Our marriage [February 2, 1974], like our courtship, has been conventional. It was love at first sight when we met at the elevator just outside the sixth-floor tearoom of the Atlanta YMCA [September 2, 1973]. Ernest was a fashion coordinator for a local department store, I a state college professor from one hundred miles way, deep in the peach and pecan orchards. One of us black, the other white; both native Southerners. We commuted every weekend for five months. Our friends were not surprised when we decided to marry.
We would have wasted our time to send an announcement to the local papers. Besides, the bank employees spread the word just as effectively when we took out a joint account. Our wedding itself was private, just the two of us and the Holy Spirit. Parents, although loving, would not have welcomed the occasion; our priest would not have officiated even had he been granted the Episcopal authority which was expressly denied. Two apartment neighbors, historians, sent a bottle of champagne; a psychologist friend dropped in earlier to propose a toast; others sent welcoming tokens.
We unloaded the heavier gear from the car before beginning the ceremony. Then we carried each other across the threshold into the dining room, where the table was set with two wine glasses from Woolworth's, one lone and lighted red candle instead of our customary two green ones, a vase with one early narcissus, and an open Book of Common Prayer . We read the service nervously, its fearsome bidding and pledges. The words woman and wife translated readily as spouse, man, husband, Person. All took only about ten minutes.
One could be too quick to sentimentalize a few details, such as our bed, a two-hundred-year-old four-poster built by the slave ancestors of one of us for the free ancestors of the other. Perhaps we were fulfilling their dream? Or Dr. King's dream...? We find day-to-day living too difficult for us to negotiate other people's dreams: we work at living our own dream, a dream no different from the dream of many other couples, a dream of a home with much love to bridge our separateness.
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On August 22, 2013, a town clerk made legal what God had made holy when Ernest and I married 40 years ago in tiny Fort Valley, Georgia; and I have taken my husband’s last name.
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Here are pictures of us. One in 1974, ten months after our marriage, and a wedding photo from 2013.
Louie Clay (né Louie Crew) is an American professor emeritus of English at Rutgers University and the author of numerous essays and four collections of poetry. He is best known for his long and increasingly successful campaign for the acceptance of gay and lesbian people by Christians in general, and the Episcopal Church in particular. In 1974, while teaching at Fort Valley State University in Georgia, Crew founded InegrityUSA, a gay-acceptance group within the Episcopal church.