It was a brisk fall day in 1985, the leaves were changing and the sky was bluer than usual. We gathered on a hillside in rural Alabama, myself and about 30 others, friends of the couple I will call “Jamie and Jackie” in this story, so as to ensure their anonymity. It was arguably one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever attended, and I have attended plenty of lavish affairs. This was not flashy or extravagant, very understated and natural, just as the couple had always dreamed their wedding would be.

They were simple people with lots of love for each other, and it showed. I think that is what made this ceremony so beautiful. Jamie wore a traditional tuxedo and Jackie, a lovely ivory wedding gown. The music was provided by dual violinists, and if you’ve never heard dual violins, it is an amazing sound, almost spiritual. The minister was Rastafarian, a friend of the couple who had agreed to tie their knot.

From the time I first met Jamie and Jackie, I knew they were meant to be together. No two people I have ever known, were better soulmates. I had the pleasure to work with them on numerous creative projects, and both were very talented and artistic people, with a flair for the unusual. It kind of surprised me that their wedding was somewhat traditional, complete with bridesmaids and groomsmen, a flower girl and ring bearer. We threw rice and had wedding cake and champagne, and the couple made their getaway in a gaudy decorated car, off on their honeymoon to Key West.

Some months later, I visited them and they showed off their wedding album, as we reminisced about that beautiful blessed day on which they wed. Both Jamie and Jackie were pragmatic and conservative in their political views, we most often agreed on political philosophy, and such was the case regarding the issue of gay marriage. Of course, in 1985, it wasn’t much of an issue, no one had even heard of gay marriage. There was simply marriage, and it was understood that involved a man and woman uniting in matrimony.

Jamie and Jackie were quite outspoken over the issue when it arose in the late 90s, and it was through conversations with them, that I adopted my own opinion regarding the matter. They were both opposed to the idea of gay marriage, but very much in favor of civil unions.

“If gay couples could simply get the benefits and tax breaks of traditional married couples, what difference does it make what it’s called?,” Jamie asked.

Jackie came from a very religious family, and understood the importance of marriage to religion as a sanctity that was fundamental. Neither could understand why anyone would want to change that. “I don’t want religion forcing it’s viewpoint on me, so why should we force a social moral viewpoint on them?,” Jackie pondered. Both wondered why the issue couldn’t simply be resolved with comprehensive civil unions legislation, removing the government from recognizing any type of marriage, and adopting a generic means of recognizing domestic partnership.

Now you are probably wondering why I am going on about this obscure “backwoods bigoted” couple from Alabama, pontificating their “backwoods bigoted” viewpoints on gay marriage. Well, it’s because Jamie and Jackie were a same-sex couple. That’s right, they were gay. They held a beautiful wedding ceremony on a hillside in rural Alabama in 1985, and no one prevented them from doing so. There was no hick sheriff or redneck judge there, telling them it was forbidden. There was no church group there to protest with signs and anti-gay hate speech, just the couple and their closest friends, witnessing a beautiful ceremonial union between two very sweet and loving people. No harm, no foul.

Of course, the State of Alabama did not officially license the marriage, and they would spend the next ten years, going through all kinds of legal processes and jumping through hoops in order to obtain various communal rights of property and whatnot. This is where they both argued that civil unions legislation would have made the road a lot easier to travel. But as for their relationship, they felt as if they were as “married” as any traditional couple, because marriage (to them) was based on something other than a piece of paper from the government.

In 2010, they celebrated their 25th anniversary together, and it was there I learned that Jackie had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. She passed away last week, and I attended the funeral. Grief stricken, her life partner looked defeated and frail, as we cried together. They never realized the ‘legitimacy’ of the partnership with regards to the government, and that simply didn’t matter. Still, it would have been nice to know that society could overcome it’s differences and find resolve, so that this beautiful couple could have enjoyed the benefits of other traditional couples. They had insurance policies on each other, and Jamie was able to visit Jackie in the hospital during those final days, that was never an issue. Still, this was due to their own diligence in establishing these rights as a couple, long before the issue of gay marriage ever emerged. People who truly love one another, don’t mind going the extra mile, and doing what it takes to endure.

I get extremely frustrated with people who say that I am a homophobe or bigot because I don’t support gay marriage. The viewpoint I hold with regard to civil unions, comes from two of the most beautiful gay people I have ever had the pleasure to know. They respected tradition and religion, yet understood that we don’t need to remain locked in an antiquated government sanctioning of marriage which has become obsolete. There is a way to resolve our differences while respecting all involved, and that is the course we should be taking now. Remove government from the business of telling people what defines marriage, and institute a system which respects everyone and protects both the sanctity of traditional marriage and the rights of homosexual partners. Let churches and people define what “marriage” is, not the government. Because, in the end, isn’t it what is inside the heart that really matters most?