It’s been a big week in The Deep South—and it’s only Wednesday.
Monday, Alabama became the 37th state in the U.S. to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It hasn’t been without conundrum, as you might imagine. At the last minute, Chief Justice Roy Moore (infamous for his 2001 Ten Commandments controversy), who was removed from office in 2003 (for defying Federal mandate in said controversy) but reelected in 2012 (way to go, Alabamians), issued a memorandum to our 67 probate judges saying that they were not obliged to follow the Federal order. Most of them didn’t. Some of them did (about 25).
My county probate judge, Bill English of Lee County, was one of the majority who did not comply with the Federal order. On Sunday night he said that he’d observe “the law of the land” as he was sworn to do. Monday morning, he changed his tune. This left couples in my county empty-handed when they went to the courthouse for marriage licenses. All but one.
I showed up on the courthouse steps around 8:30 AM prepared to marry all applicants at no cost. I did this because I had read reports that there were many, many officiants refusing to officiate over same-sex weddings and that probate offices had suspended courthouse marriages for all couples. That made me ashamed for them. So, I pressed my clerical clothes (but I wore jeans and cowboy boots because I thought I’d need to be comfortable for a long haul on a cold and rainy day), printed off a simple secular ceremony, made a binder with a sign that let folks know I’d perform weddings for free. (I was even prepared to marry heterosexual couples if they had the audacity to ask.) After all, same-sex couples have had enough obstacles, I didn’t want them to face any more than they had to. Two of my kindred priests (one ordained with our kindred, a second ordained through another avenue but in the process of becoming ordained with us) went with me. My son brought his guitar and my daughter brought a camera. We were prepared to give these couples what “traditional” couples take for granted: a wedding. I wasn’t preparing to make some grand political statement. I wasn’t preparing to be interviewed by a slew of reporters before the day’s end. I wasn’t preparing for anything other than lending a hand.
By 9:00, we were disappointed to learn that our judge was defying Federal mandate; however, we remained hopeful that he’d come around by day’s end. He did not. But something wonderful happened. Using our mobile devices and social media, we learned that the nearest county complying with the law was fifty-miles away. Two grooms, Justin and Shawn, decided to go to Montgomery County for their license. But they wanted to be married “at home.” So, five hours later, they drove back to Lee County courthouse where they found me, a handful of relentless supporters, and a pack of reporters waiting for them. And then they got married. At home. Right in front of the courthouse that refused to recognize their equal rights to marriage.
In the intervening five hours, reporters from every local news outlet camped out with us—the equal rights to marriage crowd. There was only one vocal detractor all day (from a megachurch locals refer to as “Fort God”). He came early, preached a little, and left. For the most part (aside from the obligatory disgruntled federal employee), everyone was either neutral or lovely. The Sherriff’s Office sent extra protection—which we didn’t need—and she was, looking like a khaki-clad Laura Croft, a wonderful addition to our small crowd. Most of the folks arriving at the courthouse for regular Monday business didn’t even realize what was happening before their eyes. Those who did extended gracious comments and support. It made me wonder who the heck these people voted for. More importantly, who they would vote for in the next election.
In the early-afternoon, I had the great and historic honor to marry the first same-sex couple in Lee County, Alabama. And, let me tell you, they were adorable. And crazy about each other.
The day was full of waiting and anticipation, but when the moment came—ahhh!
It didn’t occur to me that I was involved in a moment that would make history. It didn’t occur to me that this act was political. It didn’t occur to me that the news coverage would be so vast. All I thought was, “Finally! After six-and-a-half-years, this couple can be legally married.”
And, “I wish I hadn’t worn jeans.”
I’m not being disingenuously humble. I’m pointing out how little political thought went into my decisions Sunday and Monday. I was frank with reporters about my rationale for being there, about my religion, about everything. It was only afterward that I realized that some of these “franknesses” were, perhaps, poor choices! For instance, I caught wind that a local radio station was talking about the events and drawing attention to my “pagan-ness.” I didn’t hear it, so cannot comment further. But most of the local news outlets discussed the fact that I am a Pagan minister, used my full name, gave my home town, listed my kindred’s name, etc.
