Phil Gulley: Without a Hitch

Who thinks the fuss over same-sex marriage was absurd? I do.
On October 6, 2014, same-sex weddings became legal in Indiana. Despite predictions that the seven-headed beast of Revelation would rise from the sea and smite us, God wasn’t nearly as upset as some imagined and decided to forgo the apocalypse. Indiana’s modern equivalent of the Pharisees, the Republican leadership, held a press conference, wailed and gnashed their teeth, and then went in search of someone else to crucify.

I feel sorry for the people who predicted the collapse of Western civilization if gay people were allowed to marry. It’s clear they were wrong, and they are probably embarrassed about the fuss they made. Plus, it’s hard work being an alarmist, having to constantly fan the flames of fear. I hope our state legislature and governor were able to take a well-deserved break this summer. If they wanted to take an entire year off, I wouldn’t object. Rest. Spend time with your families. Travel. Far away.

I presided at my first same-sex wedding this past spring, when my brother married his partner of 26 years. The event was held at their church, which belongs to a denomination that doesn’t permit same-sex marriages. But the church’s pastors are brave, so they held the wedding anyway. Then they invited everyone to the basement to sit in awkward silence eating cake, like every other wedding I’ve attended. When I read the words from the Quaker wedding service, “the state sanctions and the church adorns marriage as the ideal relationship in human society,” everyone cheered after the words “the state sanctions.”

If anyone present opposed same-sex marriage, they didn’t make themselves known. Just to be on the safe side, I didn’t ask if anyone knew why they shouldn’t marry, nor did I invite anyone to speak now or forever hold their peace. I never ask that question, since I wouldn’t stop the wedding anyway. Suppose a father doesn’t think the young man marrying his daughter is good enough, which is to say every father of every daughter who has ever lived. Why hand him the microphone? I was at a wedding once where the pastor, not a terribly bright man, asked the congregation if anyone objected, and an old girlfriend of the groom spoke up. The pastor ignored her, so I’m not sure why he asked in the first place.

I’ve objected to several weddings I’ve performed, believing they didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. But I’ve always done so quietly, to my wife, after the wedding was over. Objecting to a wedding is pointless, since there’s no stopping two people bent on marrying the wrong person and ruining their lives.

To be honest, I was a little nervous conducting a same-sex wedding, since I’d never done one before. But about five minutes into it, it felt like the hundreds of other weddings I’ve done, and I forgot the couple was gay. At the end of the ceremony, when the bride and groom customarily kiss, I could tell a few people were nervous about what might happen. A friend of mine attending said he was going to close his eyes if the couple kissed, but they just gave one another a hug, and that was pretty much it. Not unlike one baseball player embracing another after a home run. They didn’t even pat each other on the fanny like athletes do.

What struck me most about the wedding was the normalcy of it. The singers sang the same songs; we pastors prayed the same prayers; the women cried the same tears; the men gave the same bored sighs and wished they were home puttering in their garages. Some protestors would have livened things up. I had a speech in my suit pocket in case we were set upon by the Westboro Baptist Church. I was going to seize the pulpit and hold forth. It was, if I do say so myself, one of my better speeches—an eloquent defense of freedom and equality that will now gather dust in my files, never to be heard.

My brother and his husband asked me to deliver a sermon at their wedding. For all the weddings I’ve done, I’d never given a sermon at one, and I tried to worm out of it. But they persisted, so I agreed. I sighed a lot, though, just to let them know it was an effort. I knew everyone would hate me if I preached for 15 minutes, so I kept it at five. Trying to say something profound in five minutes is hard work. It took me eight hours to write. In return, I received a gift certificate to Goodman’s Shoes. In the old days, ministers were paid with chickens, but now we get gift certificates.

When you attend a wedding, it’s safe to say that of all the people working that day, the minister is being paid the least. The photographer, cake-baker, and florist are raking it in, while the minister is lucky to get a piece of cake, even though that same minister did the premarital counseling, oversaw the rehearsal, sobered up the best man, and fended off the bride’s mother when she tried to take over. I once had to talk down a bride’s uncle when he showed up with a pistol and threatened to shoot the groom. Other than that, it was a lovely wedding, and the happy couple stuck it out through thick and thin for a whole year before divorcing.

Let’s talk about what makes a real marriage. Are you listening, state legislators? My brother and his husband have been together for 26 years. During most of that time, the church condemned them, and the government discriminated against them. They received none of the societal support my wife and I have enjoyed. But they stuck it out. Indeed, more than stuck it out. Their love grew; their commitment deepened. And here’s the irony: My brother and his husband wanted me to stand at a pulpit and advise them on how to make a marriage work. That’s like Andrew Luck asking me for a few tips on throwing a football.

While I’m clearing the air, I’ll add that their gay marriage harmed my traditional marriage exactly zero percent. In fact, my wife and I held hands all the way home, which led to something else that I won’t talk about. Let’s just say it in no way involved the seven-headed beast of Revelation.