"Friends, we are gathered here in the sight of God to witness and to bless the marriage of Sarah and Susan*," a reverend says, draped in a white cassock. "The covenant of marriage was established by God who created us to love one another."
A pianist plays a relaxed version of Pachelbel's "Canon in D Major" as family and friends gathered at a United Methodist Church somewhere in Orange County turn attention towards its entrance. Susan, dressed in a tuxedo with her black mane tightly pulled into a ponytail, walks down the aisle with her mother to adoring gazes. The pianist cues the big moment. Sarah, the bride, walks arm-in-arm in measured steps with her father; a long train from her elegant gown trails behind them.
Up in front of the altar, the reverend turns to the Book of First Corinthians and reads a passage appropriate for the occasion: Love is patient, love is kind. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. The flower girl becomes fidgety, swinging her basket back-and-forth before retreating to the pews while the ceremony continues.
"For some reason, God put you together, amen?" the reverend continues, observing Susan as detail-orientated and her soon-to-be wife as more casual-going. Knowing attendants share a chuckle. "These gifts will complement each other."
The bride and groom turn to face each other after the reverend offers a prayer for their matrimonial bliss. “In the name of God, I take you to be my wife,” says the bride. “In the name of God, I take you to be my wife,” the groom repeats. The reverend takes their rings, holds them high above and says another prayer to God to bless their marriage. They exchange bands.
"And now that they have given themselves to each other, by solemn vows with the joining of hands in the giving and receiving of rings, I announce to you that they are married in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," the reverend says. "May the grace of Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. And now, you may kiss." The bride wraps her arm around her wife’s waist, inching closer for a smooch that brings joyful cheers from guests.
The newlywed couple walks down the aisle and out of the sanctuary to applause. The rogue reverend, wearing a crucifix necklace and clenching the Bible in hand, follows others through the exit.
For all the love that filled the house of worship that day in OC, the wedding transgressed the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline twice over. “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches,” the rule book reads.
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But the pastor, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes that same-sex wedding ceremonies are biblically sound and in line with the inclusive love of Jesus Christ himself. "Just as we recognize God’s love in the marital love of husband and wife," the reverend tells me, "we are now learning to recognize and bless this love in committed same-sex couples."
So long as the Book of Discipline's prohibitive language remains, the Methodist church itself resembles a loveless marriage. Liberal and conservative clergy live under the same denominational house but have drifted far apart after decades of debate over LGBT issues like same-sex marriage. Laypersons are likened to children caught in the middle two parents who refuse to divorce while matters become more polarized.
The Commission on a Way Forward is currently reviewing the Book of Discipline's language in reference to human sexuality before presenting their findings at a specially called General Conference in early 2019. Until then, same-sex weddings, like Sarah and Susan's, will carry on like an underground religious rite—much like Christians themselves did in the early days of the Church.
*The names of the newlyweds have been changed to protect their identity