According to common stereotypes and popular American mythology, a bride is a stressed-out, emotional basket case on her wedding day (and sometimes for the months leading up to her wedding day). Where do you think the term Bridezilla ever came from? Why do you think alcohol flows so freely at bachelorette parties? Something must be done to calm her down, right?
So, what happens when there are two brides? Does that double the potential for a nuclear wedding meltdown? Should wedding planners run in fear from lesbian clients? Are lesbian weddings a recipe for disaster? Really, it depends on the lesbians; when the two women in question are both Episcopal clergy, that certainly changes things a bit.
Case in point: When Kate Lewis and Pat Hendrickson decided to marry, they didn’t hire a wedding planner. They didn’t get swept up in all the wedding hoopla. For the two women, getting married was solely about asking for a blessing from God and their community. It was, for all intents and purposes, as simple as a wedding could be. These were not two crazy, stressed out brides; these were two grown women who, after much time and careful thought, knew what they wanted for the rest of their lives.
Heart is where the home is
Kate, dressed in black pants, a red sweater and a white, clerical collar (they’d both just come from church) sits cross-legged on the couch next to Pat in the living room of their Thousand Oaks home. It is an airy, comfortable, two-story house that they love. Even though Kate works as a priest at St. Cross Episcopal Church in Hermosa Beach and Pat is a deacon at St. Augustine by the Sea in Santa Monica, moving closer to work is out of the question. This is their home.
They’ve been married for almost three years and together for nearly 10. “It’s almost 10,” says Pat, smiling, “That’s so cool!”
Kate nods in agreement, offers her hand for a quick high-five and the two giggle. Their chemistry is playful and warm. They tease each other affectionately about everything from driving habits to communication styles. Pat is a tall woman with cropped silver hair; Kate is smaller, with brown hair and warm, pink cheeks.
The two met at a Cursillo Weekend, a sort of church retreat, and instantly became close friends. However, it didn’t take very long for them to realize that they were embarking on a relationship that was more than a friendship. They talked for hours on the phone, “and I don’t talk on the phone,” says Pat. They just clicked.
As clichéd as it might sound, their relationship had the requisite fireworks. Neither had been in a relationship with a woman before, so first they had to come out to themselves. After that, things moved quickly: Within six months, they were living together. In 2000, they registered as domestic partners and moved to Berkeley, where they lived in married student housing for three years while Kate, who left behind a high-paying job as a script supervisor in Hollywood, trained to become a priest.
When the two returned to Thousand Oaks in 2002, they began seriously considering marriage.
Tying the knot
So what was the first thing Kate and Pat did after deciding to marry? While most newly engaged couples might have started picking out gifts on their registry, these two chose to begin a full year of premarital counseling. They laugh a little, admitting to the length of their program, as this sort of counseling is usually wrapped up in six sessions. “It helped us really know that this was the step we wanted to take,” says Pat. “More married couples should do it. We got to work a lot on communication.”
“We’re still working on it,” says Kate, out of the side of her mouth, with spot-on comedic timing.
Then, like almost all engaged couples, they set a date and went ring shopping. Their rings are simple, braided bands, no diamonds. The date? Mother’s Day, May 9, 2004.
They made their own wedding invitations, which asked friends and family to join the couple as they “joyfully commit their lives to one another.” And while they invited friends and family, they also fully expected a large number of strangers at their wedding as well. Embracing a tiny trend in the Episcopal Church, Pat and Kate planned to have their ceremony as part of the main Sunday service. Meaning that a number of people (including tourists) who thought they were simply showing up for Sunday church, ended up as guests at Pat and Kate’s wedding ceremony.
“No one left. A few were surprised, though,” says Kate.
Dressed in matching tan pants and colorful, pink sweaters, Pat and Kate were married on a gorgeous day at St. Augustine by the Sea in Santa Monica. The wedding service was read from the Book of Common Prayer (traditional wedding vows) with just one alteration — the line about procreation was omitted, which, Kate points out, is already done for couples over the age of 60 when they are married. Pat’s grandson, Caydon, dressed in a miniature white tuxedo, was the ring barer. (At the time, Caydon was not quite 1 year old.)
After the daytime service, wedding guests were invited to an outdoor reception in the church’s courtyard. There, guests enjoyed a light meal and a wedding cake baked by one of the couple’s friends. During the reception, Kate and Pat’s rector presented them with an interesting gift: A marriage license signed by none other than George W. Bush. “I guess you can just send in for them,” says Kate, laughing.
All in all, it was a simple affair. Afterward, instead of hopping a flight to Hawaii, the two brides returned home. “We sort of surprised ourselves at how …” Pat struggles for a way to describe the feelings she experienced that night, after the ceremony.
“Touched?” suggests Kate.
“How touched we were by having that service,” says Pat.
The politics of marriage
A woman approached Pat after the wedding ceremony. She had come to church that morning with her daughters, not knowing that there would be a wedding. “I can’t tell you how happy I am that we were here to see this happen,” she said to Pat. It was a moment that has remained etched in Pat’s memory.
For Pat and Kate, getting married wasn’t about politics. The thrust, as Kate puts it, was religious. However, neither denies the fact that what they did was a political act. Because gay marriage is not legal in California, Kate and Pat cannot be legally “married.” However, they are as close as they can possibly be, legally. They explain that their bishop requires gay couples who are going to be married to have all their logistical ducks in a row — domestic partnership, power of attorney, a will, health directives — things that heterosexual couples considering marriage need not worry about.
“We wanted to make an example of ourselves,” says Kate, acknowledging the almost intrinsically political nature of their wedding ceremony.
Pat leans forward a little on the couch. She is dressed in black pants, a green blouse and a white, clerical collar. “We’re not in your face,” she explains. “But just by being who we are, it knocks down stereotypes.”
Later, upstairs, while looking through wedding photographs on the computer, Pat laughs at a few of the pictures. “You can’t have a gay wedding without the color pink, right?” asks Kate, smiling, while pointing out their bright wedding-day sweaters. The ceremony was nearly three years ago, but it is fresh in their memories. There they are exchanging vows. There Pat is, bent over in near hysterics at the sight of the George W. Bush-approved marriage license bearing their names. There is the happy couple standing proudly in front of the homemade wedding cake. Their hair was a bit longer. They were a few years younger. But here they are, still the same happy couple. Perhaps happier, if that’s possible.
So, now that they’ve done the whole wedding thing, what’s next on their agenda? Maybe trying to appear on the reality TV show, The Amazing Race. Because, after all, “how could they say ‘no’ to lesbian clergy?” asks Kate.