I hardly slept the night of the Fourth of July in 1992. I was up at dawn the next morning when the Observer-Dispatch was delivered. That was the first time I had ever written a newspaper column. I was 23, and I used the Op-Ed page of the Sunday paper to come out of the closet in an audaciously public way.
My favorite song at the time was called “Constant Craving.” It was the first hit song performed by an openly gay performer, k.d. lang. Its lyrics contained the line, “Maybe a great magnet pulls all souls to what’s true.”
I was never so scared, but never so sure that what I was doing was right. I felt my soul pulled to what’s true.
There’s a theory that our lives follow a pattern set by the stars, and that twenty-eight-year cycles are significant because of the influence of Saturn’s orbit around the sun. It’s believed that Benjamin Franklin chose July 4, 1776, as the day to sign the Declaration of Independence because the date was celestially auspicious.
It’s been twenty-eight years since I wrote the column, and I will have trouble sleeping this Fourth of July as well. This time it’s more a nervous excitement, and again I am sure I’m doing the right thing. I’m marrying Jim Hale tomorrow.
My mother, Denise Klopfanstein, and my sister, Heidi Nestved, who have been so supportive of me and Jim, are throwing the wedding. Heidi will be my chief attendant. I like to feel very modern and call her my “best man.”
My cousins Melissa Spaven-Oleniuch and Annmarie Spaven will each do a reading. Our aunt Suzi helped with the centerpieces. Our sister-in-law Jeaninne bought a pride tie for our dog Kona to wear. My nephew Kellen and niece Molly have worked all week to help us get ready for the celebration. Molly’s grandmother, Cheryl Nestved did a beautiful job setting up the area under a sumac tree where we will make our vows before family, friends, and God. Jim’s brother and best man, Shaun Parese, and my brother, Tom, will assist in the Celtic “handfasting” ritual that symbolically “ties” our two families together.
Our families have been tied together for the two decades Jim and I been together, but it’s still a huge step that I would have never imagined possible in my lifetime when I came out twenty-eight years ago. It wasn’t possible in New York state until 2011, and full Marriage Equality in this country wasn’t achieved until 2015. June is Pride Month, but the Fourth of July has powerful significance to Americans like us who are only recently winning our full civil rights.
Our friends Kim and Ken Meyer are in the wedding. Ken will be one of Jim’s best men, and Kim will finally have the chance to be a “flower girl.”
Kim describes our wedding as “marrying your best friend.” I like that.
“Accept faults,” she advises. “Always work together and work off each other’s strengths. Accept each other’s faults. Remember, everything will work out.”
Kim and Ken have been married twenty-six years in August. Jim was Ken’s best man at his wedding.
Fred and Anne-Louise Bailey will have been married fifty-six years in August. I asked them what they’ve learned about marriage being together over five and a half decades. They answered together.
“I’ve learned what a wonderful partner I chose,” each said about the other. “Take it one day at a time. There’s always surprises and things to learn about your partner. People change, but true love never ends. When we got married, I was a certain person, and my life partner was a certain person. We have grown and changed, but our love has grown too.”
They ended by saying, “ God bless you as you take this big step to a deeper commitment.”
It struck me that even after twenty years, this was indeed a “big step to a deeper commitment.”
I’ve talked in this column before about how I was sick for over ten years with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In 2011, I was still in the depths of that. Jim and I were just trying to survive, so the thought of marriage was somewhat abstract. In 2015, it was more real as I was recovering, but by then, I was a graduate student again and two years later teaching college, then high school, and middle school, and writing this column, and everything else that made life so busy.
On Friday, I finished my second master’s degree (in teaching) from Empire State College. Then there is COVID-19, which has slowed everything down and put everything into perspective. It’s been twenty years; it’s our time.
Two weeks ago, when we were filling out our marriage license at the town hall in Westmoreland, I asked if we were the first same-sex couple to be married in Westmoreland. We’re not. We’re the third. But it felt historic just the same.
“Being able to sign the same legal contract my parents signed twenty-five years prior gave me the privilege of following their footsteps,” Adam Lawless told me via Facebook Messenger. He and Don Shipman were married in October 2011, just two months after Marriage Equality became law in New York State.
“I remember the powerful words the judge who married us said, ‘Today we are here to celebrate the legal marriage of two men,’” Adam recalled. “Upon repeating that phrase for emphasis, the entirety of those in attendance-more than 150 people-stood in ovation and applause.”
I imagined that moment and realized for a moment that people like me and Jim, and Adam and Don, are still surfing on that “long arc of the moral universe” that Martin Luther King Jr. promised would “bend towards justice.”
I wrote about Don Shipman and Adam Lawless in April of 2019. I wanted to reach out to another same-sex couple to ask what it was all about.
“I didn’t realize how important marriage equality was for me until it actually happened,” Don Shipman told me. “I had conditioned myself to believe marriage just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t get married, so I told myself I didn’t need marriage, didn’t want marriage.”
Thinking back on that now, he realizes how incredibly sad that was.
“Society told me I was less than, and I unknowingly forced myself to believe them,” he says. “That’s why Marriage Equality is so important.”
“Equality in our marriage meant we were recognized and validated,” Adam added. “Not just by our family and friends, but by society. It meant we are human. We are worthy. We are loved. We are respected. Marriage Equality meant everything.”
Don’s advice for me and Jim: “every now and then, look around, listen, and take in the moment. You’ve proven your commitment, have fun, and enjoy your wedding day.”
Adam met Don in college. He didn’t know he was a news anchor. Jim and I actually did meet through television. I once had a non-profit organization that produced independent and alternative news called Planet Utica. In late 1999, Jim sent an email offering to volunteer. The rest is history.
My readers know a lot about me, but not much about him. So I asked Kim and Ken Meyer to describe him since they’ve known him since high school.
“Jim has always been there for his friends,” Ken said.
“He is great fun to be around, and he can be serious when necessary,” Kim said. “Jim listens and is someone we can both talk to about anything.”
I’m lucky. I’m marrying a good man, and in times like these, good people need to strengthen their bonds.
“It’s an honor to officiate a wedding of a couple who have been together for so long and already know the blessings and challenges of this life commitment,” my friend Jen DeWeerth, who will be performing the ceremony told me.
I thought about the lyrics to Stevie Nick’s song, “Landslide,”
“Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?”
Our wedding, like Marriage Equality, is goodness prevailing, and we need that now more than ever.
When we walk down the aisle, which will be a path through socially distanced chairs on my mother’s front lawn, our family friend Arianna Granza will sing “Magic” from the movie Xanadu.
“Building your dream has to start now. There’s no other road to take. You won’t make a mistake; I’ll be guiding you. You have to believe we are magic; nothing can stand in our way.”
“As a Christian minister committed to the radically welcoming and inclusive gospel,” Jen DeWeerth says, “I see weddings like this one, so long denied, as a reminder that love does
Ron Klopfanstein was married to Jim Hale at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 5, beneath a sumac tree in Westmoreland, NY. He’d like to thank Alicia and Steve Joanis of ADKDirect.com for providing an amazing sound system, and Rebecca Kloster of Whisky Jack’s Salon for Men for opening specially on the afternoon of the wedding for me and Jim. Like Ron at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/RonKlopfanstein