By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
[Editor’s note: read Part 1 of “In This Heart” here.]
7) I step down the stairs, out of the light of the bright spring day into the basement of an event space in inner Southeast Portland. The air is thick with excitement — all around me, people hug one another, bunches of balloons hang on the wall, obscenely large trays of food beckon. It isn’t even 2 PM yet this Monday afternoon, and half the room has champagne flutes in hand.
“Are you one of the officiants?” a woman holding a clip board asks me with the weary joy of someone happy to be doing a difficult job.
“Not today,” I say, smiling back at her.
It is May 19, 2014. Marriage equality has finally come to Oregon, and I am in attendance at the most natural celebration for such an occasion: a mass gay wedding.
8) In Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, writer Elizabeth Gilbert explains a peculiar but eminently logical wedding tradition from Laos. Everyone invited to a wedding returns the invitation they received to the marrying couple, folding it into an envelope and filling it with a gift of cash; the newlyweds then keep an exact ledger of how much each person gave. The reason for this is where the elegant reasoning comes in: when a wedding invitation arrives in the future, the couple consults the ledger and then gives back the exact amount of money the people in the couple gave them, plus a tiny bit more as interest, at their wedding. “The wedding money, then, is not really a gift,” Gilbert explains. “It’s an exhaustively catalogued and ever-shifting loan, circulating from one family to the next as each new couple starts a life together.”
10) A great roar passes through the room; I look and see two newly-married men walking hand-in-hand down into the reception room.
“They’ve been together seventeen years!” I hear one of their friends exclaim with tears in his eyes. “Now, they’re finally married!”
11) The first exposure that most Americans had to large-scale group weddings came in 1982 when the Reverend Sung Myung Moon, the leader of the Unification Church, held a “Blessing Ceremony” for 2,075 couples in Madison Square Garden. Frank Kaufmann, a leading scholar of the Church, explained the context for the mass wedding: “Unificationists believe that all the problems on Earth… are fruits of the fact that self-interest crept into the family… since the beginning, there has never been even one family whose members were not dominated by some significant degree of self-interest.” To mend this tear in the cosmic fabric, Unification Church members get their marriages blessed en masse to remove themselves from the lineage of self-interested earthly marriages. Instead, in sublimating themselves and their weddings into a larger communal experience, they dedicate themselves and their marriages to the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
12) The entire room breaks into cheering again — I’ve lost count how many newlywed couples have stepped down the stairs into the reception hall.
“I wish that the people who were against marriage equality could see this,” a handsome man beside me says between sips of his champagne. “If they could see how much love was in this room, how happy it’s making a whole community of people, I couldn’t imagine they could keep believing this was somehow a bad thing.”
13) “This entire social contract was built on the collective understanding that, as a young bride and groom, your wedding money doesn’t belong to you,” Gilbert muses about the elegantly sensible Laotian tradition. “It belongs to the community, and the community must be paid back. With interest. To a certain extent, this means that your marriage doesn’t entirely belong to you, either; it also belongs to the community, which will be expecting a dividend out of your union. Your marriage, in effect, becomes a business in which everyone around you owns a literal share.”
14) I break free of the crowd downstairs, walk up to see a ceremony in progress: two brides holding hands, an officiant standing before them in her ceremonial robe, pronouncing them married. The couple turns to kiss one another; instinctively, I place my right hand upon my heart and feel it beating fast. I know that everything in this heart is something I will have to give back, every cell of muscle on loan from the earth, every electrical impulse zapping through on its way somewhere else, every emotion an heirloom I will have no choice but to pass along.
In that moment, I am struck that the same is true for our relationships: they are sacred, certainly, great storehouses of resources and hope and love. They are also temporary, and ultimately we must pass along those resources we gather, the hope and love we collected, back into the community that gave them to us. Ultimately, our relationships, just like our hearts, aren’t our own.
I turn towards the door of the ballroom, the bright sun of the afternoon streaming in, the joyous sound of the crowd below cheering for the newlyweds. Silently, I push the door open and step out into the light.
Nick Mattos is more freaked out than ever about officiating a wedding; find out how it went in the third installment of “In This Heart.” He can be reached at email@example.com. And before you ask: no, he’s definitely not a Unificationist.