Pike’s Peek

Debra and Michelle

Debra and Michelle

My friend, photographer Karen Pike (all these photos are hers) hooked me up with Debra and Michelle, a couple of lovely gals up from Texas to get married in muddy Vermont!  They ended up coming out to my house for the ceremony and photo shoot, and had a really fun time – complete with tiny cake from neighbor (and Cake Genius) Julie Almond of Caketopia Cakes.

Julie Almond‘s very, very tasty vanilla/strawberry cakelet.

What I hadn’t realized was that it was the 4th anniversary of Vermont legalizing same sex marriage!  What a joy to be part of a state that has its head on straight about human rights!

But I’ll let Karen tell the rest of the story on her fine blog

Purple Class

Mardi and Misti

Photo by Jeannette LeBlanc

One thing I loved about working with Mardi and Misti was that as utterly gorgeous as they are in their photos, they were also incredibly grounded and down-to-earth as people.  Rather than making a grand entrance, they mingled with their guests until it was time to start the ceremony.  Then they asked everyone to gather in a circle, and we began!  Cermoniously unceremonious, as it were.

They wrote beautiful, honest articulations of their love which were based in the daily reality of their 7-year relationship:

Mardi, I love you because you make me laugh out loud on a daily basis, like when you make up conversations between the cats and each one has their own distinctive voice and when you send me text messages over your lunch break with funny pictures of them saying hi to me.

Their vows, too, were all about knowing who they already are as a couple, and what they understand the ups and downs of long term relationship to be:

Misti, I will make your dreams as important as my own. I will make time for you, enjoy you, and work to know you better every day. Today I promise you that though the world may change and though we may change with it, I will always love you, always treasure you and will always share my life and all that I am with you. When life challenges us, I promise to focus on the resiliency of our love. And if I stumble and fail to live up to my promises, I will look you in the eyes, hold your hands, and apologize with sincerity. I will be my best for you.

Their love for each other was so palpable, so glimmering, and so true.

Mardi and Misti

When Thespians Wed

My friend and colleague – University of Vermont theater design professor Jeff Modreger – recently married his great love Matt Sutkowski.  It was a big treat to go support them – not to mention getting to attend a wedding for a change!

Jeff is one of the most gifted designers with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure to work, so I suspected his wedding would be more than a little…elaborate.  For one thing, it was in UVM’s beautiful Royall Tyler Theater, so they had a leg up on gorgeous right then and there.  Plus, Jeff designed the set and they asked everyone to wear white, so the audience was pretty, too (sorry for the blur – old camera phone doesn’t do well in dim light).

Then, one by one, the stage started being peopled with remarkable musical theater performers singing all manner of heartfelt, throaty love songs.

Finally, they had a whole crew out there, with Jeff and Matt, who had a lot to say and a lot of people to thank!

Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any more beautiful or moving, they had the whole dang crowd sing “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”  It was a sight to behold!

I should note that Jeff is in his 60s, so for anyone who thinks it’s too late for them, lovewise, do not be fooled by the mean voices in your head.  Anything is possible.  Any time.

Love Lana!

The brilliant film-maker Lana Wachowski was recently given a Human Rights Watch Visibility Award.  Why?  Because she used to be Larry.  She’s an incredibly private person, but agreed to receive the award because she felt that if she could be a role model and a source of hope to other people in the Trans community, then the sacrifice of her carefully-guarded anonymity would be worth it.  Here’s her acceptance speech.  She’s extraordinary.

One Love

I got a call the other day from a woman in Texas named Melissa. She’s in a graduate program in mental health counseling, and she’s writing a research paper on gay marriage.

Melissa comes from a very conservative Christian family, has strong ideas about marriage, and for most of her life, her beliefs and values have run firmly in the direction of one man, one woman, no divorce.

And yet, she’s committed to being an effective counselor for everyone who comes to her door. She knows it’s her responsibility to open her mind and learn about people from other backgrounds and who live lives different from hers.

She came to me in my guise as a wedding officiant. Living in Vermont, of course, I do a large number of same sex marriages – in fact, I’d say they make up about 60% of my business.

I feel very strongly that legalizing same sex marriage is a social justice issue of the highest importance, and for me, ranks right up there with ensuring women’s reproductive rights and combatting climate change.

Melissa didn’t know this when she called, and she certainly walked away with an earful!

