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Published October 12, 2014

#DayOneNC: Raleigh Minister Shares Emotional Experience

As a minister, I’ve been honored to officiate at dozens if not hundreds of weddings over the past twenty years or so. As a Unitarian Universalist, I’ve been glad to help couples create a personal ceremony that reflects their own beliefs and interests.

We meet and talk and I offer options and suggestions and work to design a ceremony that is unique to each couple. It’s one of the joys of being a Unitarian Universalist minister; I get to incorporate readings and ceremonies that reflect the spirituality and values of the people involved, instead of trying to fit each couple into a pre-ordained doctrine or rites.

Usually I write most of the ceremony for each wedding I perform. The one part I leave as the couple’s responsibility is the crafting of their marriage vows. After all, who am I to tell them what to promise one another? Instead, I offer them examples of vows that others have used. “I will love you to the end of my days and cherish the love you give to me…” “I promise to share your laughter and dry your tears…” “Together with you, I will I will strive to create a healthy and happy home for the fruits of our love…”

The couples I marry are welcome to choose one of the examples, to mix sentiments from two or more, or to write their own entirely. Many of the couples appreciate this opportunity, although about a fourth of them decide to stick with the traditional “I, Chris, take you, Debra, to be my lawfully wedded wife…” And that is fine with me (though we’ll have a deeper conversation if the couple wants the word “obey” in their vows!)

The couples I marry are as diverse as the rest of our society, and I’m grateful that the Unitarian Universalist church has sanctioned same-sex marriages since before I was ordained.

It has never been a question for me: I believe that Love cannot be bound by gender any more than God herself could be.

Some of the most loving marriages I have witnessed have been between pairs of gay men or lesbian women, and some of the healthiest families have been been headed by two fathers or two mothers. It is clear to me that love and marriage are so much more than a legal document issued by whatever state the family lives in.

Yet that piece of paper is often vital for the people involved. Without it they may be unable to adopt children, get insurance, do their taxes together, receive retirement or disability compensation. Without that piece of paper, a spouse may be denied their inheritance, survivor benefits, or even the ability to visit their loved one in the hospital. A marriage license doesn’t make a marriage, but it can certainly protect a marriage in times of need.

During most of my twenty years in the ministry I’ve served churches in North Carolina and Tennessee, states where marriages between gay or lesbian couples had no legal standing. Not surprisingly, not a single one of those couples ever asked to begin their vows with the words, “I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife.” It was never a question, and we always simply affirmed that their marriage would be based – as all marriages should be – on something much more important than a legal contract sanctioned by the state.

All of that changed on the second Friday in October. That day had been filled with the anticipation that the final challenges to North Carolina’s law forbidding same-sex marriages would be overturned. Anticipation turned to disappointment as the afternoon dragged on, and then erupted with elation around 6 PM as we learned of the ruling that finally gave same-sex marriages the same protections that most couples had enjoyed for years.

My colleagues and I hurried down to the courthouse and to join in the celebrations. The Register of Deeds, Laura Riddick, had promised to keep her offices open until 9:00 that night, and dozens of couples were lined up, excitedly filling out forms and looking for the magistrate’s courtroom where their weddings would be solemnized.

After obtaining permission to perform weddings in the courthouse, my colleagues and I donned our vestments and made ourselves available to any couples who wanted a more spiritual ceremony than the magistrate could offer. The Registrar’s office was filled with joyful chaos, but she graciously offered us space to conduct weddings in a relatively quiet corner.

I’ll admit I had a few concerns – mostly about how I would respond if a newly-met young couple got caught up in the moment and spontaneously decided to get married (I normally ask that a couple be in a committed relationship for at least a year before tying the knot). But I needn’t have worried.

There was no time for pre-marital counseling, but most of these couples had already been together for years if not decades.

Likewise, there was no time to ask each couple to decide on their marriage vows. But that night it didn’t matter. I already knew in advance what their vows would be. After a brief conversation and a short homily, I would ask the couple to face each other, take each other’s hands, and to look into each other’s eyes as I asked, “Do you, John, take Eric to be your lawfully wedded husband…?” And with joy in my voice and tears in their eyes I would ask Eric the same thing.

#DayOneNC-- Raleigh Minister Shares Emotional Experience - 1

And just as joyfully I concluded each ceremony with the words, “By the authority vested in me by your love, by God, and BY THE GREAT STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA, I now pronounce you MARRIED!” And yes – I shouted at the end. I shouted because from this day forward, that which Love and God have put together, the State may no longer tear apart.

Then, after much kissing at the end of each ceremony, we signed the document that has never truly created any marriage, but which now protects them all – each and every one.

 

Want to get involved?

The Unitiarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh loves having new people come visit and are providing officiant services for all the excited newlyweds! Check them out!

There’s still lots to do! Want to get more involved in the Human Rights Campaign and promote equality locally? Check out the HRC Triangle Community Facebook.

The President of the Human Rights Campaign is coming to help celebrate North Carolina’s historic time! Come show your support and celebrate with us!

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  • Tom Rhodes

    Tom

  • Rev. Tom Rhodes is the former minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh on Wade Avenue. All my articles.

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