Something I’ll always remember about the marriage ceremony was the gasp toward the end. All of our hearts were lifted by the beauty of the occasion. The faces of loved ones joined in a glow as strong as the oversized fireplace. Lilies and gardenias filled the oak room.
"And now,” my breath quivered, “by the power vested in me, by the State of Maryland-”
And the entire room gasped.
“I now pronounce you spouse and spouse.”
What did this enormous gasp represent?
I scanned the many who had come to pay homage to the love and commitment of Ken and Kevin on that chill November. For a moment frozen in time I saw a sea of faces: some smiling so large their eyes were squeezed closed, others wide-eyed. Each heart was present in the magic of the historic event. Were we giving witness to a universal step towards enlightenment and equality?
Ken, a bright and sensitive soul, had called me six months earlier. A former student of mine, I had had the pleasure of mentoring him through his struggles and successes during his adolescence, and he had remained a close and vital part of my life as we grew and developed a love and professional kinship for human behavior.
He asked, “Will you marry us? The state of Maryland has just passed a law entitling Kevin and me to marry. We want you to officiate.”
I am not sure if, at that moment, I was more shocked to hear that finally after twenty three years of commitment Ken and Kevin could see their relationship legally recognized for many of the same entitlements and protections as everyone else. Or that they had asked me to minister this sacred celebration. They said they had meditated and been lovingly led to me.
I had ministered a few weddings before. But this new freedom had a richness and a complexity – a sense of landmark – which caused me to contemplate again the meaning of marriage, for Ken and Kevin, for the LGBT community at large, for their heterosexual counterparts, for one and all.
As a psychologist I know all too well the many ways people can lose faith in the sacred ground of relationships. But I also know a large body of research supports partners in healthy marriages, on average, live happier and healthier lives than they would alone. When we are supported by a committed partner, we tend to face the challenges of life better. We can also magnify the celebrations and the success together.
At the wedding I compared marriage to a constellation… a configuration of boundless brilliant energies, lighting our way in the everywhere sky. Imaging each star as a facet of marriage, I said one star is that of intimacy. Another, the wedded comfort that goes far beyond care taking and where we go for our deepest rest. And perhaps the most brilliant star represents the chance to be understood, to be understood in such a way that you are affirmed in your light and your shadow – that your life has a witness. In mutual understanding you discover you are more powerful together than apart.
That night the music played on. There were no more gasps, although a few of us became breathless as we danced until our knees hurt. Through the windows we could see the night had become a glistening picture of snow laden gardens. The twinkle lights of the holidays to come formed more constellations.
And maybe there was the meaning of the gasp: in looking up at two people affirming their love, we saw the light emanating from our spiritual star, affirming that we are not alone. We saw love made manifest and we were so blessed to fill our hearts with the hope of transformation, the evolution of love. Under the fundamental grandeur of love, our faith was restored.