Unitarian Universalist couples, ministers, congregations celebrate now-legal marriages.
“We really thought we’d die before we saw this day,” said Russell. She and Garbosky are members of First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego and have been together 20 years. “We are surprised, shocked, delighted, overjoyed,” said Russell. “There aren’t enough adjectives today. We are going to be married. I keep saying that to myself.” Garbosky was elected president of First UU earlier this month. The couple plans to marry October 4 in their church.
The California Supreme Court ruled May 15 that the state cannot bar same-sex couples from marrying. It rejected as discriminatory a state law that restricted marriage to one man and one woman. It allowed marriage licenses to be granted starting 30 days after its ruling. More than 1,600 wedding licenses were issued in California on Tuesday, compared to around 460 on a normal June day, state officials said.
This is the second time gays and lesbians have had the opportunity to marry in California. In February 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed same-sex couples to marry in the city and nearly 4,000 did. The marriages were invalidated a few months later by the State Supreme Court. Many of those couples and the City of San Francisco sued the state. Those cases were combined and that case is what the Supreme Court ruled on in May.
Massachusetts became the first state to approve same-sex marriage in May 2004 after its highest court ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
The Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California (UULMCA) and UU congregations in the state helped generate support for same-sex marriage and played a role in the Supreme Court’s decision. UULMCA and its member congregations organized a friend of the court brief, the Interfaith Amicus Brief, which was signed by more than 400 clergy and faith organizations," said the Rev. Lindi Ramsden, UULMCA’s executive director.
Jamila Tharp and Michelle Hasting have been going to the Humboldt County recorder’s office in Eureka on Valentine’s Day for eight or nine years. Every year they walk up to the counter and request a marriage license, knowing they won’t be allowed to get one. They always went anyway, as a reminder to others that some people were denied the right to marry.
“The county recorder, Carolyn Crnich, was always very apologetic,” Tharp said, “but this past February she made us promise, with tears in her eyes, that we’d come back if same-sex marriage was legalized.” Tharp and Hasting made that trip on Tuesday morning and were granted a license and married on the spot by Crnich. They were the first couple of the day. “It was very touching, very moving,” said Tharp, “and the sky didn’t fall.” The couple, who are members of the UU Fellowship of Humboldt County, has two children and a foster baby. Tharp added, “My daughter, who is five, said, ‘Now can we do something else on Valentine’s Day?’”
Tuesday night the fellowship threw a party for them as well as other couples in the area. Tharp and Hasting were previously married in Canada in 2006.
Kathleen McGregor and Mia Adriano got their license Tuesday in West Hollywood. They were married Saturday, June 21, by the Rev. Clyde Grubbs at Throop Memorial Church in Pasadena. They’ve been together since 2000. They had a commitment ceremony that year but did it outside the church. “I didn’t want to be married in the church until it was legal,” said McGregor. “I love my church so much. I didn’t want to do something less than a real first-class wedding in it. It’s important to me to have both the spiritual side and the sanctioning by the state, just as other couples are able to do.”
The license itself won’t make a difference in their commitment to each other, she said. “We already have a deep soulful connection, but this is a way to declare to the community that we are a couple. It gives a legitimacy to our relationship that has not been there.” Adriano is a financial aid counselor and McGregor will be entering the Claremont School of Theology this fall.
She added, “We’re really grateful to UULMCA. Having religious liberals involved in influencing this court decision has made a lot of difference.” After getting their license they went to lunch at the nearby restaurant where they first met.
David Robinson and Jerry Lindemulder, of the UU Fellowship of San Luis Obispo County, became David and Jerry Lindemulder Tuesday morning in a ceremony performed by the Rev. Helen Carroll, the congregation’s minister. They had gotten their license earlier that morning. Carroll performed 14 weddings, each one ending with the words: "By the authority vested in me, I now pronounce you married under the law of the State of California!"
David Jones and Don Williams, of the First UU Society of San Francisco, were married in California in 2004 and then had that right taken away. Tuesday they were married again, in front of San Francisco City Hall, by the Rev. Gregory Stewart of the First UU Society of San Francisco. “This time we have hope for something permanent,” said Williams.
Dee Brafford and Carol Grant, of Grass Valley, were married on Wednesday morning under a huge oak tree in a city park, by their minister, the Rev. Meghan Conrad Cefalu of the UU Community of the Mountains in Grass Valley. “We see this as legalizing the marriage we already have,” said Grant. “This means being on the same plane with everyone else. It says that our relationship matters.”
Added Brafford, “This brings a guarantee of rights that everyone else takes for granted. Now they’re ours. I’m just so grateful that our California Supreme Court was able to see through the prejudices and fear that has kept same-sex marriage a taboo.”
Many UU ministers and congregants went down to their local courthouses Tuesday to support those couples getting licenses and to make themselves available to marry couples if needed. The Rev. Jan Christian of the UU Church of Ventura was one of four UU ministers who spent much of the day at the Ventura County Government Center along with many members of local UU congregations. They gave cupcakes and bouquets of Gerber daisies to the waiting couples. “At one time we had 35 UUs cheering them on,” said Christian. “Many of the couples were moved to tears that we were there,” she said. “It was a fabulous day.”
The willingness of UU ministers to support the couples and perform weddings on the spot put them in the media spotlight Tuesday and they were quoted in newspapers, TV stations, and on blogs up and down the state.
An unusual situation developed at Bakersfield, where the Kern County Clerk’s office had earlier announced it would grant licenses but would end its long-standing practice of performing weddings. The Rev. Byrd Tetzlaff, minister of the UU Fellowship of Kern County, jumped into the breach. She spent the day in front of the courthouse marrying one couple after another without charge.
“I lost count,” she said Wednesday morning. “It was between 15 and 20. We have a bunch of people today who are dancing on stars.”
The county’s refusal to perform marriages attracted national media to Bakersfield. Tetzlaff said she did almost as many interviews as weddings. “There was CBS News, the New York Times two or three times, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, a couple of NPR stations, and a number of others.”
To keep the day from becoming a circus, “I just focused in on what needed to be done, giving a positive and meaningful experience to those getting married, and giving interviews in between,” she said. “And today I’m glad it’s over.”
She had support from her congregation as well. She said a fourth of the 75-member congregation came to help out and support the couples. “I am very proud of this congregation.”
A challenge is already looming to same-sex marriage in California. Those who oppose it have gathered enough signatures to qualify for a ballot initiative for the November election amending the state Constitution to block same-sex marriage.
Ramsden, with UULMCA, warned, “We have to win in November. We want to make sure people understand this is an absolutely wonderful, amazing, unexpected step forward historically, but it is not something we can take for granted. People are very excited but they also understand the magnitude of what has to be done between now and November.”
She said a companion organization of UULMCA, called the UULM Action Network, has formed a political action committee to accept donations to defeat the initiative. The Action Network's website is uulmcaaction.org.
Tuesday was special in another way for Ramsden. She and MaryHelen Doherty got their own license in Sacramento and were married by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a lifelong UU. But they’re going to save the party for November, she said. “It will be such a blessing to have all these folks legally married and have the citizens of California recognize it. That will be a really great day.”
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.