One of the aspects I enjoy most about my job is meeting all sorts of inspiring and energetic straight allies who are working hard to treat GLBT couples with equal dignity and respect and are doing their part to work toward marriage equality.
In Massachusetts, this is certainly much easier given that the courts have legalized gay marriage. But there are those, like officiate Claire Watts, who loves performing gay and lesbian weddings and who takes great pride in this important work.
We got acquainted via email and here’s what she had to say:
Q: What was the first gay wedding you performed?
A: My first gay wedding was performed on May 17th, 2004. It was supposed to be a small private ceremony between two men from Boston. Well, when they arrived in Provincetown that morning, they got caught up in all the joy and excitement and decided to “go for it”. We performed the ceremony in front of hundreds of people on the lawn of Provincetown Town Hall, with cameras showing the wedding nationwide, as it was the first at this venue – an historic moment.
Q: How many ceremonies — same sex or otherwise — have you officiated?
A: My first year as a Justice of the Peace (actually 6 months) in 2003 – 6 heterosexual couples. My second year – 2004: 13 heterosexual couples; 44 lesbian couples; and 17 gay couples. My third year – 2005: 27 heterosexual couples; 17 lesbian couples; and 8 gay couples. I have started out the year 2006, having performed one heterosexual wedding; and, I have 8 confirmed weddings ahead – 6 are heterosexual, and 2 are lesbian couples.
Q: What was your most memorable experience as a Justice of the Peace?
A: It would have to be a couple of “girls” from western Massachusetts that came to my home one Sunday morning to meet me. I can’t define the moment, but they left my home as if we were all sisters and had known each other all our lives. It was pretty incredible, we talked about all our lives, their families, who “approved” and who did not, how they met; they found out all about my family, friends, etc. They had come here because they thought they wanted to get married in gay-friendly Provincetown with just them and me as their officiate. Well, by the time they got home they had decided they really did want the “real wedding”, with family, friends, and the whole works.
They got in touch with me and were very sad that with that decision, I wouldn’t be their officiate, could I find them another, etc. The next email was begging “would I consider traveling – they’ll pay for hotel, etc., travel.” It only took me a minute to respond that I would love to do this, I’d make it an “away” weekend, and asked if I could bring a friend. I wouldn’t let them pay for my delightful bed and breakfast, though. My friend and I traveled to the wedding, had a wonderful time were the “guests of honor.”
The wedding was the most fun I had had at a wedding in a long time – truly wonderful. While one of the mothers “almost smiled,” the other one joined in and danced the night away. We’ve remained friends ever since.
Q: That sounds like a wonderful experience? Any others you’d like to mention?
There are so many more memorable couples that, if I could write, I’d write a book. There was the FBI agent and her partner on top of a naval vessel, with 40-50 FBI and ATF agents in attendance; the two gentlemen with their newborn infant twin sons; the families and friends that participated in making each wedding so wonderful; the cancer victim that might not have made it – there are so many stories.
Q: Have you heard any troubling stories or experienced any difficulty in providing this service to GLBT couples?
A; I’ve had one couple come to me and said they were given a hard time by a town clerk. So they simply went to a different town and were treated fine. I haven’t encountered any bias. So far, wherever I’ve performed a wedding, the people were very supportive.
Q: What inspires about you about doing work for same sex couples?
A; I think my inspiration comes with the feeling I get at each of these weddings that somehow I’m able to give these couples their dignity. That shines through, along with the sheer joy and tears of happiness. (Even though I’m not supposed to, sometimes even I tear up!)
Q: Has anything surprised you about conducting same sex ceremonies?
A; I think my surprise has been the breaking of my former notion of stereotypical gay/lesbian couples. Except for maybe one or two couples, where their sexual orientation seemed very obvious, most of these couples look like you or me.
At the same time (if this even makes any sense at all), this is what has least surprised me. I’ve always felt that these are people, who are no different than any of us, and should be able to attain the American dream of marriage, family, and the same protections that our government purports to offer to all of its citizens.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I just wish people could just “open their minds” to the fact that these couples simply want nothing more than what’s accorded the rest of the world. It’s fine if you want to use your religion the way you want to – but don’t make the rest of us live by your beliefs. It’s unconstitutional to deny people their basic rights.
Photo by © Claire Watts