A Big Gay Wedding For Kansas: Everyday Magic, Day 799

IMG_0081The grooms walked Michael’s mom down the aisle between them. When they arrived at the front of the church, led by a wide line of children, friends and family ringing small bells, they each turned to hug Michael’s mom with all their heart. Thus began one of the most joyful and meaningful weddings in my life and surely in the life of Kansas.

Michael and Charles were joined together in holy marriage on May 3 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Manhattan, authorized by all of us there, the authority of their love and 30+ years together, and surely by the blossoming trees and sweet wind of this spring day. While the state of Kansas wasn’t in on the authorization of this marriage YET (and that’s a big YET), the rest of the known and unknown universe sure seemed in complete alignment. The guys were legally married some months earlier in California, but now in Kansas — where Michael is a minister, Charles a retired attorney, and both writers andrabble-rousers — this wedding lands on home ground.

This will be the new billboard in Manhattan, KS
This will be the new billboard in Manhattan, KS

The ceremony itself was stunning. One groom could hardly stop crying, the other kept making us laugh so hard that we would cry ourselves into tears, and the music, readings, silence and vows were as beautiful as sunlight. Throughout the ceremony, in what was said and what didn’t need to be said, it was clear that we had all arrived at a new time: one in which gay and lesbian marriage had arrived, IMG_0074even in a state that had already gone to great lengths to slam the door against it. Many of my friends and I joke as to whether Kansas will be the 48th or 49th state to recognize gay marriage (I tend to think we’ll do it before Mississippi and Alabama, but who knows?), but thanks to my dear friends Charles and Michael, recognition may come sooner rather than later. These good men are one of two couples suing the state of Kansas to file taxes as married, and in lieu of wedding gifts, Michael and Charles asked for contributions to All’s Fair Kansas, the organization fighting for marriage equality here in the land lately known as Brownbackistan.

Thea Nietfeld reading a beautiful piece she wrote
Thea Nietfeld reading a beautiful piece she wrote

Having known Michael and Charles for over 20 years, I have no doubt that all of us in Kansas or who have Kansas states of mind are very fortunate to have such committed, loving, wise and kind men putting themselves out there on our behalf. While it might be presumptuous for a straight woman like myself to say this, I believe so much that marriage equality lifts all of us up. It breaks the cycle of silencing and choking shame that forces some to swallow their pride, identity and truth, which cannot help but diminish the health and strength of individuals, communities, cultures, even a whole state. Freedom is truly only complete when it isn’t tarnished by giving privilege to some at the expense of others. Love too is more complete out in the open.IMG_0119

As I watched Michael and Charles marry, like most everyone else crying, laughing and cheering in that church, I felt such awe and love for these men: for their courage, their beauty, their truth. For their love of flowers and adventure and each other. For their vision of community here in the heartland. For their art and heart, and willingness to very soon after the ceremony, sing together with many of us on the dance floor, “Going to the chapel, and I’m going to get married.” And for doing just that on this day.

The Love of Justice, The Justice of Love, and Why Courtney & Denise Should Be Able to Marry in Kansas: Everyday Magic, Day 761

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2001 Real-But-Not-in-Kansas Wedding Portrait

When Courtney and Denise asked me to marry them, I said, “Sure, but you know, I’m not legal to marry anyone.”

“D’uh,” said Denise, giggling.

“Like it matters,” added Courtney.

At the time, early 2001, gay marriage was so small a glimmer of possibility, something we all thought might happen in our lifetime, maybe when we were passing around pictures of our grandchildren. Making due without being able to make up for this injustice was all we had.

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The wedding procession in 2001

So on May 5, 2001, we gathered at Ken and my house south of Lawrence, and gleefully paraded with family and friends alongside the woods to the southeast corner of a field. Denise was crying and swirling in her wide-swinging white dress while Courtney was laughing and rolling her eyes. They held hands, looked at each other, Denise giggling and crying at once, as they came to the exact place where I would marry them.

We got to know Denise in her job at Free State Credit Union and through the Merc, and Courtney when she was a para for our oldest son in 5th grade. Over the 1990s, we become close friends, the kind who can take naps on one another’s couches or leave a dinner conversation to do something on the computer for work, no explanation needed. It was as if we had been family for decades before we actually met, and we hang out together, in I Love Lucy terms, not like Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel, but more like Ricky and three Lucys.

So of course I could be a pretend rabbi, acting in faith that this was a real marriage, and one day the world would catch up Courtney and Denise. They had been together for years, and all of us had just been through Denise’s thyroid cancer together when Courtney had to endure the insult of fighting to see her beloved in the hospital because they were both women.

The wedding happened at dusk in a slim gap of sunlight on an afternoon of rain. The whole wedding party stood in a circle around the bride and bride, my daughter Natalie excited to be ring bearer in her white pants and rainbow shirt, my sons and husband wrapped close, smiling and crying with joy like all the other guests there.

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Denise, Courtney and their son

In the 13 years since the not-real real wedding, Courtney and Denise had a son, Marek, born during a very joyous if not long labor at the Topeka Birthing Center. Denise decided to become a nurse, and after two years of prerequisite classes, got accepted into the prestigious nursing program at Baker University, graduated with flying colors, and now works at Stormont-Vail Medical Center. Courtney was finally able to leave her job at the post office to throw her immense energy into Courtney and Denise’s family family, Homestead Ranch, where they raise goats, chickens and other critters, grow immense amounts of vegetables, and hand craft the best goat milk soaps and lotions on the planet. Marek is close to 10 years old, and excels at Karate, making holiday ornaments to sell at the farmer’s market, and he plays a mean game of Apples to Apples. The whole family has run a booth at the farmer’s market, waking in the dark and wee hours every Saturday from May through November, for years, and cater to a loyal following.

