After 11 years of refusing to sign state marriage certificates, the Rev. Victoria Safford made up for lost time this weekend by signing six of them at ceremonies that came after the advent of Minnesota’s new same-sex marriage law.
“I feel honored,” she said Saturday, after she presided at the wedding of Tom DeGree and Dean Schlaak, co-owners of Wilde Roast Café, at their home in Lake Elmo. “This is a revolutionary day.”
Safford is the senior minister at the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church (WBUUC) in White Bear Lake. In 2002, she stopped signing marriage licenses after deciding that there was something “profoundly wrong and imbalanced and strange” about performing weddings for some members in her congregation, but not for all who wanted to marry. “It seemed right and clear to just not sign them at all,” she said. “It was a decision a-long-time coming.”
A year after she began refusing to sign the documents, in 2003, Safford spoke in front of the State Senate Judiciary Committee against a proposed ban on same-sex marriage. “This country is made strong by its diversity, not homogeneity,” she testified. “ My definition of marriage derives from the beautiful families I know, both gay and straight.”
Now that Minnesota has made same sex marriage legal, many gay and lesbian couples who previously held commitment ceremonies at Safford’s church have been calling Safford to schedule official, state-sanctioned weddings. “It’s a delight to reconnect with people I perhaps haven’t seen in a decade,” Safford said.
In addition, straight couples, whose weddings Safford presided over in the past 11 years — but who didn’t get their certificates signed during Safford’s protest — have been asking Safford to sign their certificates now, as a symbolic gesture rather than a legally binding one. Many of the couples who got married at the church had their certificates officially signed elsewhere. One couple, for example, had their wedding at WBUUC, but drove down to Iowa for the official documents, because Iowa already had legalized same-sex marriage.
Safford beamed as she joined in matrimony Tom DeGree and Dean Schlaak on Saturday in an outdoor ceremony that included readings from the Jerusalem Bible’s Song of Songs, as well as excerpted testimony from Goodridge v. Department of Health, a 2003 landmark Massachusetts state high court decision that was the first legal case to find that same-sex couples had the right to marry.
DeGree is a member of Safford’s congregation, and Schlaak occasionally joins him for services. “They are beautiful,” Safford said. “They are models to all of us about what a committed marriage looks like. It’s an honor to marry a couple like this.”
Thirteen years ago, DeGree and Schlaak met at the Eagle Club in Minneapolis. They each arrived with separate sets of friends, but were eying each other throughout the evening, recounts Schlaak. Eventually, “He stands next to me and holds my hand,” he said.
It was not long afterward that they became a couple, and decided to start a business together, opening Wilde Roast Café in Minneapolis — taking its name from Oscar Wilde — where last week’s celebrations began as the same-sex marriage law arrived at Midnight, Aug. 1.
Schlaak proposed to DeGree in 2005 and they had a commitment ceremony at a bed-and-breakfast in Hayward, Wis. When the law permitting same-sex couples to marry legally was approved, Schlaak and DeGree thought at first that they would wait until their ten-year anniversary, but about a month and a half ago, they decided “to just do it in our yard,” DeGree said. Part of the decision had to do with some of the legal benefits that marriage affords, and to “make sure we were providing for each other,” DeGree said.
Their decision also had to do with how involved each of them were with the marriage equality movement here in Minnesota, both as individuals and through their restaurant. “It’s a right, and if people didn’t do it- it would look pointless,” DeGree said.
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