By BEN R. WILLIAMS
Several years ago, my dear friends Austin and Katie decided to tie the knot, and they asked me if I would perform the service. Their plan was to go to the justice of the peace to get the official paperwork done and then have me speak at their wedding.
I was flattered, of course, and I immediately accepted. However, I told them I was going to do them one better: I’d just become an authorized wedding officiant and marry them for real.
It was a pretty painless process and the wedding was wonderful. In the years since, I’ve officiated about 15 weddings (I’ve honestly lost count). Most of the time I officiate free weddings for friends, and on rarer occasions I officiate weddings for strangers.
Back when I was a full-time reporter, I used to occasionally run into happy couples while I was hanging out at the Martinsville Circuit Court Clerk’s office gathering the indictments. Writing down indictments would usually take a couple of hours, and while I was sitting in the clerk’s office, I would sometimes see a couple come in and ask for a marriage license. If I heard them ask the clerk about the phone number for the justice of the peace, that was my cue to spring into action, introduce myself, and tell them I would perform the wedding then and there for fifty bucks.
It’s not the most romantic thing in the world, I’ll admit, but sometimes folks just need to get the paperwork signed in a hurry and then have their real wedding a bit later, and that was a service I was happy to provide.
I did two or three weddings that way, but there’s one in particular that stands out.
One day I was sitting in the clerk’s office writing down indictments when two young gentlemen walked into the office. They said something to the lady at the front desk and then were brought back to fill out their marriage license.
The employee who was taking down their information was perfectly pleasant and polite. Still, I could tell that the two guys were nervous. They spoke very quietly as though afraid they would be overheard.
After the license was filled out and the bill was paid, they asked the clerk’s office employee if she could recommend a local wedding officiant.
“We’ve tried a few,” one of the men said, “but we’re having a hard time finding someone who will perform the wedding.”
It was ol’ Benny’s time to shine.
“Hey fellas!” I said. “Not to eavesdrop, but I’m a wedding officiant. I’d be happy to do the job.”
They seemed a little surprised, probably because I look like this.
“You don’t have a problem with doing a gay wedding?” one of them asked.
“Nah,” I said. “This would be my second one.”
“How soon could you do the wedding?” he asked.
“I’ll be here for at least another hour,” I said. “If you give me your names, I’ll whip a speech up real quick, shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.”
They asked me how much I charged. I told them I normally charge fifty bucks, but in this case, I’d give them a freebie. They said they would be back in 30 minutes.
Half an hour later, we gathered in an empty room and I read the little script I had written. It was short and to the point, as all of my wedding scripts are. I figure that no one has ever gone to a wedding and said, “That was lovely, but I wish the officiant had talked longer.”
It was a nice little ceremony. My only moment of awkwardness came near the end.
“This is where I would normally invite you to kiss each other,” I said, “but I understand if you don’t want to do that in front of some weirdo you just met in the clerk’s office.”
“Yeah, we’ll skip that part,” one of the guys said.
“Cool,” I said.
I pronounced them the wedded couple and wished them many happy years together. Just as I was about to leave, one of the gentlemen stopped me, pressed some bills into my palm, and thanked me.
After they left, I opened my hand. He’d given me a hundred bucks.
I share this story because due to the impending changes to the Supreme Court, it’s increasingly likely that same-sex marriage, the law of the land for the last five years, will be struck down. That got me to thinking: over the last five years, how has gay marriage impacted my life?
The answer: it made a number of my friends very happy, it gave me a good story, and it put a hundred bucks in my pocket.
Beyond that, I haven’t noticed any changes.