“I wanted to ask if you know anybody who officiates weddings. I would like to get married this year with Milena and, since same- sex marriage is not legal in Poland, we thought we might look for someone online who would like to do that for us.” This simple, yet profound, message I received from my Polish friend Kate through Facebook Messenger was the start of an amazing journey, that I will not soon forget.
I had met Kate while traveling in Jerusalem. Sensing a kindred spirit, I talked to her and an international friendship was born. Kate and I are both English teachers and we love adventure and traveling. I visited Kate in Poland and she very successfully showed off her beautiful country, introducing me to some great places, while also helping me with some family genealogy.
So, when I received the Facebook message above, I jumped at the opportunity to help out my amazingly generous friend. Little did I know that this would be an amazing experience for me too! Once they accepted my offer, I began by doing research on how to marry people. I was so excited!
Legal Situation in Poland
Same sex marriage is currently illegal in Poland. In fact, in the past several years the government, and much of the population, have unfortunately become quite conservative. In September 2015, Amnesty International concluded that “the LGBTI community in Poland faces widespread and ingrained discrimination across the country” and that “Poland’s legal system falls dangerously short when it comes to protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and other minority groups from hate crimes”. And, disturbingly, by April 2020, 100 municipalities, encompassing about a third of the country, informally declared themselves “LGBT-free zones“. This is what lesbians, as well as other members of the LGBTI community, are up against in Poland.
There are Poles who are bravely fighting back against this blatant homophobia and Kate and Milena are two of them. Perhaps the largest demonstration of the LGBTI rights movement in Poland is the equality parade held in Warsaw every year since 2001. I very much admire all the participant of these marches for they are not afraid to love out loud.
“We have decided to get married this year on purpose. To defy Covid, to defy homophobic laws in Poland and to show that love wins. You are going to make HERstory with us.” Especially given the hostile climate towards lesbians in Poland, this message from my friend Kate is nothing short of heroic! I realized then that my role in this wedding was not only on a personal level; it was also a form of protest on an international stage. Having fought for LGBTI rights my entire life (growing up near Washington, DC helped to facilitate this), participating in this same-sex matrimonial union went right along with my core value of speaking out.
We’ve all seen TV shows and movies where a secretly ordained friend comes to the rescue at a wedding at the last minute. So, I knew that it was relatively easy to get ordained online. What I didn’t realize, is just how easy it was.
I had some time while transferring planes in Houston and so I decided to do a little research using my phone at the gate area. I found themonastery.org and filled out some basic information. Not five minutes later and I received an email saying I was ordained by the Universal Life Church.
As easy as this was, I have since learned that in the state of Florida, all you need to officiate a wedding is to be a notary public. I also discovered that because neither of the participants was a US-American citizen, I could not register their union anywhere. However, when Poland’s government does change their laws, hopefully, they will legally accept this union. If not, I’ll be happy to do what I can to ensure that happens.
Prepared with some questions to ask the couple about the big day, I contacted Milena and Kate over Zoom. This was the first time I met Melina. I liked her immediately. She seemed kind, had an adventurous spirit, had a sense of humor and she came across to me as brave and loving. In some ways it seemed like they were newly in love, but in other ways, they seemed like they were already an old married couple. It was beautiful to see my friend so happy. And I couldn’t have picked a better mate for her. I can’t wait to meet Milena in person, whether it be in Poland, in the USA or while traveling to some other wonderful place in the world.
Kate and Milena were so excited when they bought their wedding dresses. They chose a woman-owned environment-friendly Warsaw-based company called Risk, who provided beautiful gowns with Pride rainbows on them. These locally made wedding dresses seemed to fit perfectly with Kate and Milena’s vision of loving defiantly.
The Wedding Day
Once the brides informed me that they were ready, they hit record on Zoom. Kate and Milena stood in the comfort of their living room as I introduced myself as the officiant and my girlfriend Chrissy as the witness.
I continued with a little about how I met Kate and gave my first impressions of Milena. I talked about what makes a marriage healthy. Given that some people in the lives of these two amazing women weren’t 100% on board with their relationship, I had decided to offer them a little guidance in explaining the important role that community plays as a support system. “It is my hope that everyone who loves Milena and Kasia will help guide them through difficult times. When they reach out to you, do not turn them away; instead, listen, love and support them”, I urged.
I was asked to read the poem Habitation by acclaimed author Margaret Atwood. I found it both beautiful and fitting, so I’ve included it here:
Marriage is not
a house or even a tent
it is before that, and colder:
the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn
the edge of the receding glacier
where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
we are learning to make fire
The couple each exchanged traditional vows in English to each other by repeating them after me.
One of my favorite parts of the wedding was a part that I didn’t understand at all. Both Kate and Milena had separately prepared vows in Polish to each other. This would be the first time they were hearing what the other had written. Milena went first and delivered her vows to Kate with sincerity and love. Then, Kate placed her hand on Milena’s shoulder and began reading what she had written. Like Milena’s, Kate’s message was delivered with such love and devotion.
After the Polish vows were delivered (completed with some tears), the couple exchanged rings to symbolize the promises they had made and then I got to pronounce the couple married.
An Unexpected Affect on Me
When Kate first reached out to me about her wedding, it had only been 7 months since my wife ended our 14-year marriage (and 16-year relationship). But, honestly, my pain hadn’t occurred to me. It wasn’t until later I realized that my involvement in the beginning of such a union might also help me heal from the end of mine.
With each Zoom call about what they wanted in the ceremony, it was hard not to reflect on my own wedding day a decade and a half prior. They shared with me what they would wear and I remember these conversations with Mindy. I also shared my own carefully composed vows with them. I thought of the music played at my wedding. The setting, the attendees and the messages from our friends and family all came rushing back to me. My heart sank a few times. Little did I know then that revisiting my own wedding day would play such an important role in healing my heartache.
It was nothing short of joyous to see Milena and Kate interact with each other and tell their story. I found it uplifting and heartwarming to see them shrouded in love.
Several months later on the wedding day, I found that giving of myself in this way was indeed a big step in moving on. I found that my brain was no longer plagued with images of my past wedding, but instead was filled of images of what my next one might be. I realized that I too am looking forward to that step in my life when I am ready.
While I began this process by simply doing a friend a favor, participating in my friends’ special day turned out to be so much more. It was indeed a fight for love – to be able to celebrate it and trust it again. I am grateful.