Hold on to your bonnets, friends. This is going to be a big one.
The last 24 hours have been an emotional rollercoaster. Yesterday, one of my amazing couples shared on Facebook that a cake artist in Hood River had turned away their business on the premise of their sexual orientation. She said that gay marriage isn’t legal and is against her religious beliefs, and she didn’t feel she should have to provide a cake for a gay wedding. She said she’d be happy to make Katie and Erin a birthday cake, but she felt she had the right to turn away their wedding business on the basis of her moral views.
I was horrified to hear this story, especially since I’d worked with the artist before, and so I wrote a rather off-the-cuff open letter to the artist and shared it with my Facebook community.
I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
My Facebook community –and Katie and Erin’s– immediately exploded with support for them, decrying the baker’s actions and rallying around Katie and Erin. People railed and ranted. Wedding vendors openly cast scorn on such outdated and backwards beliefs and swore their loyalty to the gay marriage cause. Cake artists in Portland began coming forward, enthusiastically offering their services. A couple I’d photographed who used Fleur Cakes’ services for their beautiful Hood River wedding last year swore not to collect their anniversary cake this year unless the owner apologized and changed her policy. Turning down free cake may sound like a small thing at first, but when you consider the sentimental value (and deliciousness quotient) of celebrating your one-year anniversary by enjoying a repeat of your chosen wedding treats, it’s a beautiful and significant gesture.
As some point in my daze of social media overwhelm, I zombie-surfed over to the KATU tipline and sent them a message. They’d broken similar stories before, and I wanted to give them an opportunity to make Katie and Erin’s experience part of the larger national conversation about gay marriage equality, if they were interested.
They were. Katie and Erin led the 11 o’ clock program last night. Ever kind and diplomatic, they set emotion aside and rocked the interview with restraint; with softness, even. They wanted to emphasize how wonderful everyone else in Hood River has been to them as they plan their wedding. These women are simply awesome.
By this morning Basic Rights Oregon had reached out to them, and Baked NYC was offering them a free wedding cake, and pro-gay-marriage advocates had begun a steady protest on Fleur Cakes’ social media outlets (which have since been taken down). I suspect that Katie and Erin will be having more conversations in the coming days as their story circulates.
The problem is that coming out never really stops being hard, and in these late days (I hope) of marriage inequality, LGBTQ couples are still compelled to out themselves each time they approach a new wedding vendor. The typical wedding has a photographer, an officiant, a cake artist, a florist, a caterer, hair and makeup crew, suit and/or dress tailors, and a coordinator, and the typical couple considers a few of each before making a decision. For queer couples this means sending many emails and making many calls, each time holding your breath just a little bit as you deliberately sign your email, “Katie and Erin” or “Michael and Thom”. Will the vendor respond gladly, and move swiftly into the happy details of your plans? Or will they never write you back? Or will they reject your business because they reject the idea that your love and commitment is equal to their own? Will you get burned and end up feeling cagey and bruised every time you have to come out to another cake artist on your quest for the perfect dessert? As a gay wedding photographer who specializes in working with LGBTQ couples, I see the latter far too often for my taste.
Katie and Erin are amazing together. They describe themselves as being “at ease”, and they are. They have the awesome energy of a couple who are wholly themselves with each other, and wonderfully happy. They laugh like crazy together, and are kind to each other, and there’s a reverence and joyousness to their relationship that is truly inspirational.
Couples like Katie and Erin should feel celebrated, worthy, and equal as they undertake the incredibly brave and beautiful task of committing to walk a path together for the rest of their days. Just like every other couple making the same journey, they know it won’t always be easy. They know that life will change them over time, and that in addition to times of deep gratitude and idyllic happiness, they will also find grief and difficulty along the way. Making a promise to respect and love each other, and to come through those difficulties holding hands every time, is the single greatest act of faith and hope that one can make with one’s partner. In a perfect world, all of their community elders would joyously witness this act with open arms and encouraging eyes, ready to guide them as they go, and their younger friends would be inspired and moved by the courage, purpose and incredible love that leads these two toward the altar. Their love and commitment should only be celebrated, validated, and cheered on.
Katie and Erin, I am so grateful to you. You could have much more easily slunk off into the shadows, licking your wounds. I’m grateful that you chose to share your story, and shine a light on your experience so that these conversations could be started. You two are brave, beautiful, and inspiring. May you continue to collect an avalanche of celebration, validation, and support. Your wedding will be amazing, and I’ll be so incredibly lucky to witness it.