Today would have been the 25th anniversary of our “commitment ceremony.” At a time when gay marriage was a far-future dream, gay men and lesbians were beginning to have public ceremonies stating their love for each other and their intention to stay together for the rest of their lives. Many of them were just like traditional weddings— everything except the legal rights of people who get married. We didn’t go the traditional route.
We had our ceremony of “love and union” at Helen’s Restaurant in Northwest DC— one of our favorite places, which was a fusion of French and Asian cuisine. Our plan was to pay for everything ourselves, and invite only a few people to participate. Well, naturally, one person wanted to bring someone else; someone else couldn’t come, but two more people could— we ended up with 25 people. Since we couldn’t afford an affair for all of them, we asked people to contribute $10 to to cost of their dinner, and we paid the rest. We handcrafted invitations, and I made fabric pins for us to wear.
Like our lives, our ceremony was inclusive and varied. With only a couple of handfuls of guests, we had both gay and straight; women and men; deaf and hearing, non-signers and ASL masters. People were Black, white, Jewish, Christians and agnostics. Most people were local, but several came from out of town. Artists, writers, academics, social and community workers, people in recovery and tech people showed the breadth of our interests. Betty’s mother was there, my mother was invited but refused to come.
We had a friend use the restaurant’s piano while my long-time friend, Marian sang a song (a last minute request), from one of our favorite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies (“Cheek to Cheek” from Top Hat, 1935). While she sang, the two of us danced at the same time we were watching the interpreter (a feat!). Betty’s long-time friend, Kanny, presented a poem in ASL, and another old friend, Natalie, led us through a short ceremony which ended with us exchanging vows and putting earrings in each other’s ears. (Year later, the earrings broke, but are still in my jewelry box.) Then we had a marvelous meal, and good conversations around the tables. Other diners could hear what was going on, because the room wasn’t completely separate. As we left, a few of them congratulated us.
What I remember most, and can see in the photographs, is the feeling of glowing. No alcohol involved or needed— I was floating on a sea of loving energy. Betty and I always felt lucky to have found each other, especially since our first meetings were not auspicious. I was planning to take Betty back to DC this spring for a legal wedding, a simple civil ceremony to reaffirm our love and commitment to each other. But her death last December interfered with that plan. What’s that phrase? Something like, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” How very true. I miss her very much, and meaningful days like today, are hard. But I’m moving along, and getting stronger each day.
Were you one of the guests at our ceremony? Please add to the story by submitting a comment. I’d love to see how you remember that evening.