GWEN AND MARIA GET MARRIED
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Nothing prepared me for the emotional impact of the wedding that Randy and I attended in Hartford on Saturday.
The aptly named Asylum Hill Congregational Church was huge, with high vaulted ceilings, long windows of stained glass, a cross of beaten gold above the altar, flowers and tall white candles. There were two ministers officiating, a man and a woman. Both wore white vestments, and his stole was rainbow-hued.
The guests were a mixed-age group of about 80 well-dressed folk who could have been at any Connecticut wedding, except that Maria and Gwen weren't really getting married; they were having a civil union instead.
I'd never met Maria or Gwen, but Maria is Randy's closest friend from college. When she saw him walk in, she gave a little yelp of happiness and embraced him for a long, long time.
I think I understood her feelings. As we get older, we accumulate more and more personal history. It resides in our own memories, true, and in those old photographs we store away in albums and cardboard boxes. But it also resides in the people with whom we share our time and our love. In a disposable society like ours, we sometimes treat people the way we treat old toasters and computers - we throw them away, along with the history and the love. Out of respect for history, if it is at all possible I believe that former lovers, husbands and friends should be kept close. That's why Randy and I were there.
This was no marriage born out of youthful passion. Maria is in her 40s and Gwen is at least 10 years older. Both have been married before, to men. Gwen has grown children. Theirs was a relationship born out of a search for spirituality that developed into a friendship, then into a companionship, and then, at a point that is none of our business, into love.
The couple, dressed in white blouses and slacks, walked down the aisle hand in hand. They stood at the altar quietly glowing with love and happiness, solemnity and joy. The ceremony was filled with words like "love," "fullness," "heart," "blessing" and, especially, "gift."
From the pulpit, one of the couple's friends read "A Prayer to the God of Ebb and Flow" by Henri Nouwen: "Dear Lord," she read, "today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: 'It is true there is an ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea.' You are the sea... My only real temptation is to doubt in Your love, to think of myself as beyond the reach of Your love, to remove myself from the healing radiances of Your love. To do these things is to move into the darkness of despair. O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know that there is ebb and flow but that the sea remains the sea. Amen."
As I wept my way through the service, I thought I had never seen anything so brave and so beautiful as these two vulnerable women standing in front of their families and friends and God and saying, "With this ring, I give you my life."
At one point, guests were invited to come up to the altar and make a circle around Gwen and Maria. We held each other and sent a wave of communal energy to the couple. My fingers were resting on the gray worsted suit of a stranger, but I could feel a current of life running through his shoulders.
We are all that, just currents of life, and it's all so simple and beautiful when we are allowed to be centered on love. Just because these are two women, there is no reason to think of them as "beyond the reach" of God's love or that their life together is removed from its "healing radiances."
Later, at Gwen and Maria's cozy and well-furnished home, about 50 of us joined together to drink Champagne, eat salmon, quiche and ham and toast the brides.
Gwen's oldest son made the toast. Recently married himself, he raised his glass and said, "You have to understand, this is the last thing I ever thought I'd be doing. But my brother and I are so grateful to see our mother happy, and to have Maria in our lives. They are an inspiration to us." Then he broke down into tears.
As the guests left, they were encouraged to choose from a basket of teal-gray polished stones. Etched on mine are the words "Peace" and "Joy." On Randy's is the word "Love."
You could say that this wedding was an act of defiance, an in-your-face response to power-grabbing, right-wing professional Christians like Bill Frist and Pat Robertson who try to demonize gay marriage. But this wasn't really a political act.
In fact, I am outraged that the gentle flowing love and happiness of Gwen and Maria, so blessed by their family and friends on Saturday, was at one time forbidden by the state of Connecticut, or that there are still people who want to come down from the skies with hobnailed boots and stamp these two women back into some dark underground, some "darkness of despair."
The minister, profoundly in my opinion, told Gwen and Maria to "claim the love God gave to you. The world may not understand it, but the world did not give it to you. It was God's gift."
Two slender women under the vaulting ceiling of a church, giving each other their lives. Ebb and flow, ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea. Whether or not you believe in God, what could be more beautiful? Amen.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. A collection of her columns, called "A Thousand Words or Less," will be out in May. She can be reached at email@example.com.