California clergy couple say 'I do' — again
I had said "I do" before, standing in the front of a church sanctuary, wearing a white dress and looking into her beautiful eyes. She wore a white dress, too.
In good and bad, joy and challenge, we'd promised before God and community to stay by one another's side and share it all. We had already said "I do" to all of it.
And so I didn't think about what it might be like to say it again, standing in the Santa Cruz County building. I had no idea what it would feel like for us to walk into a clerk's office and actually receive a marriage license.
It didn't occur to me that I would be so happy to write a check to the county for anything. Truth is, saying "I do" in front of the county clerk meant more than I could have ever imagined.
It is no small thing to stand in an historic moment, to participate in the righting of an injustice you haven't dared dream would come true for you.
Does having a civil marriage license make our Christian marriage any more valid? Absolutely not. The promises we made to God and each other are not subject to any civil authority. We are blessed beyond measure to serve and participate in a Christian community that already believes our growing family is equal to any other, a community that has been working for many years to move the state to practice the equality of citizens stated so clearly in the Constitution.
I learned the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag almost 30 years ago. As an adult, I've discovered my allegiance is first to God and that primary allegiance sometimes comes into conflict with the laws of the United States.
I've also learned that these conflicts between my core Christian convictions and certain laws, policies and decisions by the government can be held in a creative tension. This tension is possible because of the innate freedom given to me in my creation as a child of God, and because of the freedom of choice and expression promised in the U.S. Constitution.
What I also learned as an adult, though, is that there were limits to the freedom under the law for me. My sister and her husband could be married under the law. They had that choice in every state. But, because I was oriented differently and knew that a woman was the life partner for me, the choice of legal marriage was denied me.
"With liberty and justice for all" didn't mean me, not wholly.
But then came an ordinary Tuesday morning in June. I said "I do" — again. This time, in a courthouse. This time, surrounded by another community of people we love and who love us. This time, with a simple dress for me and maternity clothes for Shannon.
And the room erupted in joy, tears and applause. The state had made good on its promise to us, as citizens. Our family was finally recognized as equal under the law.
We are deeply and profoundly grateful to God for the loving and inclusive Christian community that surrounds us every day. And we are proud to be citizens of California, where "liberty and justice for all" rings ever closer to being true for all its people.
The Rev. Heather Dillashaw Spencer is an associate minister at First Congregational UCC in Santa Cruz, CA. She and her wife, the Rev. Shannon Spencer, are expecting their first child this fall.