|The marriage of Martha and Kim and Carolyn and Babs|
My friend Ray has arrived fresh from rehearsal for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a volunteer gig he’s done for years. Ray used to be my crosstown colleague at West-Park’s east side sibling, Jan Hus church. With its longtime commitments to justice, work with homeless people and people with substance abuse issues, well, we shared a lot. And Ray found a way to make it work, even better than us, I’d say. And today Ray is the director of That All May Freely Serve, a ministry of the Downtown Presbyterian Church of Rochester, New York, working for the full ordained inclusion of lgbtq people in the church. (http://tamfs.org/home/)
And today Ray is here for a special reason. On this Wednesday before Thanksgiving we are doing a double wedding together. Four women from Alabama. Martha and Kim and Carolyn and Babs. One couple has been together for 25 years and the other for 17. Both belong to the amazing morning star of a progressive church in Alabama, Immanuel Church in Montgomery. Our work in New York may be stressful, theirs is heroic and courageous. (http://www.immanuelpcusa.org/Home.aspx)
|Bob and Ray|
Ray was there with his work for TAMFS and in conversation with their Pastor Elizabeth O’Neill, learned of the desire for these couples and friends to legalize their already God-given and blessed relationships so ray reached out to me and pretty soon the plan was made to gather here on the day before Thanksgiving. And so here we are.
Ray, Danielle and I make the final restaging after Bread & Puppet to be ready for the wedding. I get our friends to leave the steps and I am out to sweep.
The couples and closest friends have travelled a long and arduous journey from Alabama by train including a derailment and partial reroute via bus. But now we’re all here. We gather in the front and I share the history of West-Park. And there’s a sense of happiness in being able to be part of that history.
We gather in a close circle for the ceremony, Ray and I taking turns, a reading from Kahlil Gibran by good friends and mentors and Martha reads 1 Corinthians. Then time for vows. As I look into their faces, I see a depth of love, hard won, courageous, time tested. And for a moment, I can see that both Ray and I are tearing up. The quiet, resolute strength that has led to this day is powerful.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, two friends from New Jersey sing a classic song by Fred Small:
We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved,
Washed the dishes and put them away
I have told you a story and tucked you in tight
At the end of your knockabout day
As the moon sets it's sails to carry you to sleep
Over the midnight sea
I will sing you a song no one sang to me
May it keep you good company.
You can be anybody you want to be,
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around,
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done.
There are girls who grow up strong and bold
There are boys quiet and kind
Some race on ahead, some follow behind
Some go in their own way and time
Some women love women, some men love men
Some raise children, some never do
You can dream all the day never reaching the end
Of everything possible for you.
Don't be rattled by names, by taunts, by games
But seek out spirits true
If you give your friends the best part of yourself
They will give the same back to you.
Ray has made sure to say, and by the power invested in me by the state of New York, I now pronounce you….and we sign the papers and it is official and legal.
Time to walk down to Jacob’s Pickles for a southern style lunch. These grits taste just like mine… And we talk of complications that affect some family and friends. And of an increasingly bizarre legal situation (joint Federal returns, filing as single in Alabama) that can only mean that the days of marriage inequality are numbered. The inherent cognitive dissonance cannot stand.
In the meantime, it is a special blessing to be able to welcome those from other states who only want legal recognition (and protection) of what is already real.
On a cold Wednesday, I feel the warmth of years spent together as I walk back up Amsterdam.
* * * *
RL and I are ready to leave. But Sean has just arrived. Was hoping some of the guys from up front would help him with his stuff, but….So RL and I wait as he goes through his ever expanding collection of suit cases and bags of various kinds. Carefully going through all his things. His life. The transitional housing seems to be working out. He’s in his best accommodating gracious self. So hard to carry your life with you. It will be a few more minutes before we can leave.
When I come back to lock up, 86th is closed off. The last floats for the Macy's parade being placed into line.