After 31 Years, Danny and John Get Married
Today I had the honor and privilege of attending the wedding of Daniel O’Donnell and John Banta. This was my first gay wedding, not counting my own, which was in California during that brief time that California allowed same-sex weddings. I’m usually pretty good at containing my emotions, and I was doing fine – until it came time for the grooms to exchange rings. The judge asked Dan to take off the ring he had worn for many years on his right hand, and hand it to John, then she asked John to place the ring on Dan’s left hand. She then repeated those requests for John.
I myself wore a wedding band on my right hand for many years before I was married. I wore a wedding band because I regarded my relationship as a marriage – as deep, as loving, as committed, and as important. I wore it on my right hand in protest against a society that refused to respect my relationship as a marriage. Symbolically, the simple act of moving their rings from their right hands to their left constituted their admission to society, their conversion from outsiders to members, and I cried for my own conversion.
You might wonder why a wedding announcement belongs on a political blog. My answer is that gay weddings are inherently political, but especially this one – Danny is the New York assemblyman who led the successful fight last year for legislative approval of same sex marriage in New York State. The judge officiating was former New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, who wrote a powerful dissenting opinion when the New York Court of Appeals declined, by vote of four to two, to legalize same-sex weddings in 2006. The guests included by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who fought hard for gay marriage, Senator Chuck Schumer, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, various members of the New York State Assembly, and other politicians.
My partner and I were together for 20 years before we were allowed to be married. John and Dan have been together for 31 years – since they met as freshman at Catholic University.
This makes for a different kind of wedding than perhaps the typical straight wedding. The music of choice at the reception was disco – not because disco is fashionably retro, but because disco was what was hot when the couple met. The dance floor was full of gray heads, full waists and navy suits – not exactly the disco “look.”
Every marriage is a celebration of the love and commitment of two people to each other, “until death do us part.” But straight people have no idea what it is like to gain the right to marry, since they have always had it, and their forebears have had it as far back as history records. The right to marry has no resonance for them.
Gay marriages, on the other hand, are unavoidably a celebration of much more than two people’s love and commitment – gay marriages are a celebration of our membership in society. As wedding officiants do, Judge Kaye invoked the power vested in her by the State of New York – mere boilerplate at a straight wedding. At this wedding, her invocation came with a nod to the Governor of the State of New York, who was sitting in the third row – at this wedding one of the grooms was a legislator who made his own wedding legally possible. Who could ever say that at a straight wedding? At this wedding, the bureaucratic invocation of the “power vested in me” roused a thunderous ovation.