Making a Family Amid Controversy: The Marriage of Larry & James

Coauthored with James Raymer

“On behalf of Jim and Larry, I welcome you to this celebration of their commitment to each other.” I listened to our Pastor, Jill Edens, make this statement during the opening of our covenant ceremony. The long awaited day was finally here. It was for me, for us both, the beginning of a new phase in our relationship of nearly 4 years. We were surrounded by family and friends and before us stood two ministers, one our pastor, the other our friend and Methodist minister, Jimmy Creech. What we did not realize was that it was also the beginning of a controversy that would attempt to overshadow the love and commitment that brought us to this place.

In many respects, we are like any other couple. We met by chance, became acquainted, fell in love and decided “this is the person I want to spend my life with.” Since we are both very spiritual individuals, it seemed only natural that we would seek God’s blessing in a formal ceremony before our family, friends and church. When one of our pastors, Jill’s husband, Rick, had to be away for another church activity, we asked Jimmy Creech to co-officiate with Jill. We wanted the diversity of male and female ministry represented.

“We are here to affirm intimate relationship in its many and varied forms: the love of family, the support of friends. We are here to witness the making of a covenant expressed in solemn vows and promises.” That sounds like an innocuous statement, one that most any upstanding citizen and certainly even the occasional churchgoer could support. Except that while we are like most any other couple, there is one difference – we are a gay couple. That small detail takes an innocent statement of affirmation and, according to people like Fred Phelps and the Methodist Church, drives it like a stake into the heart of everything that is sacred.

Less than a week after our ceremony, Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, posted on his website his intent to picket Binkley Baptist Church, the church that so graciously opened its doors to us. Protest he did. Phelps and 5 members of his family showed up during the morning worship service at Binkley, carrying placards that declared that we were sinners and were going to “burn in hell.” They declared clearly that our union was “unholy” and stated that Jimmy Creech was a false prophet.

Soon, others would show their presence to vilify our relationship, to make it insignificant, and even declare it sinful. After all, the homosexual “lifestyle” is immoral and perverted according to some. Approximately 1 week after Phelps’ attack, the United Methodist Church filed charges against Jimmy. He is charged with violating church law which says, no (Methodist) minister can conduct a same-sex union. The Methodists believe God’s grace is available to all peoples but they cannot condone the “homosexual lifestyle.”

“Perhaps these moments will offer each of you the opportunity to review and reflect upon your life commitments and important relationships. May this time facilitate the renewal of your commitments and covenants to family, friends, and community.”

I guess that as I sat before the ministers that day, I gave little thought to the fact that what we were confessing before God and our church could be considered a sin. Strangely, several of the “straight” couples in attendance commented that they were moved by the ceremony, and one couple even felt as if they had gotten married themselves all over again. One man said, “I held her hand all the way through and we both had tears in our eyes.”

Jimmy Creech says, “This a timeless moment, a moment of hope and expectation, when standing before God and among you, their friends, Jim and Larry pledge themselves to each other in the covenant of Holy Union.”

Someone asked me why, after four years, we are doing this now. Our answer is simple. We want to live our lives together in integrity and dignity. We want our relationship to be recognized as any other committed relationship. We are a family. I still have difficulty figuring out what the “homosexual lifestyle” is and how it contradicts a straight one.

We live our lives as any other couple. For example, when I became seriously ill and was thought to have had a heart attack 3 years ago, it was Jim who rushed me to the hospital and sat by my side in the ER answering questions. Jim cared for me night and day for the month after I came home after emergency surgery. We built a house, making the many decisions together. We shop for groceries, do the yard work, go on vacation and have family birthdays and holidays together. What about that is so different from the “straight lifestyle?”

We decided over a year ago that we would spend the rest of our lives together. Now we wanted to stand before our church and friends and make a public declaration of that commitment. Did this act make us a family? No, our love and commitment makes us a family. Unfortunately, gays and lesbians often make this commitment with no one else to witness the joining of their lives in spiritual union. There are no laws that bind us together. WE make that decision in the face of opposition and society’s objection.

Jimmy continues, “Through this rite of passage, two persons declare publicly their intent to enter into a covenant relationship of enduring love…We are witnesses to the making of a covenant. This is a celebration of the highest we know in love, the pledging of the deepest fidelity and trust, the expression of the highest aspiration.” To force such a deep commitment “underground” denies a couple and their friends the joy and love that many straight couples take for granted.

Fred Phelps and his clan have gone back to Kansas. The Methodist denomination will more than likely bring Jimmy Creech to trial and may even take his credentials because he decided to follow his heart and convictions. Does that make Jimmy a renegade? People have said of him, “why doesn’t he just leave the Methodist denomination; why does he insist on breaking church law?” If it were not for men like Jimmy Creech who are willing to stand in the face of opposition there could be no change. Call it an act of civil disobedience if you will, but today we laud men like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. who brought about change because they believed in their convictions. Would we tell M.L. King, Jr. to leave America today because he disobeyed civil laws to effect change?

Our lives will go on, but for us, and the many lesbian and gay couples like us, it is not about the Phelpses or the Methodists. It is about God’s love for us. It is about our right to live without fear of retribution from any person or any church. It is our right to live as a family and be respected as productive citizens of our community. It is our right to worship God without the condemnation of men. Another man faced the opposition of the religious bigots of His day to the point of death to give us that right!