WASHINGTON — Emily Smith and Jillian Levine had already chosen a venue, booked a band and written the first draft of the ceremony for their wedding when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay couples nationwide have a right to marry. Within minutes of the June 26 ruling, Levine texted her fiancée a rainbow emoji and a question about their ceremony.
“Are there any good quotes from this Supreme Court ruling that we could change the reading to?” wrote Levine, 30.
“Yup, already saved it,” Smith, 29, typed back, sending a screen shot from Facebook with words that had made her cry.
It was the concluding paragraph of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s 28-page majority opinion — now making its way into wedding ceremonies for both gay and straight couples.
“No union is more profound than marriage,” Kennedy’s opinion says, “for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
“It was just so perfect,” Smith said in a telephone interview last month that followed a dress fitting for her now-wife.
Smith, who is studying to be a physician assistant, and Levine, who works in fundraising, married Saturday in Massachusetts. The couple, now known as the Smiths, is not alone when it comes to their affinity for Kennedy’s words.
Wedding officiants from as far away as Australia said both gay and straight couples are asking them to incorporate excerpts from the ruling into their ceremonies, usually part or all of the same paragraph that touched Smith and Levine. Couples said they want both to acknowledge the historic decision and to use language they described as “beautiful,” ”eloquent” and “powerful.”
Poetic, not cliche
Kennedy’s opinion isn’t the first to make it into a marriage ceremony. After a 2003 Massachusetts court decision made the state the first to legalize gay marriage, many couples used language from that opinion. Less frequently but still regularly, couples chose words from a 2010 ruling invalidating Proposition 8, a California ballot measure that had made same-sex marriages illegal.
But Kennedy’s opinion, quoted in news articles and shared on Facebook, seems to have won an even wider audience, even as legal experts on both the left and right have called it short on legal reasoning and knocked it for sentimentality.
Lindsay Powell, 28, called Kennedy’s prose “poetic without being cliche.” She said it just “felt right” to include his words in her wedding to Robert Banuski, 28, on July 18 in Skaneateles, New York, because she’ll always connect this summer with the ruling.
Jamie Dee Schiffer, a Virginia-based wedding officiant, said about two dozen couples — about half of them gay — have asked her to include the words.
Bernadette Smith, a wedding planner and the founder of the New York-based Gay Wedding Institute, which trains those in the wedding industry on working with gay couples, predicted it would soon become “the most popular same-sex marriage ceremony reading.” And celebrants from places including Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana and Pennsylvania acknowledged quickly adding Kennedy’s words to packets of potential readings they give couples.
Couples who have used the words in recent months have found different ways of incorporating them. Michael Templeton, 37, and Greg Costa, 44, printed the words on the front of the program for their July 2 wedding at the Providence Public Library in Rhode Island. Molly and Danny Ramirez-Gaston, both 25, used Kennedy’s words before their vows at their video-game-themed wedding July 5 at a country club in Warrenton, Virginia, though they didn’t advertise where the words came from to avoid potentially offending guests.
Asked to pick a reading for friends’ July 11 wedding at a historic courthouse in Stillwater, Minnesota, Ann Vardeman chose Kennedy’s words, too. Vardeman, 32, had considered reading a Bruce Springsteen song but ditched that idea after reading Kennedy’s concluding paragraph.
Couples planning fall weddings also said they’d be using Kennedy’s words. Lucy Moyer, 65, and Joyce Tipton, 58, are including the words in their Oct. 10 wedding in the backyard of their Fulshear, Texas, home. The couple, who have been together more than a decade, decided on the day of the ruling that it was finally time to marry.
“Even though Justice Kennedy will never know this, it’s a little bit of a way of saying thank you,” Tipton said.
Kennedy declined through a court spokeswoman to comment on his newfound place in couples’ nuptials. Unlike some of his colleagues, he doesn’t officiate at weddings and has not performed weddings for same-sex couples as justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan have.
But if he’s like Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the author of the opinion legalizing same-sex marriages in that state, he’s surprised. Marshall said that while she now routinely hears about weddings where her opinion was cited, she was initially startled.
“When one writes an opinion, any opinion, you don’t anticipate that it will be read at somebody’s wedding or in any other situation,” said Marshall, who retired in 2010.
Emily and Jillian Smith, the couple who were texting each other about Kennedy’s words soon after they were public, said a few people cheered when Kennedy’s words were introduced during the wedding ceremony.
“It made me choke up,” Emily Smith said. “I kind of do every time I hear it.”