Rev. Elizabeth ‘Kit’ Ketcham has been serving the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island since 2003. She leads worship services there approximately twice a month, and her efforts have included assisting the congregation in becoming a Welcoming Congregation, open and welcoming to sexual minorities. She also provides pastoral care, consultation to committees and individuals, and rites of passage ceremonies. You can read her blog: Miss Kitty’s Saloon and Road Show.
Beaming at me before our worship service that Sunday, Maggie and Andrea (not their real names) confided their good news: they were engaged and planning to be married next summer. And, by the way, would I perform the ceremony for them?
“Congratulations!” was my immediate response and “Of course I’ll perform your ceremony! It will be an honor.”
When these two radiant young women lighted a candle that morning at Joys and Concerns to announce their engagement and upcoming marriage, the delight on the faces of our Whidbey Island congregation was clear. In the short time they’d been attending our services, they had won the hearts of all who had gotten to know them.
Of course, civil marriage is not yet a civil right in Washington State, though our legislature has enacted increasingly protective domestic partnership laws. To complicate matters further, one of these young women is in the Navy, stationed in Oak Harbor on the north end of the island. She risks her career if she even registers as a domestic partner.
After church, I got to thinking. At present, I serve this congregation part-time and must charge a fee for extra services such as weddings and memorials.
But I didn’t want to charge Maggie and Andrea. I wanted them to use our beautiful new sanctuary for their wedding and as members of the congregation, they would have that benefit. I wanted their wedding ceremony to be a gift as well.
And then an idea popped into my head: what if we as a congregation offered the use of our new sanctuary and my services as officiant for any Whidbey Island same sex couples who wanted to celebrate their marriage of the heart, as a gift during the year 2009, and as a way to offset some of the heartache and distress caused by the passage of Prop 8 in California and similar measures around the country?
So I started vetting the idea with colleagues and friends, garnering in the process a lot of good will and good feedback about how to make it successful. After pulling together all the ideas and getting the approval of our board of trustees and the enthusiasm of the congregation, I wrote a press release and an op ed essay for our local newspaper.
When the editor of the South Whidbey Record received the information, he sent out a reporter and placed the news story on the front page of our twice-weekly paper, with the op ed essay and press release in a later edition.
We expected to have some blowback, but it has virtually all been positive. Even an online criticism was polite, not hostile. Instead of hostility or vandalism or outrage, our attendance at worship immediately jumped. People stopped me at the gym and wanted to know more. Local merchants have offered discounts—20% off a wedding cake for same sex couples getting married; a local caterer has added our information to his website; and a local photographer has offered her services for wedding photos.
In addition, a few UU colleagues are considering how they might use this idea in their own communities and some of my local colleagues, pastors who don’t have the same freedom granted by their denominational governing bodies, have expressed their support and their desire to be helpful if possible.
Offering this gift of acceptance and honor for relationships between people who love and are committed to one another has been a great boon for us as a congregation and has demonstrated to the larger community that we are standing on the side of love.
Click here to see the article in the South Whidbey Record. The op-ed piece written by Rev. Ketcham, as well as the press release detailing the congregation’s offer were published in the print version of the paper.