The Queer Issue
Seven years ago, Chris and Erin asked me to perform their wedding.
I hesitated for a moment. "Is it legal?" I asked. "Yes," they said. "Will you feed me?" I asked. "Yes," they said. "Will your parents be pissed?" I asked. (We were just a few years out of high school, back when that question mattered more.) I don't remember exactly what they said, but it amounted to a shrug. "Done," I said.
It was the cheapest wedding I've been to and one of the best nights of my life—on a few green acres near Bellingham, owned by some hippie family, with a view of the mountains and a broad, quick, cold stream running through the property. We all picked flowers, and I think the food was basically potluck. Chris had friends at Boundary Bay Brewery, which sold him some extremely cheap kegs of extremely good beer. He was a professional fiddle player with touring bluegrass and country groups, so the band was a rotating bunch of his friends playing in the middle of a field late into the night. Once the grown-ups drove back to their hotels, the rest of us danced in the mud, ruined our suits and dresses, skinny-dipped in the stream, and slept under the stars.
I've performed and attended a handful of weddings since then—lavish, humble, and in between—and the better ones are always, always officiated by a friend of the couple. Just some schmo who, like me, went online and got ordained by the Universal Life Church for free.
It's hard to explain exactly why. A couple's minister-for-a-day friend isn't always the most inspiring orator or the best at designing a ceremony. But I'm a romantic who thinks weddings are only mostly theater. The most important part is—or should be—something ineffable, something you can't plan. A kind of charm happens between the couple and the minister during the ceremony, a charm that only works when all three people know and care about each other. It's a circuit you can't create with a stranger.
Traditionally, the town preacher knew the people he was marrying and could say something about the two people he was going to forge, that day, into a new family. Unless you're part of some close-knit microcongregation—and I'm guessing you're not—your local preacher doesn't know much about you; and odds are good that your preacher, if you were close, wouldn't be able to fly down to California with you anyway. And forget rent-a-preachers. Even the best ones can only reheat the usual pabulum about love and marriage. Plus, selling people their wedding ceremony seems sad and wrong. Sell them flowers, food, a rental hall, advice from prenuptial therapists, strippers at the bachelor/ette parties—but don't sell them the wedding itself.
Choosing someone who knows you to perform your wedding isn't innovative: It's what people have been doing for as long as they've been getting married. And the Universal Life Church—which was founded by a disillusioned Pentecostal in his garage in 1959—is here to help.
Universal Life ministers can solemnize marriages in all of the 50 states. (Some states require a letter of good standing from the church, which ULC will provide. Canada is weirdly strict about ULC marriages. And, as long as we're talking marriage law, guess the two states where girls can get married, respectively, at 13 and 14, with the consent of a parent and a judge. Utah? West Virginia? Nope: New Hampshire and Massachusetts.)
I've got one more wedding on my schedule. Next month, I'll marry my friends Kirk and Emmy on a little farm north of Seattle. It'll be my last wedding for a while—at least until I live in a state with marriage equality. I'm ashamed to admit it, but back when Chris and Erin asked me to marry them, I didn't think it was unfair to perform legally binding hetero marriages if I couldn't perform legally binding homo ones.
I've changed my mind.
I'm looking forward to performing more free weddings once gay marriage is legal in Washington. But when it is—not if, but when—I'd rather you didn't call me. Don't get me wrong, I'd be happy to do it, but your wedding will be better if you ask someone you already know.