Robert W. Wood: A ‘marriage of true minds’
By Robert W. Wood
Hugh Coulter and I met on May 14, 1962, in a gay leather bar in Manhattan. By October we realized our relationship was what each of us had been seeking for more than a decade: one of love, support, acceptance and common interests.
I was 39 and Hugh was 41. We were both veterans of World War II and had both grown up in Christian homes. He was an artist, oil on canvas, and I was an ordained UCC clergyman. We had both been the object of discrimination and gay-bashing because of our sexual orientation.
Two years earlier, in 1960, the year Kennedy and Nixon campaigned for the presidency, my hardcover book “Christ and the Homosexual” had been published under my own name and the church I was pastoring identified. In it I had called for church-sanctioned gay marriages and said I would perform them. I have done so over the years.
Thus on Oct. 21, 1962, sitting in the dining room of my parsonage in Spring Valley, N.Y., I performed our marriage service. Earlier we had matching gold rings made by a gay goldsmith in Greenwich Village. Hugh said to me Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet which begins, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways …” I read him Shakespeare’s sonnet No. 116, which begins, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments …”
I blessed the rings, and Hugh slipped one onto the ring finger of my left hand (it has been there ever since) and said, “With this ring I thee wed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” I repeated the vow by placing the other ring on his finger.
His ring now rests next to his photograph here in my Havenwood cottage. Following his wishes, I put his ashes into the Aegean Sea between Mykonos, the international gay island, and Delos, a holy island for the past 3,000 years.
In 1993, the management of this retirement community on Christian Avenue in Concord, N.H., erected in its lobby a wall sculpture called “The Tree of Life.” In the very center is a brass apple framed in wood that reads, “In loving memory of Hugh M. Coulter, my spouse of 26+ years, Rev. Robert W. Wood.”
For 12 years now, because of the word “spouse,” it has been proclaiming to all who pass by that we were a married same-gender couple. Upon my death my ashes will also be put into the Aegean Sea between the same two islands.
The Rev. Robert W. Wood retired in 1986 after 35 years in parish ministry. In 2004, he was presented with the pioneer award at the national gathering of the UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns. This piece first appeared in New Hampshire’s Concord Monitor and is reprinted with permission.