Last week I renewed my wedding vows. I reflected on how the passage of years has dampened my sense of endless possibility but deepened my gratitude, and noted how life looks different in my sixth decade from the way it did in my fourth, when I wrote my vows for the first time. Like many long-term couples — we’ve earned our scars and our stripes — we blended families and raised children through school years and challenging adolescence, we’ve paid for college and taken on the loans, we’ve slept night after night by parents’ hospital bedsides, and stood at far too many friends’ graves for our years.
Fifteen years ago we exchanged rings and shared vows in a private ceremony before my beloved underwent a serious medical procedure. It cemented our commitment to see each other through a scary and uncertain time. A year and a half later, having weathered the medical crisis, we stood under the Huppah (the Jewish wedding canopy) at our synagogue, before God, our Rabbi, family and friends, and publicly pledged our love and commitment. As I had long imagined, I wore a small crown of flowers in my hair; at the reception, we were raised on chairs as people danced the hora around us. Like all brides, it was one of the happiest days of my life. And it changed us.
We felt more accountable to each other, and more secure. Our children felt more secure. Our families have since marked our anniversaries with cards and congratulations. Our vows held us together through some tough times, just as they are meant to do.
Life in the intervening years has been full of the regular day-to-day responsibilities of life: working, doing errands, helping with homework, making dinner (often a glorified word for pasta and bottled sauce), and constantly repairing our old house. We’ve taken some memorable vacations — to the Rocky Mountains and Paris, and some obligatory ones — to the Wisconsin Dells (never again).
So why the third ceremony?
Couples have many reasons for renewing vows after many years together. Ours was quite simple: We were afforded the basic right (albeit in the state of New York) to make it legal. The night Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the law granting marriage equality to LGBT people we wrote our Rabbi, now living in New York, and asked her to complete the wedding she performed at our synagogue more than a decade prior. We kept the ceremony small, short, and simple, a couple poems, vows, traditional blessings, and then the words which I never imagined actually hearing: “By the power invested in me by the State of New York, I now pronounce you married.” A simple but powerful phrase, welcoming us into the tradition of marriage.
Neither of us were prepared for the transformative power of that moment and the melting away of years of feeling marginalized and less than. Marriage has different meanings to different people, but at its core it is a pledge of love, commitment, fidelity and trust. It’s a promise to work out differences and ride out storms with patience and respect. This is what Jane and I promised to each other under the huppah in 1998, and what the state of New York sanctioned last week.
Something extra in the air
We celebrated at a restaurant and were unprepared for the red-carpet treatment. People love weddings, and no doubt New Yorkers are no different. But there was something extra in the air. Folks were proud of their state and the progress they’ve made on extending marriage rights to all. From the host to the wait-staff, we were congratulated, toasted, and welcomed with beaming pride.
We hope that after Nov. 6, 2012, and the defeat of the constitutional amendment which would forever bar gay marriage, we will feel just as welcome in Minnesota as we did in New York.
Amy Lange is a certified nurse-midwife now working on health-care reform. She has lived in south Minneapolis for the last three decades.