc.), or how it could hurt. Gay people's mere presence can effect a change in the way straight people talk and act toward gays and toward each other.
So whenever you despair of our dysfunctional political system, or that gay marriage or workplace protections are not a reality; whenever you get depressed reading about the latest Tea Party antics or homophobic religious leader sleeping with gay prostitutes; whenever you see a judge, state or voter try to take away equal protection under the law, think of my story. No, a word change at a devout Christian wedding will not change these unfortunate problems that we must fight to fix. Indeed, after all this, I don't even know Maria's personal opinion on these matters. But what I do know is this: if we keep on being true to ourselves, if we have straight allies who are sensitive and supportive of our cause, we will ultimately win this struggle, because in the end, we are changing American culture for the better, to be a more inclusive, caring society. And just as I experienced a momentary pain, which ended up becoming a long-term gain, I hope that so, too, may we see the all-too-often-dashed hopes and dreams of our country's GLBT community realized in the years to come.
Note: Although the story is real, the names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.