Side note: I’ve just learned from a dear out-of-state friend that the national news (yes, national news—in blue jeans yet) has not given so many of my personal details or details about the couple. Thank goodness.
But this gave me pause. Why is it even worth pointing out that I am a Pagan minister? Is the point to discredit the veracity of the ceremony? Is it a way to make both polytheism and homosexuality part of some “fringe” group dynamic? Is it to assure Christians across Alabama that one of their own did not betray them by doing God’s work in a constitutionally assured c’mon-y’all-we’re-supposed-to-love-one-another-and-lift-each-other-up sort of way? Is it just another sound bite? I let you know as it plays out.
Here are a few thoughts that I’m still mulling over in the wake of far too much attention paid to me for what I considered nothing more than “showing up” and “doing right.”
I’ve had scads of people reach out to me to thank me as members of the LGBT community and as members of the human race. I’ve had loads of “congratulations.” This one puzzles me. I didn’t do anything for which I should be lauded. I can accept gratitude for “sticking up for” a marginalized community, but I didn’t achieve anything. Congratulations belong to the lovely grooms. The attention is just not sitting easy on me is all. I’m being as gracious as I can be, but I still feel bewildered by “congratulations.” And as far as “sticking up for” anyone, I didn’t think of it that way. I was just doing what I do. Ministering.
Last night, I got a call from a 2002 Freshman who saw me on the news in Denver, Colorado. He said that I helped turn him into “a useful member of society.” I guess I’m facing the tremendous responsibility that comes with all that. It makes one examine the minutia of one’s actions in a paranoid sort of way. What if one of the little decisions I make is the wrong one? Monday, I said something like, “I’m largely a huge fuck-up. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I didn’t do anything but be there.” Fortunately, the news didn’t use that as their sound bite.
Maybe I’m coming to terms with the fact that “being there” is all that really matters in the first place.
I’m seeing lots of Online comments about officiants on lists of folks willing to perform same-sex marriages. Yet, I was the only one in front of my county courthouse Monday. Maybe that’s why I feel so strangely about “congratulations.” Dude, I just showed up. Yesterday (day 2), a friend of mine, a Priestess in Birmingham, was the only officiant at the courthouse in a county that IS issuing licenses. The only one. She showed-the-feck-up. And she was worn out and could have used a hand. No one else showed up. My point is—it’s about showing up, putting your cowboy-boot-wearin’ feet where your mouth is.
This brings me back to the issue of being a pagan officiant. It seems Pagan ministers are a majority of those willing to perform services. Does that make us, ironically, more like Christ—in that we (generally) imagine all humans as having intrinsic value and equal rights—than some Christians? Just to be totally clear–I said “some.” There are always magnificent exceptions like (Baptist) Rev. Ellin Jimmerson of Huntsville. Amen.
Then there’s this idiocy. Yesterday, Chief Moore said that same sex marriage would lead to plural marriage and parental-incest. He wasn’t talking about cousins, y’all. He said fathers and daughters and mothers and sons.
A) That’s as senseless a slippery slope as the one about bestiality. One my Freshman English class could identify a mile away.
B) Would legalized plural marriage be that bad? I mean, it is closer to the Biblical model than enforced monogamy.
C) Have you seen a daddy-daughter dance?
That’s about as close to a wedding as anything else I’ve ever seen. White dresses, pledges about sexual conduct, exchanging of rings. Tell me I’m wrong. But first, have a look at last June’s Jezebel article, “Creepy Yet Gorgeous Portraits of Purity-Pledging Daughters and Dads.”
This little bit of local attention has spun my head and I need a few days for self-examination. Hopefully, in those few days the justices of Alabama will do some self-examination as well and join the rest of us on the side of The Constitution. When they do—or when the Federal courts do it for them—I’ll have my feet where my mouth is. I’ll be showing up. I’ll also be in something other than blue jeans.
Congratulations to all the newlyweds. Thank you to everyone who showed up.
Love is the law, love under will.
War Damn Equality.
Waes thu hael.