One week and one day after a gunman unleashed his fear-based fury at Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida, I spent the morning with two gay men and their families at their wedding rehearsal. The first funerals for victims took place in churches that morning. In our sanctuary, morning light streamed through the street side “Christ window” and fell across darkly hued pews. The altar was draped in white and blue, and the tiered candelabra stood as sentinels for our evening celebration. The groom’s family members (sister, brother, cousin, son) had come together from the far reaches of the country to stand with them, even though they had been together for eighteen years. That evening the grooms would promise each other the love that they’d already embodied and become legally married.
The pianist was rehearsing, as two salt and pepper matching Scotty dogs (the ring bearers) sniffed casually under the front pews. The soloists stepped up to sing, “Prayer,” a song made popular by Dion and Grobin. The lyrics took us back to a time when this sanctuary space overflowed with grieving friends at a funeral for two women in our quiet college town who were shot to death in August of 1996, by a man who said that knowing they were lesbians made it easier to kill them.
The pianist may have seen me tearing up. My gay father never had the chance to marry the man he loved, but while he stayed in the closet he likely found freedom and safety at more than one night club. She stopped playing for a moment, looked over at me and asked, “We don’t need to sing the whole thing do we?”
“Oh, absolutely,” I said. “We need to cry it out now or we’ll never get through the service this evening.”
I went to the back of the sanctuary where we kept boxes of tissues stacked on a table for funerals, and passed them out. I sat down with the wedding party, friends, and family in the “audience” as the soloists began the song again. We let them sing to us and we sobbed.
“Let this be our prayer…guide us with your grace, to a place where we’ll be safe.”
I sat there like a blubbering fool, and I knew that participants that evening would also be awash in tears. I left the tissues available in the pews.
Everything was beautiful that night, a night which stood in direct opposition to any shooter’s hatred, which proclaimed safe sanctuary, where love triumphed. As we grieved Orlando, we were also awestruck that the long struggle for marriage equality was about to culminate with joined hands and gold rings.
As I looked out at over two hundred people in the room I knew many of them had fought for LGBTQ marriage rites. “Without you,” I said at the groom’s request, “we wouldn’t be standing here today—we thank you!” We sang hymns, we spoke about their love, we laughed, we prayed, and we blessed them.
I got a call from the grooms few weeks later, “We’re on our honeymoon,” they said, “but we want to tell you that everyone said it was the best wedding they’d ever attended.” Many weeks’ later people kept on saying that, because they had witnessed love at its sacred best.
We needed this service after Orlando. We needed to say “yes” to gay partners and lovers. We needed to see them kiss and to cheer, needed to pray for their safety, for their family, needed to say thanks for everyone who took this issue all the way to the supreme court. Our simple ceremony became a protest against violence—a proclamation that love wins one moment and one marriage at a time.