What I Will Miss: Marriage Equality (Featuring a Q&A with a Lady Who Knows Her Leviticus)

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the things that I will, and will not, miss about the big city. The first one is here; the second is here; the third is here.

Welcome to marriage! (Photo by Roya Millard)

On May 25, 2005, I married my best pal. We got married for a few reasons: 1. love; 2. companionship; 3. we had found each other to be good partners and roommates; 4. our goals in life, while not the same, are complementary.

Not once did the fact that we use separate public lavatories enter into our decision.

A few months ago, RZ and I sat staring at our TV, watching the New York State Senate roll call to determine whether NY would become the sixth state to grant marriage equality. I can say, without a doubt, that it was the most inspiring political moment I have ever witnessed. I have never felt such love for my adopted state.

In 2004, Oregon passed a misguided and depressing constitutional amendment to limit marriage to couples who have dissimilar private parts. At the same time, Oregon does recognize same-sex civil unions, granting many of the rights of marriage. And, if you are a member of the Coquille Tribe, a sovereign nation located within Oregon, you can get gay married till the cows come home. Talk about mixed messages.

This is Roya.

Heathen that I am, marriage equality is for me all about civil rights. But for lots and lots of people in same-sex relationships, it goes much deeper than that. I decided to talk to my friend Roya Millard, who has the distinction of witnessing what may have been the very first same-sex wedding in New York. Roya is super smart and was the first person to clue me in on tUnE-yArDs way back when. Roya is also Christian, has actually attended seminary and has officiated at four weddings so far: Three of them were legal and heterosexual; one of them was extralegal and in North Carolina, a place that won’t be embracing equality any time soon, from the looks of things. Being a seminarian, Roya knows the Bible. Like, the whole thing, not just the parts that politicians enjoy quoting. Most importantly, she’s hilarious, as will soon become apparent.

I asked Roya if it was weird to conduct weddings back when getting married wasn’t an option for her.

Roya Millard: “The first wedding I officiated at was when In re Marriage Cases had just been decided [effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in California]. It was my best friend’s wedding, in Napa. During the ceremony, we discussed marriage being about commitment, love and standing up and honoring your relationship. It was so emotional for my best friend and me because we were standing in a place where we were equal.

“The next year, I flew out to LA to do a second wedding after Prop 8 had passed. I was standing in the clerk’s office waiting to get deputized and I started feeling really, really angry. I felt so disrespected — standing there, looking at the paperwork and realizing for the first time how heteronormative it was. After it had been there, it was now snatched away. It was like the paperwork was pointing at me, saying, ‘No, no, you’re not like us.’

After it had been there, it was now snatched away. It was like the paperwork was pointing at me, saying, ‘No, no, you’re not like us.’

“Anyone in California can walk in off the street and be given authority to notarize a marriage license, even if they can’t get married themselves. It doesn’t add up.”

Roya also talked about how her girlfriend, Carolyn DeVito, faced the same bizarre disconnect. Like Roya, Carri isn’t anyone off the street; she’s an ordained interfaith minister whose focus is on serving the LGBT community. “When Carri got ordained in June, she updated her Facebook status to say: ‘It is now legal for me to marry someone, but it is not legal for me to get married,’” Roya said.

Rebecca: “How did you feel watching the Senate roll call? I kind of felt like, ‘Wow, I’m about to be either really ecstatic or super depressed.’”

Roya: “There’s no way to describe how it feels to watch people dispassionately talk about you as if you weren’t worth the time they were taking, and I didn’t want to open myself up to it again.

“But then…it did pass and I didn’t know what to do. It was surreal.

“I was in Massachusetts when marriage equality passed there, and it was the same thing. I woke up the next day and I felt so blissfully boring. For the first time in my life, who the hell cares? That’s my personal gauge — to not be interesting. I just want to be as boring as anyone else.”

That’s my personal gauge — to not be interesting. I just want to be as boring as anyone else.

Rebecca: “You were there in Washington Square Park on the first day that same-sex couples could get married. That must have amazing.”

Roya: “I didn’t officiate, but I was a witness at the very first wedding that day. The couple had been together for a few years and had come up from Texas. I really liked that there wasn’t a huge flood of couples, like getting married was suddenly a flash-in-the-pan thing. People talk about the sanctity of marriage — nobody was there on a whim. Vegas weddings exist to such an extent in our culture that you know exactly what I mean when I say ‘Vegas wedding.’ But there was none of that. These were people who had been together through it all, when society had told them that they shouldn’t be, and now they were standing up and honoring that.”

