Love Bus Will Carry Pastor and Her Flock to Iowa
A Webster Groves minister and her partner will be joined by eight other couples to make or renew wedding vows across state lines.
Early Friday morning, nine couples will board a bus outside their Webster Groves church to travel to Iowa for a wedding – their own.
The couples, including the pastor of the Webster Groves church and her partner, will make or renew vows with the support of dozens of their family members and friends who are joining them on the bus or carpooling to Iowa.
The logistics of how nine couples will process down the aisle, where they will stand and at exactly what point they will mark their unions with the traditional kiss were all ironed out Wednesday night in the sanctuary of Webster Groves Evangelical United Church of Christ.
So why travel to Iowa? Because six of the couples cannot obtain a marriage license in Missouri, a state that overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in 2004. Iowa legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.
Katherine Hawker, the minister of Webster Groves Evangelical UCC, has been performing weddings for years, both opposite- and same-gender. But to her, the unions are identical, save for one thing.
“Some people I can sign a license for and some I can’t,” she said. “But it’s exactly the same covenant commitment.”
Hawker, 49, was married to a man in 2001 when she led her church through the process of becoming Open and Affirming, the first church in St. Louis County to do so. The Open and Affirming designation means that a church supports the full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons.
Later Hawker's 20-year marriage would end as a result of the pastor coming to terms with her sexual orientation.
"It ended with sadness and grace and a whole lot of support from the community," Hawker said.
On Friday, she will marry Darlene Self, 40, a high school science teacher, at a UCC Church in Burlington, IA, that neither of them has ever been to.
But Zion UCC in Burlington embraced the Missourians. In fact, the request from Hawker prompted the Iowa church to look inward and led to a congregational decision to also become Open and Affirming.
For Self, what is most heart-warming is the support that has come from her own church community. About 100 people are traveling to Iowa to support and celebrate with the couples.
“That’s really very touching that they want to be a part of it,” she said.
For Hawker, there’s no denying that there is a political side to her out-of-state wedding. She wants same-sex couples to be counted, to show Missourians that “these people are real, they are your neighbors.”
“If those of us in same-gender committed relationships receive licenses and are counted, our existence is more difficult to deny and our rights more costly to ignore,” she wrote in her blog.
“If hundreds of us, thousands eventually, have marriage licenses from other states, a change in our own state’s constitution becomes more imperative.”
But Hawker likens the progress toward marriage equality to the civil rights movement – often “two steps forward and three steps back.”
Now she and Self are moving forward.
“Now it’s my time to focus on the emotional stuff,” she said. “To me, the incredible victory is I am able to be who I am.”