She asked some great questions that I’d never thought about before, like how I define the “sanctity of marriage.” I told her there’s a vast range of marriage styles and marital traditions seen in the long history of humanity: monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, arranged marriages, political marriages, shotgun marriages – even an old Chinese custom of women technically marrying a dead man for the preservation of her property and independence.

Unfortunately, too often, the rules and laws of marriage have benefitted families, dynasties, businesses, and, of course, men, without any regard for the freedom, autonomy, or well-being of women. And certainly, throughout the ages, many people, both men and women, have been stuck in marriages which should have ended long ago, but for the repressive laws of their societies and cultures.

So to my mind, upholding the sanctity of any marriage means adhering to the ground rules of that particular marriage, and those rules should be set by the couple themselves, and no one else.

Then she asked me the million dollar question: do I think gay marriage is any different from straight marriage. And it was clear she didn’t have a preconceived idea – she really wanted to know.

I said absolutely not. There is no difference whatsoever. Love is love. The joy of finding romance and partnership and making a long term commitment to building a life with someone shines the same way in everybody’s eyes. It’s a soul connecting to a soul and uniting formally in a manner which transforms the relationship – sometimes just legally, but more often in some charismatic, luminous, undefinable way. Gay or straight, the goal is the same: unity with the beloved.

After a few more questions, Melissa asked if I had anything more I wanted to say, and what came out of my mouth surprised us both. It’s an odd thing for a Wedding Officiant to admit, but honestly, I actually think the notion of marriage is a bunch of crap.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of ritual for life’s great moments, and I champion the psycho-spiritual value of formally uniting with another. After all, the truth is that long term relationships are hard work, and you need something to hang on to when things inevitably get rough. Formalizing commitment has great value.

However, the idea that an institution, be it a government or a religious body, has any right to define which marriages are legal and which are illegal is a bunch of sanctimonious, self-serving hogwash. Nobody, other than the people choosing to commit to each other, should decide what’s right and proper.

However, I’m not here to dismantle the system. Even I know how to pick my battles.

So, as long as people (of all stripes and persuasions) want to come to Vermont and get married, I am more than happy to serve.

Cal, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Part of me can’t help but wonder what President Calvin Coolidge, a conservative Republican from Vermont, would make of two women from Colorado getting married at the site of his former home.  I’d like to believe old Cal was a reasonable man who could have kept up with the times.  I also think he would have loved Rebecca and Emily and their amazing group of family and friends who traveled to Ruralest Vermont for the wedding.
No doubt, as a small government kind of President, he would have appreciated the handy, do-it-yourself nature of their wedding decorations.  Becky is a weaver, and created the fabric they used for their hand-fasting.  Not to mention they wrote their own vows, and I got all crafty and glued them to pretty pieces of paper!
We’re all practically homesteaders!

Weddings Cause Brain Leakage

Greg and Ricky

Greg and Ricky – cute as can be!  They moved to Burlington last year from Atlanta searching for a better life and they are nothing but pleased with the results.

They’ve been together for years, bought property, relocated a great distance, so you wouldn’t think that getting married would be such a big deal.  But, of course, it is.  There’s something about combining a ceremony uniting two souls with a giant heap of social justice that just makes a moment both intense and grand.

And which sometimes makes the Marrying Folk a little spazzy-in-the-brain.

In this case, we were doing fine until we got to the ring exchange.  Ricky went first, and when it was time to place the ring on Greg’s finger, he totally stalled out.  Brain Freeze of Epic Proportions.

We waited.  I asked if everything was ok.  And this grown man, a financial manager of Great Responsibility, shook and said, “I don’t know right from left.”

Greg proffered the correct hand, and we moved forward to the end without incident.

That’s all to say that if you’re feeling at all nervous about your upcoming nuptials, and have a Mean Voice in your head telling you that you shouldn’t feel nervous, go ahead and tell that voice to leap quickly out the nearest window because you have every right in the world to be nervous.

And you can tell Mean Voice that I said so.

Nature’s Big Surprise

This article originally appeared at The Gathering Guide. Hey Mom, I’m a real Blogger now!

