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Celebrating a renewing of vows — and the transformative power of a crucial phrase

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.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 11/10/2011 - 08:42 am.

    Bravo, Amy. The five hundred or so who attend Macalester Plymouth United Church are in your camp, now and on election day.

  2. Submitted by Paul Landskroener on 11/10/2011 - 12:38 pm.

    Beautiful. Thank you. And the 150 or so Quakers of Twin Cities Friends Meeting are with you, too.

  3. Submitted by Morris Hartman on 11/10/2011 - 12:57 pm.

    A well written, inspiring article. Thank you, Amy.

  4. Submitted by Chelle Blakely on 11/10/2011 - 01:22 pm.

    Thank you for sharing your story. As a result of the proposed marriage amendment, I have been spending a lot of time wondering why marriage matters. I grew up marrying off my dolls assuming I would wear a beautiful white dress someday. Then came the ‘60s and I questioned why we would need the state or the church to sanction anyone’s loving relationship. But eventually I got married, divorced, re-married, had children, raised a family, and was surprised that I couldn’t answer the simple question of why marriage matters.
    There is a societal expectation to get married and a societal acceptance of marriage as a membership card for adulthood. Of course marriage is a great structure for raising children, but we allow people to get married who never will have children. We celebrate people who have been married for forty and fifty years, long beyond their childbearing abilities. Marriage can be a deeply spiritual event. It is a public sign of commitment and fidelity to another person. Your spouse is in a unique category of that one person in the world who is your real best friend forever. Having a partner makes life less lonely and makes day to day life easier.
    My husband and I also recently renewed our vows after 25 years. Our marriage has evolved through the different stages of our lives, we’ve had our share of for better or worse and sickness and health, yet I still love being married. Maybe I still can’t articulate why marriage matters, but it does. And there is no reason to deny this special status to same sex couples.

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/10/2011 - 05:42 pm.

    Marriage matters because it brings the process of moving in and out of temporary relationships, largely in adolescence

    – a process during which people move through more grief in their lives than they will at any time until they approach the age when all their friends are leaving their earthly lives behind –

    and ushers in a time of more dependable permanence.

    Marriage brings adolescence to an end and brings couples into adulthood in which they build a longer-term life and a stable family unit, and move through child rearing (for those who choose to do so).

    The post-marriage years are, for most people, the most stable and productive years of their lives, which, incidentally, means they are part of the backbone of a stable, productive society.

    This is why society NEEDS as many of it’s citizens, gay or straight, in healthy marriages. Such marriages cement long-term stability and create the foundation for productivity.

    It’s not surprising that “conservatives” feel marriage is threatened, but their concern for marriage is a complete projection of their own insecurities outward onto others.

    The ONLY current threat to marriage, especially among religious conservatives, is that those folks are SO BAD at marriage, and their marriages so generally unhappy (and their clergy are far too busy trying to prevent gay marriage to ever get the training they’d need to be worth anything as marriage counselors to their own church members).

  6. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 11/12/2011 - 04:53 pm.

    Marriage matters to me. It matters so much I can’t deny anyone its gifts. It matters so much that I am filled with joy in watching another couple exchange their vows and begin their own precious and unique family. Thank you for this lovely piece … written with love.

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