A little over a year ago, I attended my High School reunion, marking twenty-five years since graduation. One very significant thing happened at that get together. I renewed a friendship with my eighth grade girlfriend. We met at the informal gathering on the Friday evening before the official reunion and caught up each other on our lives since we last saw each other at graduation back in 1981. College, travels, moves, marriages, children, and divorces seemed to be the major events that we all recall, and there were plenty between my jr. high sweetie and me. The list included two marriages for Gretchen, one for me, two children for her, three for me, and of course, our respective divorces. We talked about our hopes for the future and the new joy that we’ve found in our present relationships. All in all, I’d say it was a typical reunion conversation between friends who had lost touch. By the end of the weekend, Gretchen and I had exchanged email addresses with a firm commitment to stay in touch. We honored that, and when Gretchen returned to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, we were able to meet for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised when Gretchen asked me to travel to Virginia and provide the music for her wedding that would take place in September.
Over the months, emails passed between us as we exchanged information about the ceremony. We discussed the choice of music, the location of the wedding, and whether there would be a vocalist. When it was confirmed that a singer would be used, the song was chosen, and work began on finding the song the was chosen, i carry your heart, from a poem by e.e. cummings.
By the end of July, I made reservations with a hotel in Leesburg, and finalized plans to bring my keyboard along with me, as the wedding would be held outdoors. I emailed the vocalist and discussed the song as well as the plans for rehearsing. We would meet only 24 hours before the ceremony; both of us needed to be prepared for the music we would make together.
Finally, on August 31, Scott and I loaded up my car with clothes, a wedding present, music and my keyboard and headed to Virginia. We stopped at Wade’s house to practice the song he would be singing, and then took him along with us to the wedding rehearsal. There we met all the players in this production, participated in the rehearsal, and enjoyed a fantastic dinner at a local restaurant.
The wedding was like so many others for which I had provided music. Nervous brides, joyous friends, relatives who had traveled far distances, last minute preparations, and concerns about the smallest details. By Saturday afternoon, it appeared that everything was ready, and even if it wasn’t, the hour of the wedding was here. Soon the couple would be happily married. Friends who arrived early helped with those last-minute details.
Ah, the ceremony was beautiful. There were tuxes and gowns, rings and flowers, rows of guests in white chairs. The “chapel” was the backyard of the couple, and coincidentally a llama farm. The couple came before God in that rural and natural setting, the warmth of God’s love shining down on them from above, nearly scorching us with the late summer heat, and declared their love for each other with a vow to honor each other for the rest of their lives.
Of course, all of this was followed by a party under the tent to celebrate this new union. Friends and relatives ate, drank, and danced the night away. Toasts were made, new friendships created, love flowed, as did the liquor! It was a wedding feast to rival any other, and one that I think Jesus might have honored in the way he did the wedding feast at Cana with his first recorded miracle. It was a party that will not soon be forgotten. Well, a few may not recall everything that happened, but when the bartender overserves, the memory is often the first thing to go.
So, what is the difference? It sounds like so many other weddings that we’ve all had the pleasure of attending. Love, ritual, ceremony, celebration, preparation, commitment, surely there’s nothing any different here.
But there is something very different. Gretchen’s wedding is not recognized by the state of Virginia because she declared her love and commitment to Celeste. While their relationship, and the celebration of marriage that Saturday afternoon is no different than the thousands of other weddings that took place that day, the validity of it as far as the state, and a many uptight religious types are concerned, is very different. The difference is in the smallest detail: the genders of the couple. That’s it. That’s the only thing that stands between Gretchen and Celeste and the more than 1,400 benefits that accompany a legal marriage, the kind with a license from the courthouse.
In their book, What God Has Joined Together?,David Myers and Letha Scanzoni chart two paradigms to demonstrate the essential ingredients for marriage. Aong them are the characteristics of economic interdependence, sexual/romantic interdependence, commitment, compliance with legal requirements, and officially granted privileges that come with marriage. They also cite the ways in which children enter into those paradigms of marriage, either biologically with or without the assistance of reproductive technology, adoption, and stepchildren. Finally, they chart the parties who make up the marriage: in the first, the legally recognized, it is a man and a woman;in the other which is exactly the same until this one point, the parties are Person and Person, Man and Woman, Woman and Woman, Man and Man. Thank you, David and Letha, for making this such a simple concept to grasp.
There is nothing different about this marriage for the participants in the wedding. A loving couple asked their friends and relatives to share their joy and witness their vows. We did so and as a by-product of their love, we see our own love for each other strengthened. Those who witnessed the marriage can no longer think of each woman as a separate entity, the lesbian couple who own the llama farm, the two women who live together down the road from us. They are, now and forever, joined not only in their hearts, but in our minds. For when we think of one, we must now think of the other. After all, isn’t that what we do for every other married couple?
Blessings on you both as you carry each other’s heart.