When Stephanie Donald launched this website last November, I promised to contribute one article each month. My plan was that I’d write about the media and the LGBT community. I’ve generally followed through on my promise, although last month I drifted off my focus and wrote about my partner and my upcoming wedding.
The big day is now behind us, and I’ve decided to write a second piece—if Stephanie will indulge me—about Tom and me tying the nuptial knot. I’m doing this mainly because the wedding proved to be an even more momentous event in our lives than I thought it would be, and I’m still processing exactly why it meant so much to us.
If I wanted, I could write an entire article about the details of the wedding and how they came together perfectly. Tom was totally in charge of the planning. He chose the flowers and the music, as well as the venues for the ceremony and reception, right down to the lamb chops and lobster salad that the guests were served. I sort of “approved” each decision, but the truth is he planned the event and I went along for the ride.
(Truth-o-Meter: My previous statement was, in fact, a slight exaggeration. Tom put me in charge of choosing the flavors of the cupcakes for the reception. After a long and arduous tasting process, I went with lemon, carrot, double chocolate, chocolate/raspberry, and chocolate/peanut butter. I won’t claim the cupcakes were the highlight of the event, but I’m told there was a fist fight over who got the last lemon one. I’m just sayin’ . . . .)
But instead of writing about the aesthetic details—and I honestly don’t mean to diminish them—of the event, I want to talk about an entirely different facet of the day. That is, I want to focus on the emotions.
The emotional peak of any marriage ceremony is the moment when the two people getting hitched exchange their vows. I’ll make the argument, though, that this peak often becomes a peak on steroids, if you will, these days when two men or two women are being joined together. After all, in many cases, these couples have been together longer than Oprah reigned as queen of daytime TV.
For Tom and me, the number of years totaled 28. And so, when I said the words, “In the name of God, I, Rodger, take you, Tom, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse . . .,” a whole lot of memories flashed through my mind. I won’t get specific on the ups and downs of our relationship, but—trust me—they outnumber the ups and downs in Oprah’s yo-yo diet saga.
While saying our vows, I managed to get through “. . . for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.” But then I stalled out. Friends later told me that I paused so long that they thought I’d forgotten where I was or what I was doing. The truth is, I was trying to steel myself for the final statement so my voice wouldn’t crack. I didn’t succeed, as I blubbered hopelessly as I said, “This is my solemn vow.”
Then it was Tom’s turn. He pretty much followed the same pattern as I did, getting through the initial phrases with aplomb but then his voice cracking toward the end.
So anyway, after we got through the vows, we thought we were home free. Not so much.
The minister threw us a curve ball a couple minutes later when she added a feature to the ceremony that she hadn’t included during the rehearsal the previous afternoon.
“Now, Tom and Rodger,” she said, “I want you to turn around and face this group of friends and family who have gathered here today to witness and celebrate your marriage.”
We dutifully swiveled in place and looked out onto the sea of smiling faces spread out across the sanctuary. It was a moment we’ll never forget.
There before us, staring at us, were 85 individual men, women, and children—each of them with a personal history linked directly to us. We hadn’t seen two friends, John and Larry, for 10 years, but they’d flown up from Texas to Washington, D.C., to attend the wedding . . . my beautiful former graduate student, Kim, had bought a festive, broad-brimmed purple hat that would have held its own at Britain’s royal wedding . . . Tom’s long-time friend, Martita, who’s a dancer and lives a hand-to-mouth existence, had endured one of those cheapo bus rides from New York City to be with us . . . .
When all these separate stories blended together into a single wave of love and support, they created a tsunami of emotion that took on a life and a power all its own.
Tom and I, by this point, had given up trying to suppress the feelings that raced to the surface. We surrendered to the moment and let the tears roll down our cheeks.
We then moved forward through the rest of the ceremony, including all of us taking communion—my new husband and I served each other our wine and wafers—and listening to an ethereal Mozart solo sung by Georgia, the 15-year-old daughter of two of our dearest friends.