Heather and Robin - Photo by Karen Pike

While scientists tell us that Nature abhors a vacuum, what they’re less likely to reveal is that Nature loves Love.  I perform a large number of outdoor weddings, and even in a place as climatically dynamic as Vermont, the weather almost always cooperates in support of a wedding ceremony.  Hot days cool off a bit.  Bad weather restrains itself while vows are being vowed.  Even chilly mid-winter weddings seem to bite with a softer set of teeth.

Nowhere, though, is this more evident than in the supportive response of the animal kingdom.  While I’ve seen rambunctious pet dogs quiet down as couples walk down the aisle, and highly picturesque flocks of geese soar overhead just as a couple says, “I do,” my favorite instances of “nonhuman participation” have come when animals insert themselves directly into the ceremony.

Michael and Robert had come all the way from Michigan to get married at Comstock House, a little B&B in rural Plainfield, Vermont.  They’d already constructed a moving ceremony in which they scattered flowers and planted seeds, honoring their love, their ancestors, and the beauty of their surroundings.

But then Robert was in the middle of saying his vows to Michael, and talking about how kind and gentle and giving Michael is, when a giant, iridescent green dragonfly circled around them and landed on Michael’s arm.  They both smiled at it briefly, then continued on with the ceremony.

Apparently not content with the amount of Attention Paid, the dragonfly took off, circled them again, and then landed right on the tip of Michael’s nose.  Michael took a long, cross-eyed look at this gorgeous insect, and said to Robert, “It’s busy eating a fly.  I don’t want to bother it.  You can just keep going.”  Thereby proving Robert’s point about his sweet and generous personality.

Just a couple weeks later, I joined Heather and Robin for their ceremony at Fielder Farm in Huntington, Vermont.  Of all the stunningly beautiful places I’ve performed ceremonies, Fielder Farm, with its long, sloping hills and foot-of-the-mountain views of Camel’s Hump, has got to take the proverbial cake.

Heather and Robin had decided to climb to the top of a long meadow, and have their ceremony on a gorgeous little plateau overlooking the valley.  As it happened, that meadow was more than just a spot with a nice view; it was the stomping ground of a small herd of Jersey cows.  With caramel-colored coats, giant eyes, and big batty eyelashes, Jerseys are sort of the porn stars of the Bovine World–not to mention being highly attentive wedding guests!

As we laid out the handmade quilt where the gals would stand for the ceremony, the entire herd strolled over and gathered around the brides in a perfect semi-circle, getting as close as they could without being rude or disruptive–or evacuating anything unpleasant.  Jerseys, apparently, have a well-developed sense of decorum.

They stuck around for the full ceremony, joined Robin and Heather for the bulk of their photo shoot, and then, just as things were wrapping up, took their cue and nonchalantly strolled away.  They couldn’t have been better guests if they’d been hired!

The Vermont Tourism Bureau doesn’t guarantee the appearance of such dramatically accommodating creatures, but if you’re getting married in the Green Mountain State, it’s worth preparing to be pleasantly surprised!


Engayged Love

One of the fun things about working as an Officiant is getting to meet all the other nice people out there in The Biz.  While I know the World of Weddings has a reputation for preying upon the hunger of the Affianced (particularly Brides) for the perfect wedding (and jacking up prices accordingly), most of the folks I’ve met do the work because they love participating in such a significant event in peoples’ lives.  It makes their work deeply meaningful, since they know that everything they do really, REALLY matters.

And nowhere is that more true than in the Gay Wedding Community.  And it’s extremely important to me to be able to serve the cause of social justice – all while I’m serving the cause of Love.

One of the nicest people I’ve run into is Britt Jamrock from the website Engayged Weddings. EW is an on-line resource for helping plan gay weddings, and Britt has been incredibly helpful in getting me set up a profile on the site.  This morning she emailed me to let me know I’d been featured on the site.  And indeed, the slideshow on the home page has photos of three different weddings at which I’ve officiated.

I can’t thank her enough for her generosity in promoting my work.  It is indeed an honor to marry folks who can’t marry elsewhere. There’s a part of me which, while performing a wedding ceremony for a gay couple, always feels like I’m giving Texas the finger.  Not a very mature or holy attitude, I know.  But still pretty satisfying.

I look forward, eagerly, to the day when this is a non issue; to the day when people are just people, and we don’t have to fight to treat them that way.  But until then, I’m in the fray, fighting my part of the fight with words and rings and flowers and kisses and joyous celebrations.