The Risks of Living by Grace Trump the Safety of Enduring Indefensible Laws
By Rev. Stephen Heiss
My daughter Nancy and the “love of her life” Kim were married in the eyes of God and their friends and family on July 7, 2002. It was one of the best days of my life. They asked me to officiate. And I did!
In those days, a legal marriage in New York State was not available. Like many other gay couples, Kim and Nancy had traveled to Vermont, where they obtained the legal status of a civil union. Later, they would take a day trip over the Canadian border, where they would become, at last, legallymarried. But this July day in 2002 is still the day they celebrate as their real wedding.
Oddly, as I recollect that day for this We Did story, my first memory is of my dad’s anxiety as we traveled together toward the wedding site. He was actually afraid for me – concerned a reporter might be tipped off, show up with a camera, write a story for the next day’s paper,
spoil the event for his granddaughter, and get me in hot water.
Truth be told, I was a bit nervous myself, although I had taken precautions. There were, for instance, no public announcements about the wedding. No pictures in the celebrations section of the paper. Invitations only to those selected guests who would be discrete. Even Nancy’s hometown congregation (where I had previously served as a pastor) did not know anything about her wedding.
Moreover, I had met with a colleague (who had been advised by a gay-friendly bishop) in order to learn the art of officiating at a “gay union service” in a way which would limit my liability should a church complaint be filed against me.
As it turned out, the wedding went well. In fact, it went extremely well. Of course it did!
I have never been to such a joyful wedding. We held the service in a beautiful setting, filled with trees and sunshine, adjacent to a pavilion all decorated up with home-made bouquets for the reception.
When Nancy and Kim were at last ready and standing before me, I was so moved by the moment that I had to switch into autopilot mode (you pastors will know what I mean) just to get through those opening words: “We are gathered here in the presence of God . . .”
After all the vow-giving and -taking and rings and prayers and smiles and love, still fighting my own tears, more or less unsuccessfully, I joined all gathered as we laid out a huge blessing upon both of these wonderful women.
The afternoon reception celebrations were filled with joy. By the end of the day, all had gone exceedingly well. Nobody ever complained to my bishop. The earth did not spin off its axis.
Years later, it is my joy to report that Nancy and Kim are still crazy in love with each other and now live in Asheville, North Carolina.
Sadly, they want nothing to do with the United Methodist Church. Who can blame them?
Somebody recently asked me why I had risked officiating at my daughter’s wedding.
I said something like, “Well, she is my daughter . . . who would not risk everything to help their own daughter?”
That is a true statement. It is also an incomplete statement. I wish I had added more. I wish I had added thatevery person who asks me to officiate at their wedding is my daughter, or my son, or my transgender child, or my questioning child, or my queer child – and they are ALL ALL ALL a part of MY FAMILY.
Which is, of course, YOUR family too.
Who would not risk helping members of their own beloved family? Or, as the Master of Life might have said it, “If your child asks for bread, would you give her a stone? Or if your child asks for a wedding cake, would you hit him with a Book of Discipline?”
I did officiate at the wedding of two people who did not identify as heterosexual. I have done so a number of times. I will continue to do so as long as I am able. I believe the risk of living by grace always trumps the safety of enduring an indefensible law.
Stephen Heiss, who currently faces an official complaint for having performed same-sex weddings, is an elder in the Upper New York Annual Conference and the pastor of Tabernacle UMC in Binghamton, NY.
We Did is a project of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) dedicated to making visible our ministries to LGBTQ people and encouraging others in the UMC to transcend the institutional requirement to discriminate and make their ministries visible, too. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across the United Methodist Church. You can read all the We Did stories here. We invite you to submit your own story to We Did.