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As witness to marriage equality

Gay couple’s wedding is a lesson in past, today

Yisrael Bisman and Rick Rigdon’s marriage celebration on May 19 at Westminster Congregational UCC in Spokane was more than reciting vows, singing, dancing and feasting.  It was a wedding seder.

Yisrael Bisman

Yisrael Bisman lights candle of wedding guest.

Incorporating a seder meal, it became an opportunity for education by applying the format used in a typical Jewish Passover seder to tell the story of GLBTQ’s exodus from exclusion and oppression into increased freedom and acceptance.

“A seder is an ordered ‘telling’ around a meal,” said Yisrael, who has Jewish background.  “It is part of the oral tradition of our ancestors.”

Rick, from a Mennonite background, had the idea of a wedding seder as they began planning their service after the adoption of the marriage equality initiative passed.  They had joined Westminster last year.

After 19 years of living in a committed relationship, they wanted more than a time to proclaim their love and commitment publicly.

They developed a script for the seder that preceded their vows based on typical readings and their faith exploration through Judaism, Buddhism, no faith and Christianity. 

Rick Rigdon

Rick Rigdon passes candlelight among those gathered.

“We have experienced everything we talk about in our own lifetimes,” said Rick.

They began with lighting candles, symbolizing the need to be “liberated from our fears.”  Martin Luther King Jr.’s words remind that “darkness will not drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Rededicating the light within, participants heard that the light in them reflects the Creator’s light and “the need to illuminate unfulfilled hopes and dreams for peace and justice for all peoples.”

Rick pointed out that everyone lives with parts of themselves they do not acknowledge or accept.

“As light passes through a prism, it separates into many colors, but is the same light,” he said. “What colors are you not comfortable with?  What separates you from others?”

Yisrael led a prayer for “the end of hiding,” including a quote in which former South African Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu said, “It’s amazing that we are all made in God’s image, but there is so much diversity.”  He prayed for the end of hiding so that “everyone has the courage to be the person God intends them to be.”

They blessed the full rainbow of people present and celebrated their differences.

A seder plate at each table included unusual fruit, a reminder that “fruit,” a name meant as an insult, is an opportunity to open people to the sweet and tart in themselves.

It included a pink triangle that Nazis had homosexuals wear in work camps; a bundle of sticks, a reminder that men were burned at the stake; bricks and stones, a reminder of the Stonewall riot against police; an empty cup, to remind that religious institutions denied spiritual equality of members; a sunflower seed, representing those locked in their shells hiding their inner beauty; and a broken ring, symbolizing exclusion from support of families, religion and the state.

The first of four seder cups was a reminder of the past.

From the past, the litany told of the first homosexual rights organization forming in 1897. By 1914, the group presented signatures of more than 3,000 doctors urging repeal of laws criminalizing homosexual relationships in Germany.  In 1920, the founder was assaulted by anti-Semites.  In 1933, more than 12,000 books were burned. The SS newspaper called for the internment of 2 million German homosexuals. In camps, homosexuals had to wear a pink triangle and punishments until 1945.  After the war, homosexuality was a crime in East and West Germany, Britain, the United States and Soviet Union.

“Someone has to survive to tell the story,” said one reader.  “Bless those who hid friends, neighbors and lovers.”

The second cup was for those who fought back, such as in 1969 when New York police went to raid a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn.  Patrons threw bottles, beer cans and rocks at police, starting a new story in the human rights movement,” in which “Stonewall” is synonymous with “uprising.”

“Bless those who founded early gay and lesbian organizations and put out magazines that offered hope and let people know they were not alone,” participants read.

The third cup is for “the plague,” for those who fell ill with HIV and AIDS and those who tended the sick, viewed and ostracized as “the lepers of our age.”

In 1981, 12 gay men died of a mysterious illness and by 2000, AIDS was the leading cause of death among people 15 to 59 years old.  Even as of 2012, only a small percentage were receiving AIDS drugs, but there is hope. 

Participants read, “Bless those who spoke, while others covered their ears, and cleaned bed pans, prayed and listened.”

Andy CastroLang, who officiated, introduced the fourth cup for those who refused to stand still, “allies of human rights who took a stand.”

“We come in our story to the present time, happening as we speak, because this celebration, this new ritual, is now part of this story,” she said.

The struggle for marriage equality is part of Rick and Yisrael’s story.

“Opposition exists,” she said.  “The desire for equal human rights became a desire for marriage rights.  Couples in long-term relationships are no longer willing to accept a second-class relationship.”

The Defense of Marriage Act strengthened those who deny rights, she said. 

“Victories will continue.  Now 12 states have adopted full marriage equality, three in the last few weeks, and 14 countries recognize same-sex marriage,” Andy said.

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Copyright @ June-July 2103 Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News.


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