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Tuesday, July 13 2004 19:00
This was the closest to a royal wedding that I have ever seen live. The church was packed with hundreds of guests who, on the late afternoon of Independence Day, awaited the cortege. In due course, the procession entered through a side door and made its way to the back of the church before advancing triumphantly down the center aisle.

There were several dozen attendants in the bridal procession: young and old, famous and unknown, gay and straight, solemn and smiling. All were dressed with cheerful formality, and flowers were much in evidence. Last in line came an Episcopal bishop, robed and mitered and carrying a crozier.

When the attendants reached the sanctuary, they turned to face us in the congregation, awaiting the couple to be married. Then, to the strains of Purcell’s Trumpet Tune and the fervent applause from the congregation, the couple came down the aisle together, splendidly dressed in long gowns with broad brimmed hats. Their faces were radiant as they acknowledged their families and guests.

After Diana and Dorothy had taken their places before the assembly, the bishop welcomed the congregation, charged us to support the couple, and ritually asked them to declare their intention to marry. The congregation then joined with spirit in the singing of “Now Thank We All Our God,” and listened with attention as some members of the wedding party gave short speeches in celebration of the two women.

As the service continued, great Welsh hymn tunes were interspersed with readings from the Bible, Shakespeare, and e.e. cummings. The wedding address was given by a justly renowned preacher Reverend Professor Peter Gomes, who on this occasion served also as Best Man. After Diana and Dorothy had exchanged their vows, the marriage was pronounced by a woman minister and blessed by the bishop.

After the church part of the celebration, guests walked in a less than perfect file through Harvard Yard, and across two main streets (the police blocking traffic), for a meal under a tent in the courtyard of the undergraduate residence where Diana and Dorothy serve as masters. During dinner, a few guests came forward to propose toasts to “the glorious couple,” as Professor Gomes consistently called them.

“Only in Cambridge,” you might say dismissively of this hyper event. Why should a column on spirituality be devoted to a same-sex wedding, a union that is legal only in Massachusetts?

A solid reason for its place here is because this wedding was so religious. Both partners are professionally involved with religion, Diana as a professor of the subject, Dorothy as an ordained minister. Beyond that, both women are seriously committed to religion in their own private lives and order them according to religious ideals.

They made a point of endowing this signal event with the trappings of religion so that everyone would recognize that their wedding was of God. Doubtless, they also wished to define the event as an act of independence as well. That is why they choose July 4th as the date of this celebration and why they had everyone sing “My Country Tis of Thee” before leaving the church.

One of the notable guests was Margaret Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, whose leadership and vote led the Commonwealth to legalize same-sex weddings. How most members of the congregation felt about her action emerged loud and clear when they applauded her thunderously in the church and later at the reception.

My appraisal of this and other same-sex weddings continues to evolve. I believe that these unions deserve serious attention for the spiritual values they contain. Not only do I rejoice that Diana and Dorothy have been able to form a family with the blessing of the state and of some churches, but I draw spiritual inspiration from their love for one another.

However, I also sympathize with those who have doubts about the course Massachusetts has followed. A friend named Emily feels both approval and disquiet. “It makes me feel good,” she says, “that people make a commitment to each other and enjoy the privileges that this gives them, to enjoy the advantages of family life.”

At the same time, Emily feels that in legalizing same-sex marriages “we did not know what we are doing because it’s too profound, too difficult to sort out.” Surely Emily is not alone in feeling that Massachusetts has moved too fast, but still she respects the spiritual values in same-sex unions, as do I.

Richard Griffin