Prominent Minister Celebrates Gay New Yorkers’ Marriages

by Dr. Arthur Caliandro

Monday August 8, 2011

Dr. Arthur Caliandro is the former head of Marble Collegiate Chuch, a huge stone edifice in Midtown Manhattan that has long been one of the most prominent Protestant churches in the country, thanks in part to former pastor Norman Vincent Peale. Dr. Caliandro has presided over hundreds of marriages, including Liza Minelli's and Donald Trump's. He writes a blog about religion and contemporary issues.

We had talked about having lunch for many months. It was coincidental that here we were dining together, just two days after NY state legalized the same-sex marriage law.

I had known these two men for most of the 40 years they had been together in a very stable and happy relationship. Each of them had recently retired and the early part of our luncheon discussion centered around sharing retirement stories.

Then one of them asked how I felt about the new law just passed by the state legislature. I said that of course I thought it was great and long overdue. The mere mention of the law brought back a thousand memories of the difficult struggle we had at the Marble Collegiate Church when we were working toward allowing our gay group to be accepted into the mainstream. One of the men at lunch had been a part of this struggle and instrumental in the whole process.

Gay people were always welcome at Marble, but when it came to having their own organized group, it was another story. This was approximately 20 years ago and people were of a different mindset. There was a lot of anger and protests. As minister of the church, I had the responsibility of guiding the church through these tumultuous years.

It was first clear to me that being gay was not a choice when a 60-year-old man took me to breakfast and said, "There's something I need to tell you. I'm gay."

Prior to that I was ambivalent. He had worked for me for 20 years and in every way was the perfect employee. He said he was aware that he was different at age 7, and as he grew up this was complicated by his father who had been an all-American football player and encouraged him to be tough! He realized he could not be who he wasn't and consequently led a very lonely life.

To me this was very sad and very wrong. This 60-year-old man was the catalyst that changed me and consequently changed the dynamics at Marble Collegiate Church. Everyone has a right to complete love and happiness, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Finally this new law gives New Yorkers everywhere that right.

As my dear friends at lunch discussed their good fortune, they told me they were going to be married as soon as possible. I congratulated them with words of love and affirmation. Later that day at home, I was startled and upset with myself. "Arthur, why didn't you offer to marry them?" Immediately I picked up the phone and called saying, "I don't want to impose myself on you, but I would be honored to be the person who performs your marriage ceremony. Don't go to City Hall!"

The three of us are excited about their upcoming wedding and it may be one of the happiest wedding ceremonies I have conducted in my 50-plus years of ministry, because it represents the highest expression of Christian love.