Last Friday, there was a wedding. I was Best Man, to a man who had served our country in Desert Storm. A man's man... a dude's dude, even. His lovely bride is one of the sweetest women I know, even if, until the day before, I had only known her online.
It's sort of a complicated story about how I came to be part of this lovely, lovely moment. I'll give it a shot.
Sandy and I are both Hallmark fans... yup, the card company. Hallmark has created a vibrant Facebook page around monthly card design contests, and in the process, has created a true community of (creative, talented, wacky, funny, crazy) folks who love Hallmark. This "Hallmark Fan Brigade" descended for the first time ever (at Hallmark's invitation) for a day of camaraderie, tours, laughs and tears. And yeah, a wedding. Between Sandy and Kenn.
A few months before, Kenn surprised Sandy by proposing, then proposing they have the wedding at Hallmark... in an act of understanding about his soon-to-be wife that is in itself beyond sweet. He had already laid the groundwork in March with the Hallmark folks, who loved the idea and worked it into the day's agenda, arranging invites, minister, and all the trappings, as a secret grand finale to the day's activities.
I was invited by Kenn, with heart but little fanfare.
"Well," the first email from Kenn began, "there is a plan developing that I thought I would let you in on for Sandy. Sandy and I are going to get married. I thought you might want to be let in on the hype. There is nothing you have to do except be yourself and be there," and, he continued, "maybe be the Best Man. You are the only guy I know that will be there."
In this creative community of card-a-holics, the ladies vastly outnumber the gents, so his rationale was pretty Midwest-practical. It made me laugh. It made me cry. I said yes with no hesitation. I was honored and moved beyond belief.
Kenn and Sandy share a world far from my own. They live on a farm, at a time when it is far more difficult than idyllic to do so. They are also among the most generous people I've ever, ever met. They have both offered support when I've posted about LGBT rights and personal stories of lost boyfriends and gay uncles. Sandy has opened my eyes to what it means to be accepting, from people all too often stereotyped for where they live or when they grew up. Sandy and her Vet husband have shattered so many stereotypes for me.
Minutes before the wedding, in a small room where Kenn and I were donning our wedding finery, and just learning about Kenn's years in the service, he asked for my help tying his tie. As most men do, I had to tie it myself then slip it over his head. Inches away from this almost-stranger, a nervous groom, his eyes as blue as the Kansas City sky, I felt like son and father. The honor was not lost on me. It almost knocked me down.
Sandy had crafted her vows around Hallmark card categories ("Cope," "New Grandfather" and other card-worthy life milestones) It was the kind of moment that I thought only a Hollywood screenwriter could pen. But these words were real. Like, capital R Real. Even the minister, a big strapping young fellow (probably with tattoos under that long-sleeve shirt) got choked up after Sandy read her vows. It made it all even better.
In those vows, Sandy spoke of some prior rough patches of health and some other tough times that had come before. What was lovely about that was that the "richer, poorer, in sickness and in health" were already behind them, and they wanted to move forward, anyhow. Or maybe because. But they wanted to move forward together, officially, publicly.
Quirky details so unique to Sandy made it highly personal, and in all, the most fun I've ever had in a conference room. The words were moving, the tears were real, the joy was palpable.
Why is a gay man going on and on about a straight wedding in a conference room in Kansas City?
Because standing up there, as new friend and Best Man, watching these two exchange vows, rings and love, it made me realize what a wedding, and a marriage, is genuinely all about.
It was, by many standards, a humble affair. But by all the standards that matter, it was rich beyond measure. Everyone in that room was the richer for it.
It also spoke to me deeply about the definition of family. Gay men and women often have to, as my good friend Michael Tavano said in our It Gets Better video, "find their own family" when they have been rejected or evicted or uninvited from the lives of their own blood relatives. Here, Sandy and Kenn had welcomed their "other" family... their Hallmark friends... to one of the most special days of a life. The wedding party itself (a gay designer/activist from New York, a funky grandma from Michigan, a hip and hilarious guitar-playing mom from Minnesota, a talented shutterbug from New Jersey, and a wise-cracking blonde from Orlando) was living proof of the family you choose, the patchwork you sew together.
These are the things we fight for when we fight for marriage equality. For the ability to stand up and say, "This is the person I want to journey with. This is the person I choose to be at my side. This is the person I love. This will be my partner." We fight for the ability to create a family, to grow a circle that protects and embraces. The symbolism of a wedding ring was never more clear to me.
The interest in marriage equality does not diminish opposite-sex weddings any more than this wedding, of a man and a woman, diminishes my capacity to someday partner with a man I am lucky enough to love. It does not. Love is not finite. It does not run out, it can not be used up by someone else. It is there for the taking.
It's not about seeking a church's permission. It's not even about "church wedding." And, in moments like last Friday's wedding, it's not even the legal part of our battle... about benefits, or hospital visitation rights, or tax returns. It was merely an invitation to a larger community to recognize, to declare, and to share love. How can that be bad? How can that be a threat?
The ability to share our public act of love with friends and then have a little bit of cake. That's all I want to be able to do. It's really rather simple.
A man and a woman in Kansas City just taught me that.