TJ Williams and Brad Hauger
By Jon Roth
Kate McDonough, of the Empire State Pride Agenda, spoke on the importance of allies. She explained that while we can’t know the experiences of another oppressed group, we’ve all experienced prejudice, and we can stand together for that most basic of rights: “the ability to live as we are.” Reverend Ray Bagnulo of Moorlight Presbyterian Church followed by congratulating the happy couple, and reminding the attendees that the fastest track to acceptance is through love. “This kind of love,” he said, gesturing toward Brad and TJ, “breaks down the inequalities and injustices in the world.” The final address was given by Ammon Ripple, speaking for the United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT concerns. He pledged the church’s continuing investment in marriage equality for couples regardless of gender.
The featured speaker was Reverend Dr. Dennis Wiley, of the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Washington, DC. Wiley has taught and presented throughout the nation, authored articles in major religious books and journals, and serves on councils for the HRC and DC Clergy for Marriage Equality. “Too often the struggles for racial and LGBT justice have been seen as separate movements,” Wiley said. “What we’re witnessing today is not simply a wedding of two gay men. It prophetically challenges us to examine our communities and relationships.”
Reverend Wiley concluded with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached from the pulpit at Riverside in 1967: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and concluded by saying “none of us will be free, until all of us are free.”
Afterward TJ and Brad exchanged vows and lit a unity candle from their two separate tapers. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Reverend Thomas announced, “You are married in the name of God.” The two shared their first kiss as a legally wedded couple.
“It was just amazing,” TJ said afterwards. “And there was a certain validation – from the community, from my mentors.” The couple celebrated with a reception in a nearby restaurant where they shared champagne and cake with friends. “It’s not easy to plan a wedding from Chicago to New York,” Brad said, “But it all came together very well. I think it was meant to be.”
Now back in Chicago, TJ and Brad are thrilled to be married, but like any good activists, they know the fight isn’t over. They’re exploring the ways in which their marriage in New York will be honored in Illinois (which only offers civil unions) and are committed to the causes so pointedly stated during their wedding. “We are continuing the conversation about unity between the African American and LGBT communities,” TJ says. Their marriage is a prime example of that union, and as Reverend Wiley said, “Relationships are the key to social justice.”