Newly Wed In New York was fantastic!

First, the bad news. We SO did NOT have any chance to take pictures, so we’re relying on any of you that were there to hopefully send us any pictures you might have.


We checked into the Hyatt Regency at around 11:00 Saturday morning.

We were assigned a room on the fourth floor, right next to the Health Club. Our suite was…well, SWEE-EET Spacious, luxurious and beautiful. A Murphy bed on the right wall when we first walked in confused us at first, since we thought that was our bed. And hey, it was LUXURIOUS looking! But, when we looked left, we saw the bedroom — a separate room.

So, we had two beds. Two bathrooms. A kitchenette with microwave and refrigerator. And, what was called, the “parlor.We called “Gabby,” the cinematographer that would be following us around for the day, to finish up the shoot for LOGO that had begun in March. She met us in our room and we just sat and chatted, catching up with Gabby’s pregnancy and her latest shoot on an Olivia Cruise.We started getting ready and, once mostly dressed, Gabby filmed us getting ready. We got in the car and went to the First Unitarian Church of Rochester for the Renewal of Vows/Commitment Ceremony.

We sang “Chapel of Love” on the way, with Gabby in the back seat filming our trip there. We arrived at the Church and were asked for interviews for the local news channels. Click here for one interview then click “watch video” under the picture. Click here for the newspaper coverage. We talked about the celebration of recognition of our Canadian marriage by renewing vows, and also about the reception that would follow later in the day.

Now, at this point, I have to qualify something. This was our fourth commitment ceremony. To recap, we had our Vermont Civil Union in July 2001. We were married in New Paltz, NY in March 2004. We were married in Niagara Falls in July 2005. But this was the first time I cried.

A few days before the ceremony, the minister, Scott Taylor (more about him later) gave us a “homework” assignment. Our assignment was to tell him, in 5-8 sentences, why we love our spouse/partner or why we want to spend the rest of our lives together. I thought to myself, “How on EARTH can I be so brief?” I mean, I can’t say hello to a stranger in 5-8 sentences, and he wants me to put into that short a paragraph why I love Lisa?

The idea, also, was that we could not see what each other wrote. We were not to share it with each other and were to hear it for the first time at the ceremony. Mine was the first one read. And, even though I KNEW what I’d written, it brought tears to my eyes hearing it.
Why do I love Lisa?

For a long time now I have defined my life in terms of “Before Lisa and after Lisa.” There’s a profound sense of safety, peace, and happiness in my life, since Lisa.

Lisa listens. I don’t mean she hears well, she really LISTENS to people She has that gift of listening to everything that people say, and she gives her undivided attention to anyone she’s talking with. She’s funny, smart, gentle, irreverent — all the things I love in a person. Lisa has helped me to learn to love, and to be loved. To trust. To see goodness in people. To not take the bumps life throws us periodically too seriously. She is my best friend, my confidante, my companion.

But most importantly, I love Lisa because I love the person I am when I’m with her. I love the person I have become since we’ve been together. And I love the people that we are TOGETHER. I can’t imagine my life without her.

If I had the entire universe to write how much I love Lisa, it wouldn’t fit

Sometimes, even though we write personal things, they have a different effect when we actually HEAR those words spoken. Tears welled up in my eyes and a glanced furtively at Lisa to see if she noticed. Not to fear, her own eyes were filled with tears. Then Scott read Lisa’s submission:

Why do I love Pat?

I love Pat because her compassion, her kindness, her humor and wit, her strength and grit make me a completed person. I love her because she wants to LIVE her life with me in spite of my “warts.” Pat often uses “pre Lisa and post Lisa” to define our relationship to other people, but the truth is that before Pat there was no Lisa. I found the reason for my life when I fell in love with Pat and I find that every day there is yet one more reason to love her all over again.

When I heard Scott say “…the truth is that before Pat there was no Lisa,” there was no holding back the tears any more. I looked at Lisa, and there was a steady stream of tears trailing down her face. I reached up and wiped her tears and smiled at her, a little taken aback at my own tears. Seeing hers made mine start again.

But the thing is, as he went through the couples’ writings, each and every couple cried. There was so much heartfelt love in all of those writings. I remember thinking about those religious fanatics or the gay bashers who claim that we know nothing of love yet, there in it’s purest and simplest form was the kind of love that those who would harm us either physically or legally, can only dream of.

The other minister, Michael, brought in tender young branches from a tree outside. The branches were bent and curved, but gracefully and beautifully so. There were 8 or 10 branches placed in a very large vase filled with water. Before the ceremony started we were each given a single, long stemmed red rose. We were instructed, after our vows, to go to the vase, one couple at a time, and place our flowers in the vase with the branches. The idea was that the branches form a foundation for a community, and the flowers were the members of the community, supported BY the community.

It was a beautiful ceremony.

