They poured into Prince of Peace Lutheran church in Scottsdale by the hundreds, on a glorious, sun-drenched April afternoon. The youngest attendee (festively adorned in a lacy white head bow) was no more than a few months old, while some others looked to be well past 90. Some arrived in sparkly Mercedes convertibles, draped in designer labels, while others wore casually comfortable polo shirts and sun dresses. Next-door neighbors and passers-by would have assumed a Saturday church service or concert was at hand. In a way, they were right.
A traditional Lutheran service (led by the phenomenal Rev. Rick Sherrill), along with communion and some dazzling music, were indeed part of the program. But this bright, picture perfect scene, draped in love, peace, deep spirituality and loyal community, would also enrage and/or outrage thousands of Arizona residents, not to mention some (maybe most?) of the GOP Presidential candidates.
The marriage of long-time Scottsdale residents Jim Taylor, 62, a semi-retired pharmacist, and Dr. Allen Quie, 49, an Arizona schools district principal, certainly wasn’t the first gay wedding held in Arizona since it became legal in 2014.
That said, it surely had to be one of the biggest in the state’s admittedly short history -- 400 plus guests, representing a wide swath of religions, ages and backgrounds. Guests flew in from places like North Dakota (both grooms’ home state), California, New York, and Illinois. Many were Prince of Peace members. Many were Mormon, while others were Presbyterian, Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant. But everyone shared one thing in common: an abiding love, respect and support for the beaming couple, who had been together 23 years before this seemingly impossible day became possible.
The mix of attendees was wide, and the random reception chatter (“Oh, those Methodists!” chuckled one, while another exclaimed, “Are you a sinner? We’re ALL sinners…”) reminded me that religion remains at the center of the vast majority of lives in this state. It’s a hot topic. Being at this wedding was an act of love, but for many neighboring churches, it could be heresy as well.
Sensing a large gay wedding might be ‘news’ (given the media attention to the ongoing marriage fight in places like Alabama and religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas), Jim Geldien, the best man in the wedding - and a prominent real estate and interior designer with a long list of wealthy Valley clients — pitched the story to a friend/contact at the Arizona Republic. “She wouldn’t go near the story,” said Geldien, who recently left their long-time Paradise Valley church with his husband, Mark Ficklin (they were married recently in Hawaii after 30 years together) due to a ‘no gays’ policy for church leadership.
As a long-time New Yorker, hearing this is sad — actually shocking — stuff. Yet the tears shed during the moving, emotional ceremony weren’t gay tears, they were human ones. How can everyone not see this?
Thankfully, many do see and know -- in fact, the overwhelming majority of the wedding’s guests were straight and Republican. They attended because of their obvious love and support for two men they knew as gay, but also knew as neighbors, congregation members, co-workers, as a son, brother, or nephew. This is what face-to-face relationships will do to those literal interpretations of the Bible (eating shellfish is also an ‘abomination’ in Leviticus, right?). Who with a beating Christian heart and spirit could experience the overwhelming, loving energy in the Prince of Peace church and define this long-term loving and dedicated relationship as an ‘abomination’? Impossible!
The far right’s desperate last-ditch fight to stop gay marriage would gasp its last breath if this wedding got fair coverage on Fox News or in the Arizona Republic — broadcasting out images of its joy, love, celebration, community and yes, faith in God. It’s odd that so many are hell-bent on cherry picking gay people out for their religious freedom expression; why not focus on shellfish eaters, tattoo parlors or mixed cloth fashion boutiques, aren’t they all equal opportunity offenders of Old Testament scripture?
Of course, some people will cling to their easy prejudices, claiming to ‘love the sinner, not the sin’ while using their Bibles to hypocritically single out gay people. They have their right to do just that, of course. But many others are taking a stand, especially in Arizona.
Here’s a snippet from an email Jim and Allen received from 68-year-old Nancy, a Presbyterian conservative who attended the wedding. She wrote:
The wedding was the most moving and meaningful occasion I think I have ever had the privilege of being invited to … I was struggling to keep my tears of joy for their new life together that had been denied for so long under control … Much love and kudos to all of you who live your honorable and spiritual lives every day in a world that can be less than kind and accepting. Thank you all for sharing such a special moment and making me try a bit harder to live my faith today.
Now THIS is what I call a true Christian. But regardless of your religion, we can all choose to express and open up to love, and trust and celebrate our capacity to love, which is boundless. Sure, hatred might be an easier, more accessible emotion, but it can’t possibly be what God had in mind. Ask the 400 plus witnesses of this ‘gay’ wedding what they think; the proof is alive in the hearts of everyone who was there. Love is all there is.
A few days before the service, Jim marveled, “Who’d have thought after all those early years of crying myself to sleep, that this day would ever be possible?” The good news is that love always prevails and thrives and brings joy, no matter when it arrives. Isn’t that wonderful?
The reality of this wedding exposes every right wing argument as nothing more than shaking fists at a cloud; who in Arizona suffered, or had their own marriage threatened, by this joyous, peaceful ceremony? Two kind and wonderful Christian men, plus hundreds of people whose lives they have touched, said some vows, shed some tears and had a beautiful day.
People of all ages, religions and backgrounds ate some cake (happily provided by Barb, who owns a lovely local Phoenix bakery called “Let Them Eat Cake”) and danced to Barry Manilow and The Village People (well, it was a gay wedding!). And yet, the sun still rose the next morning, Camelback Mountain remains majestic and breathtaking out in the distance, and traffic still hums along the 101. Imagine that. Life moves on. Maybe love really does conquer all. - Mitch Rustad