By Rebecca Novak
Hi Everyone. So not many daughters get the opportunity give a wedding toast for their parents. It’s kind of an unusual situation. It’s like, “when I first met Anne and Theresa…I was in the womb. I remember when they were just two young lovebirds, the vague sound of their voices coming through to my amniotic sac.”
I also can’t ruminate on their future together. It’s like “spoiler alert,” 39 years later.. things are pretty good. You still get nervous when the other person drives. You are still in love. You have 3 kids.. and they turned out awesome.
So, I don’t get to do the typical wedding toast. But, instead I do have this really remarkable opportunity to celebrate my moms’ relationship. I want to talk about what I’ve learned from my witty, opinionated mothers.
Especially with all of the news and debate about marriage equality today, I’ve had lots of time to think about my moms and the impact they have had on me. Am I all screwed up because I have lesbian moms? Am I confused about who I am? Do I wish I had a dad?
I’ve had to answer those questions a lot. And the answer is no.
My mothers are parents who chose to be together, in spite of real obstacles. These are parents who pushed their children to always be who we are, no matter what other people think. Parents who taught us to advocate for our rights and for the rights of others. Parents who taught us to love who we love, no matter what.
They have taught me so much, but because today is a wedding, I want to talk in particular about I’ve learned from my mothers about love.
Their relationship is pretty amazing. 39 years! And I’m in a very good position to talk about their relationship and commitment to one another. I’ve had a front seat.
(Mom & Mama.. you look worried. You should be. Your kids see it all.)
Some of you might know that last summer, I hiked the John Muir Trail. It’s a backcountry trail that runs 218 miles from Yosemite, over 8 mountain passes to Mt. Whitney, all in the backcountry. This is something I would never have considered if not for the wonderful summers my mothers spent taking the three of us camping in Yosemite, in Yellowstone, in Glacier national parks. Thank you.
One of the things I was thinking about as I was hiking, was my moms. I had called them from an outpost a week into the hike, and they told me that they had been officially married in California. And I was so upset that they did it without me and without any guests, so I’m glad we’re all here today.
It’s good I had my moms to think about because while the trail was beautiful, actually hiking it was also the hardest thing I have ever done. My backpack was too heavy, it weighed 45 pounds. I had to clamber up these endless 10 mile inclines, up thousands of ft in elevation, to get to each peak. And then I had to do it all over again. Those climbs were absolutely horrible.
But then, I’d get to the top. And the top was unfailingly the most beautiful place I’d ever been, each peak more breathtaking than the last. There were turquoise alpine lakes, wildflowers, snowcapped peaks, the whole world spread out below your feet.
And I realized, this is what I know about love. And I learned it from my moms. It is hard sometimes. It can be horrible. There are endless switchbacks and sometimes you don’t know if they’ll end, you’re not sure if you’ll make it to the top.
But you keep working at it, you put your head down and put one foot in front of the other and you make it to the top. And at the top is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been.
And then you do it all over again.
And, mommy and mama, you’ve been through a lot together. You’ve climbed a lot of long uphills, and I’ve watched you put the work into many of them. You have reached so many glorious peaks. Thank you for your perseverance and your honesty, your commitment and your love. You’ve taught me that the things that matter, like love, take work.
I want to toast you both — to the mountains you have yet to climb, the peaks you have yet to reach. Congratulations, and here’s to 39 more years.
We never thought marriage was important for us. Yeah, sure, we knew there were some financial benefits. OK, a LOT of financial benefits! (Some of them are listed here) But still, as far as our relationship went, we did not think marriage would make a difference to us. We’d been together for 38 years after all. We had kids together, several foster children as well as our own three biological kids. We were out and open. We had friends and our Unitarian Universalist religious community that treated us as a family. We were committed to spending the rest of our lives together. Who needed marriage?
As a minister, I have officiated at a lot of weddings. They can be truly wonderful ceremonies and it is an honor to bear witness to a couple’s love for each other. It is particular moving to me to perform a marriage for a couple that I know, when one or both are friends or members of my congregation. It is also a privilege to, on behalf of the state, declare them legally married. It has always bothered me that I could not perform a legal marriage for every couple whose wedding I performed.
Still, I didn’t really get what a big deal marriage is. I didn’t know what I was missing. It isn’t just the ceremony and the party. We could have done that at any time. All UU ministers perform same gender weddings and have done so for decades. I have a lot of minister friends. One of them did our legal marriage last month in California. I put up a facebook post asking for someone to do the honors and no less than 5 friends volunteered to help within 4 hours of the posting. We were married. We are married. We’re having a bigger religious wedding ceremony and reception later, but we are already married. The legal status matters. The financial advantages are just that, financial advantages. We got a few of those in California back in 1993 when we registered as domestic partners.