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Marek at Homestead Ranch

A family business and farm. A child and his education. A home full of dogs, cats and tree frogs. A rich life with plenty of bouts of Guitar Hero and other games to play together. Spectacular turkey dinners with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving and beyond. And now land where they plan to build their dream house in coming years.

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Married in Iowa, So Why Not Kansas Too?

Throughout the years, we’ve come to know each other’s extended families, shared the sorrow of a close friend’s sudden passing, the loss of fathers and mothers, birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, and an outrageous amount of spaghetti and meatball dinners. Those in our family who, at first, had complaints about a lesbian couple, like much of America, softened their position over the years, eventually dissolving away such complaints. Courtney and Denise effectively, simply by being who they were and being around, changed the minds of people in our extended families as well as people they met through work, kids’ activities and the farmer’s market, about gay rights.

Yet it took until July of 2013 for Courtney and Denise to get legally married, and they had to travel out of state to Sidney, Iowa for the ceremony because our home state doesn’t recognize marriage between two women. They also had to work long and hard to get Courtney covered on Denise’s health insurance, and they still can’t file taxes jointly. Our dear friends who live and love a lot like us, and yet have to wait in the background for the light of equality to slowly reach them and other-than-hetero-identified people.

The advancement of gay marriage has moved a million times faster than I never dreamed when I was growing up, watching gay or lesbian friends or acquaintances cast, at best, as exotic, and at worst, as repugnant. Yet when it comes to my friends and so many other Kansans who have waited years, decades, lifetimes, to be able to simply say “my wife” or “my husband” and reap other legal, economic, religious and social benefits, the wait is excruciatingly slow.

It didn’t matter in 2001 that I wasn’t legally sanctioned to marry anyone. It should have, and it sure matters even more today that Kansans who aren’t of the heterosexual variety must either have no1521965_10151888355412684_155270190_nn-legal weddings or leave the state.

What does matter: Love. Justice. Community. Let’s work in community for the love of justice, and the justice of love.

What DOMA Repeal Means Up Close and Personal, and How I Got a Kitten Out of It: Everyday Magic, Day 715

936492_10151731767950907_14429982_n“Courtney and Denise went to Iowa, and all I got was a kitten,” I joked to a friend, riffing off the old, “My parents went to Paris, and all I got was a t-shirt.” But what really matters here is why Courtney and Denise went to Iowa, and what this says about change that seemed decades away just a dozen years ago as well as changes sorely needed right now.

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The wedding procession in 2001

On May 6, 2001, I conducted my very first (and so far, last) wedding for my dear friends and our kids’ godparents. Courtney and Denise had been together for years already, and they were ready to wed. “But I’m not official,” I told them when they asked me to do the ceremony. “Like it matters,” Denise answered, and we all laughed. When I think of that moment now, I feel like crying because it should have mattered, and actually, it now does, at least in some states.

1003435_623354997676929_1330304895_nBack in 2001, the notion that gay marriage would be legal anywhere relatively soon was beyond what I thought possible. I thought that maybe in my life time, like when I was in my 90s and pushing a walker, marriage rights and privileges would be extended to my gay, lesbian and trans friends. But when change starts its road trip to justice, pit stops aside, there’s no stopping it. When I told a very elderly relative, who previously opposed gay marriage, about Courtney and Denise getting married in Iowa, she said, “Of course they should be able to do that.” Who knew how fast such opposition would transform itself? An insightful article in Time Magazine, “How Gay Marriage Already Won,” released weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out DOMA (the mean-spirited and unjust Defense of Marriage Act) illustrates the speed of our current culture shift.

With that Supreme Court decision, however, change crossed state lines just as my dear friends Courtney and Denise, who drove to Iowa, where gay marriage is legal, on Tuesday to get officially hitched. No matter that they have a son (our godson), a family business, a house, a stand at the farmer’s market, and a whole bunch of goats, dogs, and even some new pigs at their ranch. Married as much or even more than any married straight couple I know, they were now getting a marriage certificate so that they can partake of the kind of benefits straight marrieds like Ken and I take for granted (such as health insurance and federal tax benefits).

1045174_628850360460726_1634515464_nThey drove, along with their son and mine, and my son’s girlfriend, to Sidney, Iowa for the courthouse wedding. The official marrying them told them how brave they were and said many other wonderful things while both of them cried. Afterwards, everyone went to lunch (oddly enough at a place called Whips) and headed back over the border to Kansas.

downsized_0709132200But a funny thing happened on the way. At a truck stop near St. Joseph, MO, they happened upon meowing under their car: a hot (it was 102 degrees), thirsty, abandoned kitten. By the time they back to our town, I had a new kitten with the proud name of Sidney Iowa Lassman.

More importantly, Courtney and Denise have a new legitimacy even if it’s quite possible that Kansas may be the 49th state or so to acknowledge gay marriage. This, for them and tens of thousands of others, is far more than about health insurance, survivor benefits or tax breaks. It’s about collectively shedding the cloak of invisibility so that people can live out loud as who they are. It’s about acknowledging that love cannot be put in a box and labeled legitimate or not, and that the mystery, challenge, craziness and strength of committed relationships crosses all manner of boundaries, even state lines.