Witnessing in Washington Square. (Photo by Susan Shek)

Rebecca: “As an atheist, the religious component of marriage doesn’t matter to me, but I have a feeling that it matters to you. What does marriage equality mean for a gay or lesbian person of faith?”

Roya: “In New York City, we’re all culturally Jewish. America is culturally Christian — stores are closed on Christmas. In New York, Saturdays are mellow and we eat bagels. So there’s the cultural aspect of religion and the dogmatic aspect of religion — and marriage equality is an area where the the two get muddied.

“If it were strictly a question of dogma, well, our First Amendment wouldn’t allow that, so that points to it being a cultural issue. If people were opposed to marriage equality strictly on dogmatic grounds, why would religious Jewish weddings be recognized? The most vocal opponents of equality are fundamentalist Christians, but Jews also believe in the Abrahamic God. For marriage to be ‘real’ and legally recognized, it must be recognized by an Abrahamic marriage. So given that logic, any marriage not in a church, temple or mosque is not legitimate in the eyes of God. When you limit the argument to what is strictly doctrinal, the issue is never same sex versus opposite sex; it’s either religious or legal. It cannot be both. So some religious people have begun to say, ‘I don’t agree with it morally, but there is no legal reason why not.’

“On the first day that people could get licenses, we went to the courthouse with umbrellas to provide a visual barrier between the couples and the protesters from Westboro Baptist Church. Nobody needs to see hate when they’re going to get a license. But if your religious beliefs dictate that you need to picket certain marriages, then why aren’t they out there every day, picketing all the hetero couples being married outside the eyes of God?”

Rev. Carolyn DeVito blocks the mean Westboro signs. (This is from the New Jersey Star-Ledger.)

Rebecca: “Yeah, those people suck. Is it weird that you technically share a religion with those hateful assholes?”

Roya: “I always felt called to the ministry. My discomfort came when I was sitting in seminary and I realized that I couldn’t stand up and say, ‘THIS IS THE TRUTH.’ I can say, ‘This is what I believe and if that helps you, great, if not, let’s find something else for you.’

“I’m a conservative person — I like things to stay the same. But unwavering stringency is something I have a problem with. That, and hypocrisy. Like, if you’re going to damn me for Leviticus 18:22, then you should really be damning me for the rest of it.”

Rebecca: [Leviticus 19:27, for example: “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard."]

Here is the protester in question, being interviewed by Rob Riggle and Samantha Bee of 'The Daily Show.' Sadly, the interview never aired. From their expressions, it probably would have been quite humorous. (Photo by Roya)

Roya: “Of all of the marriage equality protesters there was one man, who is an Orthodox Jew, whom I respect, though I don’t agree with him. His sign said only ‘Bad Idea’ — he wasn’t judging, he wasn’t damning, he was simply stating his opinion. This is a man who follows Leviticus to the letter — you can see it in the clothes that he wears, the food that he eats. Leviticus also says that you must pay for any service you receive by sundown of that day. So Westboro guy, who’s fully shorn and who pays his phone bill once a month instead of every day, who is he to damn me?

“We all know that the main difference between Christians and Jews is Jesus. Christians don’t follow the Old Testament because we have a new covenant in Christ. We don’t follow Leviticus because we follow Jesus, whose commandment was love. It’s the Sermon on the Mount, not Leviticus.”

Rebecca: “So do you think marriage equality is the civil rights issue of our era?”

Roya: “The term ‘civil rights’ is charged because of the history of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. It’s not the same thing. I’ve never had to use a separate bathroom; I’m being told I’m an abomination to God. Apples and oranges.

I’ve never had to use a separate bathroom; I’m being told I’m an abomination to God. Apples and oranges.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be a black person in New York; I know what it’s like to be a butch person in New York. Being treated the same as other people is a civil right. It’s a civil right to be respected as a human being regardless of whom you fall in love with.

“We all have experiences that can’t be discounted — feminine, white, straight woman in America [Rebecca] or semi-butch, white woman in America [Roya] or my best friend who’s a bi black woman in America. None of our experiences should be discounted, but we shouldn’t be treated differently. The goal isn’t for those things to stop mattering, it’s for them to stop counting against us.

Flower donators, well wishers. (Photo by Roya)

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One Response to What I Will Miss: Marriage Equality (Featuring a Q&A with a Lady Who Knows Her Leviticus)

  1. Lauren says:

    This is great. Thank you.

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