Just as it ended, lightning and thunder started in. Within a fast few minutes, the sky opened up and torrential rain and pea-sized hail thundered down onto the roof of the church, the violent storm outside unleashing a fury like a tropical storm. I turned to the minister and quipped “See Scott? They said this would happen if they let same-sex couples marry.”

It was after 4:00 by the time we left the church. We headed back to the hotel, changed into something comfortable and met Gabby down in the lobby for a 5:00 dinner reservation at the hotel’s restaurant. Lisa had a ribeye steak that was SMOTHERED in different cheeses. I had grilled salmon covered in a raspberry sauce. As part of the promo, we got a free glass of wine. But, get this, we paid SIXTEEN DOLLARS for a salad. And for sixteen dollars, that sucker should sing, dance and tell jokes. Make that sixteen dollars times the two of us. Now, add $34 for my salmon and $22 for Lisa’s ribeye steak. There went a hundred dollar bill. We were worth it though and we did almost the same thing for our wedding, so why not?

So, back to our room, and back into our wedding clothes, and we headed to the convention center across the street (via skyway) at 7:00. As we entered the convention center, we got on the escalator to go down to the area where the event was. I held the handrail and chatted quietly with Lisa, conscious of being “miked” and that Gabby was listening with her headphones. I stepped off the escalator and something dark caught my eye. Something BLACK and greasy…and it was on my hand. Panicked, I looked to see if whatever it was had gotten on my white dress. Thankfully, it hadn’t. It was like printer toner — powdery, yet greasy. We found a bathroom and I easily washed it off. Crisis averted.

We registered, got our name badges, signed the registration book, got our “swag bags” and went inside. We went into the Expo for a short while. Sensory overload! Princess House crystal, wedding gowns, MetLife financial advisors, florists, bakers, health spas, travel agents and more.

We decided to go into the reception area and hang for a little bit, as we were anticipating the “program” beginning around 8:15 or so. As we made our way into the ballroom, we were stopped by people we knew, with handshakes, hugs and kisses. Some people we didn’t know, but who introduced themselves to us.

One of the contributors to approached me, and took our picture. Do we look VERY happy?

Then my friend, Jo Meleca-Voigt began the program. She gave a rousing speech about politicians and legislation to legalize our relationships. One of the things she talked about was the “guest book,” which basically was an affirmation of support for same-sex couples. If you didn’t sign it, you didn’t get in. The reason for that was that Sen Joe Robach (R) has a history of showing up at LGBT events, for the publicity, making himself APPEAR that he’s supportive of LGBT issues when, in fact, he’s not. As Jo said, those days, they’re over.

Then she introduced me and told those gathered there that I was the one who successfully sued my employer for recognition of my Canadian same-sex marriage.  The applause was thunderous and many people got to their feet.  I could feel that watermelon sized lump forming in my throat and the tears begin to well up in my eyes.  I took a deep breath, nervous, and began my speech.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Happiness. Isn’t that what we all really want out of life? Happiness – however we define it for ourselves?

More than 30 years ago I got married in an attempt to fit into the societal norm that existed in that day. I painted on my happy face every morning, presented my family and myself as a typical happy American family, and told myself that this was it – happiness. This was the kind of happiness you dream of as a child – a house, a car, three children, and good paying jobs. What more could a person want in order to be happy?

Twelve years into that marriage, I woke up one morning no longer able to kid myself that I was happy. I asked myself “How can I raise happy, well-adjusted children if I’m not happy myself?” I filed for divorce and began a second chapter in my life.

For fourteen years I raised my three children, alone, as best I could. Happiness, I told myself, is a choice and I chose to be happy. So, there I was, minding my own business, living my happy little life (by choice) when Lisa came along and a third chapter began in my life.

My life with Lisa has taught me that there’s a profound difference between contentment and real happiness. Since we’ve been together I define my life in terms of “Before Lisa” when I lived a very contented life, and “After Lisa,” when I learned what true happiness really is.

In July of 2001 we traveled to Vermont and entered into a civil union. At that time, it was as close to marriage as we could get and, to me, this commitment to Lisa was just as natural a part of my life with her as drawing breath into my lungs is a part of being alive.

This was not a political statement, nor was it a show for our friends and family. It was a profoundly personal and private matter between just the two of us and the Justice of the Peace who conducted the ceremony. Our relationship felt different after that – stronger, yet somehow softer, warmer. Happier.

In March of 2004 we were married in New Paltz, knowing even then that the chances of that marriage being recognized as legal were slim. This was more of a political statement for us but, even knowing that this marriage would be shrouded in legal ambiguity, we walked away with a renewed sense of love and commitment, and happiness..

That same year we were legally married in Canada. My own happiness reached a level that I cannot truly articulate. Even though we knew we had an uphill battle ahead of us where our marriage was concerned, that knowledge did not diminish what we felt that day, what we still feel today.

In the years since then and, especially after our lawsuit for recognition of our marriage was filed more than 3 years ago, we are often asked, “Why get married or committed to each other so many times?”