When we arrived at the reception, I was plenty happy to chug down the beer that a friend handed me, all the emotional stimuli that had played out during the ceremony having drained me dry.
Tom and I then stationed ourselves in the parlor of the historic home, built in the early 1800s, and accepted the congratulations, the embraces, and the kisses of one well wisher after another.
An hour or so into the reception, Tom reminded me that he’d scheduled a pair of champagne toasts.
First to step forward was my 35-year-old son, his dreadlocks flowing down his back to below his knees. Matt has always prided himself on being the stoical type, the man’s man who keeps his feelings inside himself where they belong.
He began with a joke, telling everyone that finding the right words for a toast had been a challenge for him. “I thought to myself,” he said, turning to Tom and me, “I can’t give you guys a traditional sendoff by saying something like, ‘What a cute young couple you make.’”
That line set off a round of hearty laughter, and then Matt got serious. A friend captured my son’s exact words to Tom and me on an iPhone, so I’ll reproduce them—verbatim—here:
“We live in a world with barriers designed for different purposes. Some of them help guide us. Some of them help protect us. Some of them help protect others from us. Yet there are some which infringe upon our rights to decide which paths we choose to walk and which lives our hearts must lead. Last year, the District of Columbia lifted one of these barriers.
“And so, we have gathered here today to witness the realization of a dream in which two people of the same sex can be joined in a traditional celebration and—above all—recognition.
“Now, after 28 years of a successful partnership which has prospered in times of certainty and which has faced and fought through times of doubt, there are a limited few who merit as much as you do this dream come true.
“I love you guys. I’m very proud . . .”
At this point in his toast, my strong and noble son was overcome with the moment. He stopped talking and sobbed openly. Silence filled the room. Many of our guests joined us in our shedding of tears.
After a few moments, Matt continued.
“. . . of both you guys and the example that you set for all couples. I’m very honored to be here today, and I wish you the same success and happiness from this day forward as you have had up to it.”
When Tom and I took our turns hugging him, the embraces included throbs of heartfelt joy.
Kate was next. Unlike her brother, my gorgeous daughter with her elegant pearl necklace and classic little black dress [Tom, of course, had helped pick it out.] already had tears in her eyes as she began to speak.
She recounted the day, many years ago, when I’d had “the talk” with my two children to tell them that their father was gay.
Kate re-created that moment by saying, “Dad sat us down and he told us that he loved Tom.” Then she smiled at the crowd, flashed those to-die-for dimples of hers, and said, “And I, like any little girl would, said, ‘Well, I love Tom, too, Dad.’”
After the laughter subsided, she continued, speaking directly to Tom and me.
“And so, here we are, 28 years later at your wedding.
“When I thought about what I should say, I realized how silly it would be for me to give marriage or relationship advice to two people who, for most of my life, have been the example of what a strong, loving, and lasting couple should look like.”
(I’m assuming I don’t need to tell you that Tom and I were still bawling like babies as Kate continued.)
“And so, instead, I want to say thank you, and also how proud and happy this day is for all of us—and especially for our family.”
Bringing her toast full circle, Kate finished with . . .
“And I must have been one smart kid, because it’s been 28 years, and I’m saying the same thing, ‘I love Tom, too, Dad.’”
After that line, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Although I was far too chocked up to speak at this point, if I’d been able to, I would have said that I’ve never been prouder of my two children than I was on that afternoon.
So here are the final cost figures for the wedding:
The champagne: More than I spent on my first year of college.
The flowers: More than I was paid for my first year of working as a newspaper reporter.
The lamb chops and lobster salad: More than the annual budget of a mid-sized South American country.
The emotions: Priceless
Editor's Note: LGBT-Today wishes Tom and Rodger a long and happy life together and congratulate them on finally tying the knot and being able to legally do so in the District of Columbia. No one appreciates the struggles of LGBT inequality more than Rodger and his husband and no one deserves to enjoy the fruits of that recognition after so long together without being able to tell the world about their love.
And may you live happily ever after!
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