Bilerico's Father Tony performs two same-sex weddings in Central Park
At the busy southwest corner of New York City's Central Park, on Saturday, July 30, 2011, a short walk from where the archbishop of New York was probably sitting down to a fine lunch, I legally joined two same-sex couples in marriage at a unique event called "Popupchapel" concocted by a group of young professional writers and TV producers who wanted to celebrate New York's newly legislated marriage equality.
Two fanciful mini-chapels were built by architects who had won the design competition. Make-up, flowers, photography, video and food were all donated. The 24 couples and 12 officiants were selected from hundreds of applicants.
My couples were paired with me because three of the four spouses were raised Roman Catholic. We got to know each other and jointly constructed the ceremonies via email in the weeks before the event. They and I were fully aware of our church's hysterical and homophobic condemnation of our actions, but we were willing to honor our shared tradition because we believe that the Catholic Church is bigger and better than its current misguided leadership. These ceremonies would have personal implications for me because, as a Roman Catholic priest, my blessing of these unions could result in a formal suspension, an action that has never been taken against me despite my having been out of the active ministry for almost 30 years and having acquired a husband. I suspect my archdiocese has always hoped that I would simply return with no explanation needed regarding my prolonged absence.
Performing same-sex weddings in Central Park is not exactly flying under the radar, but the negative personal consequences that may come my way will not outweigh the integrity and satisfaction I felt because of my service to these couples.
While blessing these two marriages, I thought back to the years when I performed countless church weddings for couples who, raised Catholic, were going through the motions of a Catholic wedding as if it were an annoying turnstile in which they had no personal interest. In the required pre-marital counseling held in my rectory office, I would talk about the permanence of marriages made in heaven, about the beauty of sex as an expression to be made only and exclusively within the confines of the conjugal union, about the need to accept children willingly from God, about the need to gear every single sexual act to the production of those children and about the obligation to raise those children as Catholics. The couples were always gracious, polite and eager to say what they thought I needed to hear.
Those sessions usually involved a lot of wink-wink subtext. I guessed they were already living together, on the pill and having all kinds of kinky sex in which procreation was not in the finale. They guessed I was gay and not particularly celibate. The room was always littered with ridiculous lies. I tried not to prolong the agony of those sessions, and for this, I think those couples were grateful.
The two same-sex weddings at which I officiated in Central Park were the exact opposite. Rose and Jen, together for eight years, had already celebrated their commitment elsewhere with friends and family. This was about making their relationship legal. Rob and John, together for six years, were ready to publically ratify a relationship tested by distance and the conflicting demands of career and schooling. They did not need my wisdom or counseling. They needed only that power vested in me by the State of New York to proclaim them married. Both couples had constructed their partnerships without the guidance and benefit of laws and directives. Their choice to love, honor and cherish a spouse was authentic and a very personal creation.
All along the metal police barricades that kept back the crowd of tourists and passersby who stopped to watch the 24 weddings that took place that day were families from around the world who applauded and whistled as each newlywed couple was presented. Parents explained to children the importance of what they were witnessing. The pen erected for protestors a safe distance from the event remained empty throughout the day. Out of the corner of my eye I kept thinking that I caught a glimpse of Jesus Christ standing in the supportive crowd, smiling hugely and cheering the newlyweds.
Reporters who questioned me about my involvement heard me say that I believe that this is why I was ordained. Simply to do what Jesus himself would do if he were still among us in the flesh. I had not a moment of doubt about the correctness of my actions, although I suspect the archbishop of New York may have experienced an inexplicable shudder as I raised my hand to trace the sign of the cross over Rose and Jen, delivering the traditional Catholic blessing in Latin.
(A version of this report appeared in South Florida Gay News.)
PS: Looks like I've got two more ceremonies coming up in a few weeks. I'm available for more. And, in case you are wondering, I received no stipend/fee/gift/tip/etc for performing the two Popupchapel weddings.