Simply, to me, marriage is the ultimate commitment. With each one of those commitment ceremonies, we got that much closer to the real deal. Could we have found happiness without marriage? Yes. Marriage doesn’t make the relationship. Rather, the relationship makes the marriage.

And, ultimately, why does marriage even matter? Why won’t a civil union do or, why can’t it be called something other than marriage? I used to say that I didn’t care what they called it as long as it carried ALL the rights, privileges and responsibilities of marriage.

But the fact is that marriage DOES matter. What we call it DOES matter. Calling it anything other than marriage creates confusion and separation. Granting anything just short of marriage creates separate laws, separate protections, and separate responsibilities.

When his supporters suggested that he slow down a bit, think about starting smaller or even compromise, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

What is implied here is the amazing assumption that society has a right to bargain with the Negro for the freedom which inherently belongs to him. Some of the most vocal liberals believe they have a valid basis for demanding that, in order to gain certain rights, the Negro ought to pay for them out of the funds of patience and passivity… to accept half a loaf and to pay for that half by waiting willingly for the other half to be distributed in crumbs over a hard and protracted winter of injustice….

In our own journey toward marriage equality, we cannot allow ourselves to be content with that half loaf – that half loaf being civil unions.

Civil unions are a consolation prize, offered by those who would deny us the basic human dignity of marriage but who, for whatever reason, are trying to ease their own guilt in having supported that discrimination.

When the ruling came out of the Appellate Court and the media feeding frenzy began, one television station interviewed clergy that supports same-sex marriage. Co-ministers Kaaren Anderson and Scott Taylor from the First Unitarian Church of Rochester stopped solemnizing all marriages in protest of the discrimination against same-sex couples and their desire to marry. Scott told the reporter “It’s not a political statement; it’s an act of conscience.”

What a wonderful world we would live in if all of us listened to our conscience in everything we do.

A co-worker of mine lives with his girlfriend. Because he works as a temporary he has no health benefits so his girlfriend looked into putting him on her benefit plan as a domestic partner. Because of the type of plan she has coupled with the tax liabilities that come with domestic partner benefits, they determined that he could purchase an inexpensive health insurance package cheaper than she could carry him on her benefit plan as a domestic partner.

They recently began proceedings to buy a house together. I asked him if he knew the ramifications of buying that house with his girlfriend when they are not married. “What happens if, God forbid, she is killed in an accident on the way home from work,” I asked him? “The house would be mine then,” he replied. “You would INHERIT the house and may have to pay inheritance tax on it,” I told him. “If you were married, you would have the right of survivorship and just go on living in that house without any worries about taxes.”

He was dumbfounded, to say the least. “Well, that’s not right,” he protested. I simply pointed out that this was one of many reasons why marriage matters to those of us who would be denied marriage based solely on who we love. We now have one more staunchly conservative Republican supporter of same-sex marriage.

The ruling requiring recognition of our marriage is a positive step forward but there is still much work to be done. We must all work together to form one very LOUD voice in Albany, telling our state lawmakers that we will not accept that half loaf of bread.

It’s important for all of us to help people like my co-worker get there – get to the understanding of why marriage is important and why civil unions are wholly different from marriage.

But more than that, we need to educate our families, our friends, our co-workers, members of the bowling team, even those people on internet message boards as to why marriage matters. And while, at times, it might be hard, we have to do that calmly and with kindness. We must seek to understand as well as to be understood.

We must stand united. And we must never, EVER lose faith. And, always choose happiness.

Now, I know how arrogant this sounds but I have to tell you  that, as I was delivering this speech, and looked out at the audience, I saw people riveted…mesmerized.  People who are used to public speaking like politicians, teachers, and other professionals.  It was quite the head trip for me.  But I didn’t say anything new and only reaffirmed to those gathered there that marriage matters and what we call it matters.

After my speech, Lisa and I were introduced for our dance.  As the opening chords of the song played, we walked onto the dance floor with our dance instructor standing nearby, hands clasped under her chin looking as nervous as I felt.  Once Lisa and I began dancing, I lost track of the fact that there was anyone else there besides the two of us.  I was lost in her eyes, in what she softly murmured to me, in her smile.  We talked easily.  I did a turn, she clasped my hand to her heart and the crowd applauded like we had done some  complex acrobatic move.

Lisa danced with a local woman who is a locally prominent lesbian, lawyer, lecturer and rabbi whose spouse doesn’t dance (like me).  The two agreed that if their respective spouses turned them down again, they’d seek each other out.

Later we ceremoniously cut the cake, danced another dance, and “worked the crowd.”  In all, it was an excellent evening.  We left around 11:15 or so and went back to our suite where a free bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries waited for us.  We invited several people back for an “after party party.”  We drank champagne, we laughed raucously, and we basked in the success of the evening.

We had a wonderful time, but I’m SO glad it’s over!

Tomorrow, report from Equality and Justice Day.