When I saw the images of people long denied the chance for a homosexual marriage, I could understand somewhat why they were happy. That's because, at one time in my life, my girlfriend and I were denied a chance to marry by several churches. And I remember the joy when finally one agreed to let us get married, especially on the day of our 20th wedding anniversary this month.
I was raised a Catholic in West Texas, going to Catholic schools (never public schools, if we could avoid it). I did pick a Presbyterian college. I met a nice gal when I was a senior, and stayed in town after graduation to work while she chipped away at her degree.
When I went to graduate school, we kept our long-distance relationship going strong with that new email technology, high phone bills, and saving our money for holiday visits. Once I graduated, I went to the city in Florida where she had transferred to finish her undergraduate studies. The summer before, I had proposed on a Florida beach just before a tropical storm hit. But that was nothing but a prelude for what was to come when we looked for a church to get married.
Now my wife was a self-described "Easter and Christmas Lutheran," where church-going wasn't a strong priority. But I kept insisting that Christians were very warm and welcoming. They'd love the chance to have a young couple join their church.
I'm not sure what happened, but every church in town told us no, they weren't interested in having someone perform the service. Only one said maybe, and that was if we did their year-long counseling program for a start.
"We don't marry strangers," another pastor told me.
"But we've been in a relationship for almost four years," I replied. "And we don't want to be strangers we're looking for a church to join as well." The answer was still no.
My wife gave me that look as if to say, "I thought you said Christians were welcoming people."
We never got a reason why we were rejected so many times. Maybe in the mid-1990s, churches felt confident because so many people were Christian, they didn't need some poor graduate students to join.
Finally, an Episcopal Church said they'd perform the service, if we did their six-month counseling program. We agreed, and thoroughly enjoyed the process.
"It's clear you two were meant for each other," the pastor said at our second session. But even then, he asked some really good questions that made us think about things that even after four years, we hadn't considered.
It was a great service. We attended while we lived in Florida When I took a job in West Georgia years later, we found the churches to be far more welcoming. We were invited into a Bible study group as well for folks our age, and my wife sings in the choir.
Could it be that churches are more desperate in their search for members, especially younger ones? Or is it we finally found that famed Southern hospitality that a small town in the Deep South shows, as opposed to a bigger Florida city?
Who knows? But when the pastor asks the congregation to stand if they've been married for 5, 10, 15, 20 years or more, we'll proudly stand, knowing that you can't take it for granted a church will always recognize your marriage, even if it is a heterosexual one.