So what is the big deal about marriage? What have I learned that I didn’t know before?
I don’t have all the answers to those questions yet. I do know that a legal civil marriage is every bit as important as the religious ceremony. A legal civil marriage is recognized by everyone. A religious ceremony provides recognition by your faith community. If you are legally married, everybody has to recognize the relationship, not just the people that happen to approve of it. I think we all know a few married couples that have lousy relationships, ones we don’t really approve of in any way. It doesn’t matter if they were married in a church or temple or by a county clerk or by someone with a mail order ordination. We still recognize them as married, even if we might wish they weren’t.
That is what happened when we signed the marriage license and turned it into the county clerk to be recorded. Everywhere we went in California, our marriage was recognized. It was an incredible feeling, a powerful feeling. We can now visit Washington DC, Massachusetts, and a dozen other states and a score of countries and no one, not even the grossest bigot, can say our marriage is not valid. Ok, they can say it, but it wouldn’t be true.
Here in Utah, however, our marital status is in question. Things are not clear. It will most likely take court cases before our marriage is legally valid here. In a state where publishers refuse to print a bio for an author in a same gender relationship (see article) changing enough hearts and minds will likely be a long, slow, and tedious process.
It is not OK, it is hurtful and wrong, but that is the way it is right now. It will be different someday. Progress will continue. In the meantime, we’ll kept working on those hearts and minds. We are still married, even in Utah.
As a minister in a faith tradition that practically invented religious freedom, I really hate it when bigots use religious freedom as an excuse for their bigotry.
I read the article below today and got irritated again. It doesn’t take too much these days.
Back in Utah, I am tired of my recent legal marriage in California not being recognized here.
The anti-marriage equality folks seem to be falling all over themselves trying to pretend their main concern is protecting religious liberty. Give me a break! What about the religious freedom of churches and clergy who believe in marriage equality and have for a long time? Unitarian Universalist ministers, myself included, have officiated at same gender weddings ceremonies that are exactly the same as those we have done for opposite gender couples. The only difference has been that some of those marriages were not recognized by the state or the federal government.
Why is civil marriage a religious concern anyway? Why are clergy even authorized to sign legal documents for the state? Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?
From the article:
“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, Jonathan Johnson, Executive Vice Chairman of Overstock.com, grew worried. While he liked the federalist arguments he heard, he worried about the equal protection arguments. At some point,” he remembers thinking, “equal protection and free exercise of religion are going to run into each other. This makes sense. What happens, for example, when a same sex couple comes to an Orthodox rabbi, asking to be married in a synagogue?”
That last question is beyond absurd. What would happen if a Hindu couple asks to be married in a synagogue? It would depend on the synagogue’s rental policy I suppose, but they could certainly say, “We only do Jewish weddings here.”
Different faith traditions have a LOT of different rules for who they will and will not marry. Catholics can’t be divorced and marry in the church. Interfaith couples will often seek out a Unitarian Universalist minister to marry them because their own clergy won’t unless one of them converts. Some clergy require extensive premarital counseling. Some clergy (FLDS for example) will marry several young girls to one old man.
As a minister, I can refuse to officiate at any marriage that violates my ethical or religious beliefs. For example, if I believed a couple was in an abusive relationship, I would refuse to marry them. They could not sue me, even if I was wrong about the nature of their relationship. If I wanted to, I could also refuse to marry a couple because they both had blue eyes and I believed that more genetic diversity is important for couples planning to have children. Even for a dumb reason like that, they couldn’t sue me.
Yuck. These arguments aren’t about religious freedom; they are about bigotry.
Trust me, every couple wants to be married by someone who will bless their union with an open and willing heart. They might complain about the difficulty ordering a cake or flowers when they run into bias there, but they definitely aren’t going to ask a hostile clergy person to have a major role in their special day.
Pat Robinson and the Westboro Baptist Church are not on anyone’s list for who they want for their gay wedding.
There was the one we took
Camping w/my dog
Young crazy in love
Underneath the stars
The kids are grown now
I work for justice
And for love
Older we are
Still crazy in love
Legal in places
We can afford
A room with a view
Of the amazing moon
And the crashing endless sea.
Let’s do another one
Let’s plan a wedding
Worthy of our years
And one more honeymoon
Because we’re still
Just crazy in love.