WILKES-BARRE — The day before this year’s PrideFest at Kirby Park, there will be a “lovefest” of sorts at a city church.
The Rev. Diane Sickler, pastor of Unity of NEPA, is planning a “God = Love” celebration at the church for Aug. 9 that will include a renewal of vows and for previously married same-sex couples and a marriage ceremony for same-sex couples with a Pennsylvania marriage license.
“Unity has been gay-friendly forever, as far as I know, and I’ve done I don’t know how many holy unions since the 1990s and wanted to call them ‘weddings’ for a long time,” Sickler said in an interview in her church office last week.
And now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Pennsylvania’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in May, Sickler can do just that.
At the June meeting of the church’s Board of Trustees, Sickler said, one of the board members said the church should be recognized for being as gay-friendly as it is. When Sickler asked for an idea, the board member offered several, including a Mass same-sex marriage ceremony. She suggested discussing it after the meeting.
“Well, after the meeting, nobody went home. We sat and talked. The board really wanted to do something special for the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) community. And I said, well, we could hold a wedding for everybody who wants one, and they said yeah, let’s do that. We decided to do it at 2 o’clock on a Saturday and have cake and punch for everybody afterward,” Sickler said.
And so, the church will be opening its doors for any same-sex couple who are looking for a place to get legally married.
“If they want to make a donation, fine, and if they don’t, that’s fine too. Usually we charge for weddings, but we’re not going to this time, because it’s time to celebrate that finally they can do it. Finally, it’s allowed,” she said.
It hasn’t been determined whether there will be one massive “I do” if numerous couples participate, or if each couple will recite their vows individually.
“I’m going to wait and see how many folks actually want to do it. Hopefully, I can design the ceremony with them. If there’s only three couples that want it, then the ceremony will be different than if there are 20,” Sickler said.
Planning a ceremony is not something in which Sickler lacks experience.
“When I was a minister at Unity Church of Peace in St. Louis, I did over 500, 600 weddings, so I have a lot of experience putting together a ceremony. And this has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” she said.
Sickler and the board initially planned to have the ceremony in July. “Then we started to talking to some members of the gay community and we pushed it to Aug. 9, which is the day before PrideFest. … We’re going to be there. We want to support and encourage love. And that’s what it’s all about,” she said.
Sickler said couples interested in participating should call her soon, and they need to get a valid Pennsylvania marriage license so Sickler can make the marriage legal.
If no one elects to participate, that’s good, too, Sickler said.
“Because that means they don’t need it. But I really want people that have the love in their hearts and want that official recognition to be able to have it. One of my definitions of ‘God’ is ‘love,’ so any demonstration of love, I believe, is a demonstration of the divine,” she said.