As an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have officiated at more than 100 weddings over 30 years. I enjoy performing a wedding, witnessing the coming together of family and friends for a joyous celebration, recognizing the miracle of the joining together of two lives – body, mind and spirit – as they commit to each other with the simple, “I do.”
I also recognize that marriage is, in part, a contract between another person and the state in which one weds. In signing the license and saying, “I do,” the couple receives approximately 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law. Most of these benefits come in handy in cases of emergency, such as a health care crisis. In other words, when I married someone, as an agent of the state as well as a minister of the church, I was bestowing upon them a lot legally and spiritually, which I also enjoyed when I was married.
All that changed in the process of coming out of my gay closet. Everything shifted radically in my life as I grew to live truthfully. In the separation and divorce from my then-wife, I, of course, lost all those marriage benefits, rights and protections. I knew at the time that were I ever in a significant relationship with another man, I could still not enjoy those marriage benefits because wedding another man was simply out of bounds in NC.
In my new relationship with another man, I knew full well the federal and state Defense of Marriage Act and North Carolina’s Amendment One banned our being wed. As I gradually came out of my gay closet, yet still pretended to be a straight clergyperson, I grew increasingly resentful and bitter toward non-LGBTQ couples I was marrying, authorizing this rich package of protections kept from my partner and me. I knew straight couples were thinking little about these benefits granted to them with a relatively inexpensive marriage license. They were lost in wedded bliss.
In October, for the first time in my pastoral experience, I was no longer bitter or resentful toward a non-LGBTQ couple I wed. On Oct. 10, the hate-filled Amendment One of the N.C. constitution was ruled unconstitutional first by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and then by judges in N.C.
The timing was perfect, because on Oct. 11, I officiated at my daughter and now son-in-law’s wedding in Massachusetts. I was genuinely happy for them, smiling broadly as my daughter was walked down the center aisle of a small gathering of friends and family members, with her mom, Pam, and my partner, Dean, on each side of her.
The following week I found myself authentically happy when I married a lovely lesbian couple outside the Durham Court House, hearing the words “I do” anew, with their children from a previous marriage surrounding us. Gone was my fear of breaking the law in N.C. for marrying a same-sex couple, and my anxiety of having charges brought up against me in the church disappeared.
With the increase of states supporting marriage equality, may there be even more “I dos” in our future as a country and as the church.
The Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell lives in Chapel Hill.