Jennifer and Joan Hold A Big Gay Wedding – in the heart of Prop 8 Country

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Joan Davis (L), Pastor Neil Climer, Jennifer McGuire
Photo credit: Penny Sick

Visalia, California

Saturday, October 26, 2013, was another milestone in Visalia’s LGBTQ history.  On one level, it was simply a wedding, mostly of interest to the happy couple, their family and friends.  On another, it served as a significant signpost on the journey towards equality for a rapidly changing nation.  Jennifer McGuire and Joan Davis were wed at the Visalia Veteran’s Memorial Hall, in a ceremony attended by family from across the country, friends, and notable locals such as Visalia’s Mayor Amy Shuklian and her partner Mary Randol, as well as many prominent members of the LGBTQ community.

You may remember some of the recent incidents reported here at QueerLandia regarding gay rights issues in this reddest-of-red portion of California.  Visalia itself has been good, but only 35 miles away in the same county, Porterville has been another issue.  The differences in response to marriage equality have been stark.  You’d be amazed the two cities are in the same state, let alone only miles apart in the same county!

This blog is not about that controversy, however.  It’s about a big gay wedding!

bubblegum2Jennifer and Joan have been a couple for nine years, seven of them during Joan’s deployment overseas as a member of the US Navy.  Forced by the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (and often ignored) Don’t Pursue” policy to keep expressions of affection covert, Joan and Jennifer, as many in the services at the time did, created a code phrase to stand in for “I love you”.  That phrase was “bubble gum”, and became a part of the wedding in the form of miniature bubble gum machines carrying a tag with the story, prominently situated at each guest’s table setting.

Now that DADT is a thing of the past, DOMA (the misnamed “Defense of Marriage Act”) is dead, and Judge Walker’s Federal Court ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, the movement towards marriage equality has set people free to pursue their own “gay agenda” – the right to be married to the person they love.  That love was abundantly clear in Saturday’s wedding.

From the time when the idea of a lesbian Navy veteran hiring out the Memorial Hall for her wedding would have been unthinkable, to today, we’ve seen a sea change in society’s attitudes.  Jennifer says the Veteran’s Hall “didn’t blink” when they approached them to rent the facility for a “gay” wedding.  (I put that in “air” quotes because it’s really just a ‘wedding’. It won’t be too long before we can drop the qualifier altogether, I think!)  Jennifer and Joan were also complimented by the Hall’s staff on the evening.  Jennifer reports “at the end of the night, as I did a “walk thru” with the manager and head security guy, they told us that our wedding was the best and easiest they had ever had — no fights, no problems, no hiccups, no underage drinking, everyone was nice and respectful and obviously had a lot of fun”.  Leave it to the gays to know how to throw a proper party!

Diversity is a growing theme in LGBTQ society.  Many people have, in the past, held a certain stereotype in their minds when they thought of a gay man or lesbian woman.  As more in the community have come out, the diversity that was always there but seldom seen has grown more remarkable.  This wedding was no different in that respect.  From the people in attendance, who made up all age groups, all political and religious affiliations, careers, educational and income levels, to the wedding ritual itself, diversity was not to be denied.  Indeed, there would have been no way to prevent it’s presence.

Many people today deviate from what might be considered a “modern traditional” wedding.  From settings on beaches or in amusement parks, to the writing of their own vows, weddings continue to represent the people who participate, and the times in which they occur.  Joan’s and Jennifer’s was no less unique.  Combining Christian and other ancient rituals, overseen by Visalia Pastor Neil Climer of the Disciples of Christ, the couple exchanged vows before family and friends.  I was honored to witness a wedding that included things I had never seen before, yet that melded well with what most of us would consider a “traditional” ceremony.  I thought it was well done, respectful of differing belief systems, and remarkable in highlighting the different ways people through the ages have viewed the marriage ritual and it’s meaning to the participants and their community.

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Jennifer Davis (L), Joan Davis
Photo credit: Penny Sick

After the first dance of the newlyweds, a large crowd joined them for the couples dance.  The DJ began a countdown (countup?), asking those who had been together for less than a year to leave the floor.  Then on to 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years… each time more and more couples left the floor.  Finally it was down to one pair, who have been together for 37 years.  There were plenty of straight couples in long term relationships present, but it was a gay couple, Ralph and Slade, who took the dance honors as the longest relationship present that night.  Several married gay couples were present to wish good fortune and happiness to the newlyweds, including John and Brock, the first gay male couple to marry in Tulare County.  Weddings in the LGBTQ community in the future will have an ever increasing number of same-gender married couples in attendance.

So now begins, as Paul Harvey might say, “the rest of the story”.  Joan and Jennifer Davis will write it as they go along, as do any newlywed couple.  They have joined the current group of married (not “gay married” or “unionized” or “civilly partnered” – just “married”) couples, and will be joined in the days and years ahead by other couples.  Together they will write their chapters in the books of life, and add it to the rich tapestry and diversity that is the United States today.  In the years ahead, people will come to wonder that there ever was a time when some thought such an act of love could be seen as wrong or unacceptable.

Couples like Jennifer and Joan have and will join John and Brock, Sandy and Cheryl, and Tim and Justin (to name just a few from Tulare County) in the joys and challenges of marriage.  More will follow. In the fullness of time we will see equality as not only the law of the land, but the rule of the heart as well.  I think it’s arriving a lot sooner then many of us expected.

Best wishes to the newlyweds, and congratulations on your marriage!

Cross posted at Alternating Currents

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