Celebrating equality

“My beloved, I take you to be the partner of my days and nights,” eight people said to each other Feb. 25, beginning their wedding vows.

A rainbow flag draped over the staircase and a layered wedding cake with the word “Love” at the top decorated the Allen Drawing Room, where four couples of various sexual orientations and gender identities were symbolically married in Prism’s fifth annual “queer wedding.”

Freshman deaf education and Spanish major and advocacy chair for Prism Taye Hallock coordinated the event this year.

“A wedding is the ultimate goal at this time,” she said. “A number of our members and members of the GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning) community are not happy with the idea of civil unions. They feel they’re being denied rights unfairly. By having a wedding, we’re making a statement of ‘this is what it can be.'”

The theme of this year’s event was “A Love to Be Proud Of.”

“It’s our way of bringing (together) the ideas of gay pride and being proud of your love,” said Prism president and junior deaf education and English major Elaine Smolen. “Everyone, everyone should be proud of their love personally, and the government should recognize that pride.”

The Rev. Charles Stephens, a Unitarian Universalist Campus Minister, officiated the marriage ceremony. There were four couples: One couple identified as gay, another identified as lesbian, a third as transgendered and a fourth as straight. After their vows and an exchange of rings, Stephens proclaimed the couples to be joined in “holy unions.”

Freshman music major Elizabeth Ehret sang three songs a cappella for the event, including a song for when the couples walked down the aisle called “I’ll Cover You” by Jonathan Larson.

An e-mail sent by Prism about the event said “the wedding serves to educate the (College) community about marriage equality and to celebrate the beauty of love.”

Prism publicized the event on Facebook as “a night of religious, political and personal messages supporting marriage equality.” The messages came from a variety of sources besides the symbolic vows themselves.

Before the actual marriage ceremony, guest speakers and students reflected on the meaning and significance of the event. Christopher Rivera, adjunct professor of women’s and gender studies, was the first to speak. “As a human being, I should be able to get married if I want,” he said in his speech. He said there are two options: “To fight for the right to be married or to decide not be part of the present marriage (institution).”

Rivera also discussed the meaning of “queer wedding.” As he said, “the two terms cannot legally cohabit.” This is the first year “we’ve titled it the ‘queer wedding,'” he said. “In the 1970s, queer was associated with biology, with mental illness. Now (the word) has been reprobated and is being used in a positive way.”

Hallock sees queer as an umbrella term. “We include all of the types of couples by saying it’s a ‘queer wedding,'” she said. “We’re not just dealing with sexual orientation but gender identity as well, which I think people forget when they say ‘gay wedding.'”

After Rivera came a personal perspective on marriage equality. The Brown-DiFalco family, comprising partners Bob and Sam and their sons Michael and Nicholas, told a brief narrative of their lives, from meeting 35 years ago to adopting their sons “through an agency that accepted all families.”

Smolen said that it was important when educating the community to not skew the information a particular way. “With a speaker comes a personal message,” she said. “A personal connection (is built), which is important to understanding the issue and getting equality.”

More personal connections were made when students began reading their authored works. Poems about love and relationships were read aloud by four students, including the transgendered couple, freshman special education and psychology major Hannah Knight and junior English/education major Julie Bergman.

The program for the event included a chart describing the differences between a marriage and a civil union, which the state of New Jersey allows for same-sex couples.

“A civil union isn’t a marriage,” former Prism president and senior sociology and women’s and gender studies major Angel Hernandez said. “If it was a marriage, why can’t we call it that? By calling it something else (for same-sex couples), we’re making it into something else. I think people forget about love when gay marriage comes up in conversations. This event shows that it is about love.”

Last year’s queer wedding coincided with the passing of the civil unions law in New Jersey, according to Hallock. She said, “The issue is still currently relevant. We wanted to bring the important message to the (College) community, and show that it is not just a national matter. It matters to people here, too.”

“The issue of gay marriage isn’t political,” freshman mathematics major Kevin Hodulik, a member of Prism, said. “Marriage is a personal thing that every human being has a right to, and it isn’t until that right is given to every human being, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, that true equality can be achieved.”