It was many years ago when I tried to do everything right instead of simply doing the right thing, but it was only recently I learned how wrong I was. I was a recently ordained minister serving as a college chaplain. A young woman asked me to perform her wedding. She was of those wonderful women in every college. Sweet, diligent in her school work, supporting herself because her parents either couldn’t or wouldn’t. She had graduated and wanted me to bless her union with the woman she was in love with. Not a legal marriage, but the same vows of love and fidelity.
I wasn’t ready for such a request. Almost no church allowed such rites at that time. Mine had not even discussed them. I had written a paper in bible class on why I thought St. Paul would say something different about homosexuality today, but that was theoretical. I thought I didn’t know any gay people. I didn’t know the best man at my wedding was gay.
So I did what I thought I should do as a young minister. I told her no. I told her that I am only authorized to do rites and rituals according to the rules of my church. I told her good luck instead of saying The Lord bless you and keep you. And she never spoke to me again.
She sometimes contacted my wife who was a friend. She and her partner adopted a child and later had a bitter divorce, much as I had once gone through. She was disowned by her family for being different. She was not welcomed in her church or her home town. She struggled to survive in the mountains of PA in one of those towns that tourists from New York drive through to their resorts.
One night several local men decided to force her to be straight by gang raping her. Some of them were arrested and one did jail time. I think he was the one who had AIDS. The one who infected her. And now this woman who was despised, rejected, and brutalized is struggling to live.
I didn’t rape her or cast her out into the streets. But in her life she gave me one chance to bless her instead of curse her, to love her according to the vows I had taken as a servant of Christ. Instead I hid behind rules and stepped aside. My actions would not have changed her future. She would still be bereft of family, lover, child, dignity, and health. But she would have known at least one man who stood by her, who shared a moment of joy, who loved her as she was.
The best man from my wedding married his partner of sixteen years as soon as it became legal. He honored me by asking me to do the ceremony. He stood with me after my divorce and I was happy to stand with him. This time I did what is right regardless of my church’s rules. And I as I did that simple ceremony I remembered the one I had wronged.