My FaceBook post on Wednesday morning read:
“Tonight I will be going to the King County Administrative Building to celebrate marriage equality. What an amazing and joy-filled moment! Licenses will begin to be issued at 12:01 Thursday morning. I will be wearing my clerical robe and the quilted rainbow stole my sister made for me back when I began my ministry at University Congregational UCC. Jeaneane Hill, who has been carrying her ‘Marriage Equality for My Gay Son’ message all over the state will be there too, with the addition of ‘Thank You’ to that well-worn sign. I am still trying to figure out if I want to hold a sign, and what it might say if I do (suggestions welcome!) We should get there about 11:00, and invite any of you out there who would like, to join us.”
I was letting my FaceBook friends know how excited I was to be preparing to witness the historic moment when the state of Washington began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
By the time we met up at Jeaneane’s place Wednesday evening, there were five of us going together. We crammed into a Toyota sedan and headed down to the County Administrative offices to join the party.
The first task, as always, was actually to find the building. Downtown Seattle, it turns out, can be daunting to even seasoned Seattleites. But after just a few wrong turns, we found ourselves driving down James Street past several news vans and a long line of couples spilling out of the courtyard and onto the sidewalk. It was wonderful.
“Honk,” one of the passengers said to the driver, and I prepared to wave a friendly greeting to the crowd.
“I’m not going to honk. It’s undignified,” the driver answered.
“Oh,” I said quietly. “I would’ve honked.” Then I settled back into my seat.
The second task, of course, was to find parking. We drove on down the block and circled back. Every space was filled, even the hidden ones that the retired county worker who was with us knew about. In our search we drove past the waiting couples once again. The driver gave a sweet little “beep” on her horn and the folks in the crowd cheered and waved. We all waved back.
Finally we found a parking place way up the hill on the other side of the freeway. We piled out of the car and started walking. It was cold out, and I was grateful to have my robe and stole to put on over my jacket. I left the hood of my jacket out in case of rain. “It gives you a monkish look,” one of my friends said, and meant it as a compliment.
I had my sign with me. After that first FB post I had gotten many good suggestions for what to put on it, and had settled for “Love Wins.” But of course I can never really make up my mind, so on the back I put the much wordier, and therefore perhaps more fitting for one who makes a living (at least in part) with words, “When Love Wins, We All Win.”
When we got to the courtyard where couples were gathering, the line was snaking around to corner. As we walked up people took our pictures and someone said, “Which of you are getting the license? You’re the two hundredth couple!”
“Well, actually, none of us are here for licenses,” I said. “We came down to celebrate with everyone else.” To their credit, the folks remained enthusiastic and kept snapping pictures. As we walked on through to the waiting area, I heard someone say to the couple behind us, “You’re the two-hundredth couple!”
And then there we were, in the swirl of excitement and happiness. Reporters were everywhere, and a few talked with us about this moment. People were snapping pictures. A gospel choir from Liberation UCC (the newest church on our conference) was wandering through the crowd singing and offering coffee. Meighan Pritchard found us, along with some other church folks (I was a bit of a beacon in my robe and stole) and we hugged and laughed.
After a while, I decided to look through the line for folks I might know, so I went to the front of the line and started walking through. “Congratulations,” I said, as folks hugged me or we shook hands, and couples asked to have their picture taken with me. They loved both sides of my sign, but seemed to prefer the wordier one. When Love Wins, We All Win. “Yes, so true, cool sign,” people said over and over.
“How long have you been together?” I asked, and the answers ranged from 38 years (the longest of the couples I talked to) to a year and a half (the shortest). People thanked me for being there, and asked what church I was from. It was nice that many of them already knew of the UCC, and several knew our congregation specifically.
And throughout the crowd there was a deep sense of community, and connection, and contentment. Someone was handing out roses to every couple. Someone else had made buttons to honor his sister and her partner who were getting their license, and most folks in line had one of them on. The Liberation Gospel Choir was offering free coffee, and I heard that someone had brought Krispy Kreme donuts, though I never saw any of those. One couple, concerned that I was not warm enough, put one of those little hand warmer things in my cold hand after our hand shake. How sweet (and warm).
At midnight the crowd began a count down, and when the doors finally opened, there was a roar of celebration and joy. By then I had moved back to the front of the line, and a group of us were singing, “Amen!”
“The doors are open,” I posted on Facebook (and preacher that I am, the metaphor was not lost on me.)
After about fifty couples had gone in, we went to the other side of the building to watch couples emerge with their licenses. More roars from the crowd as each couple came out, and along with the shouts, tears of joy.
What a night. What a moment in history. And I am so grateful that my church was there, because we have been on this journey together for so long. You folks are the ones, after all, who have taught me. When love wins, we all win.