As the first mainline Protestant denomination to affirm marriage equality, it was only fitting that the United Church of Christ General Synod in Long Beach, Calif. played host Sunday to one of the first same-gender marriages celebrated in California after a federal appeals court in San Francisco allowed them to resume.
UCC pastor, the Rev. Dave Sigmund of Seaside Community UCC, in Torrance, Calif., was legally united in marriage to his husband Jay Greaves at 5 p.m. June 30 in front of family and friends, supported in solidarity by hundreds of UCC members from around the country.
"This is such a unique opportunity," said Greaves. "We don't know if we could have had so many of our friends, family and members of our denomination with us at any other time."
The two were united in marriage on the balcony of the Long Beach Convention Center, surrounded by Seaside congregation members, their friends in the 2030 Clergy, and a throng of Synod attendees watching from the promenade floor below. Behind the guests, a crowd of reporters, photographers and camera crews marked this significant moment in time in the movement for marriage equality. One television station carried the nuptials live.
The Rev. Susannah Davis, pastor of the couple's ‘home church,' Kirkwood UCC in Atlanta, and the Rev. Mel White of Long Beach, a well-known minister and LGBT activist, performed the ceremony. The couple took their vows despite the fact that Proposition 8 supporters tried earlier in the day to halt the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in the nation's largest state. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy denied the request.
As the ceremony began, White talked about the importance of the wedding, "not just for these guys and the obvious love they have for each other. We need to remember those who died (before marriage equality) and did not have their relationship recognized. Remember the great cloud of witnesses who surround us."
Davis, offering a prayer before the vows were spoken said, "Together we gather in the presence of our Stillspeaking God to live into the reality of the truth – it's just love, Dave and Jay. We gather in the presence of people who love you, care about you, and claim you as brothers in Christ."
When White asked the people of Seaside UCC to do everything in their power to uphold and care for the couple, he got an enthusiastic response. But when Davis then posed the question to the people of the UCC gathered at this National Synod, she got a resounding roar of affirmation from the crowd.
After the men were legally wed, they talked about the community aspect of what they had just done, and the importance of the acceptance of their church.
"To hear that sound of voices rise in support of us, our commitment and our marriage was overpowering, overwhelming, and unbelievably welcome," said Greaves after the ceremony.
Sigmund, ordained two years ago, and Greaves, an executive with a human resource company, have been together 10 years. And while they embraced the previous acceptance of their community of faith, which affirmed marriage equality in 2005, "The validation and legal recognition of our relationship is incredible," said Sigmund.