After 11 Years of Refusing to Sign Marriage Licenses, Minister Relents, Says Equality Is Here

Print More

Rev. Victoria Safford signs the marriage license for Tom DeGree and Dean Schlaak on Saturday. After 11 years of refusing to sign licenses while marriage equality was unavailable to same-sex couples, Safford signed six licenses over the weekend, following Thursday's inauguration of the state's same-sex marriage law. Click on photo to see video of the ceremony.

Rev. Victoria Safford signs the marriage license for Tom DeGree and Dean Schlaak on Saturday. Safford refused for 11 years to sign licenses while marriage equality was unavailable to same-sex couples. Click on photo to see video of the ceremony. Photo by Sheila Regan

Story for The UpTake by Sheila Regan
Video by Bill Sorem

After 11 years of refusing to sign state marriage certificates, the Rev. Victoria Safford made up for lost time this weekend by signing six of them at ceremonies that came after the advent of Minnesota’s new same-sex marriage law.

“I feel honored,” she said Saturday, after she presided at the wedding of Tom DeGree and Dean Schlaak, co-owners of Wilde Roast Café, at their home in Lake Elmo. “This is a revolutionary day.”

Safford is the senior minister at the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church (WBUUC) in White Bear Lake. In 2002, she stopped signing marriage licenses after deciding that there was something “profoundly wrong and imbalanced and strange” about performing weddings for some members in her congregation, but not for all who wanted to marry. “It seemed right and clear to just not sign them at all,” she said. “It was a decision a-long-time coming.”

A year after she began refusing to sign the documents, in 2003, Safford spoke in front of the State Senate Judiciary Committee against a proposed ban on same-sex marriage. “This country is made strong by its diversity, not homogeneity,” she testified. “ My definition of marriage derives from the beautiful families I know, both gay and straight.”

Now that Minnesota has made same sex marriage legal, many gay and lesbian couples who previously held commitment ceremonies at Safford’s church have been calling Safford to schedule official, state-sanctioned weddings. “It’s a delight to reconnect with people I perhaps haven’t seen in a decade,” Safford said.

In addition, straight couples, whose weddings Safford presided over in the past 11 years — but who didn’t get their certificates signed during Safford’s protest — have been asking Safford to sign their certificates now, as a symbolic gesture rather than a legally binding one. Many of the couples who got married at the church had their certificates officially signed elsewhere. One couple, for example, had their wedding at WBUUC, but drove down to Iowa for the official documents, because Iowa already had legalized same-sex marriage.

Safford beamed as she joined in matrimony Tom DeGree and Dean Schlaak on Saturday in an outdoor ceremony that included readings from the Jerusalem Bible’s Song of Songs, as well as excerpted testimony from Goodridge v. Department of Health, a 2003 landmark Massachusetts state high court decision that was the first legal case to find that same-sex couples had the right to marry.

DeGree is a member of Safford’s congregation, and Schlaak occasionally joins him for services. “They are beautiful,” Safford said. “They are models to all of us about what a committed marriage looks like. It’s an honor to marry a couple like this.”

Thirteen years ago, DeGree and Schlaak met at the Eagle Club in Minneapolis. They each arrived with separate sets of friends, but were eying each other throughout the evening, recounts Schlaak. Eventually, “He stands next to me and holds my hand,” he said.

It was not long afterward that they became a couple, and decided to start a business together, opening Wilde Roast Café in Minneapolis — taking its name from Oscar Wilde — where last week’s celebrations began as the same-sex marriage law arrived at Midnight, Aug. 1.

Schlaak proposed to DeGree in 2005 and they had a commitment ceremony at a bed-and-breakfast in Hayward, Wis. When the law permitting same-sex couples to marry legally was approved, Schlaak and DeGree thought at first that they would wait until their ten-year anniversary, but about a month and a half ago, they decided “to just do it in our yard,” DeGree said. Part of the decision had to do with some of the legal benefits that marriage affords, and to “make sure we were providing for each other,” DeGree said.

Their decision also had to do with how involved each of them were with the marriage equality movement here in Minnesota, both as individuals and through their restaurant. “It’s a right, and if people didn’t do it- it would look pointless,” DeGree said.

Among the wedding guests were QGLBT activists Randi and Philip Reitan. Randi famously ripped up her Target Corp., credit card in protest over Target’s financial contribution to GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. The Reitans moved to Minneapolis from Mankato when their son, Jake came out to them and they were shocked by the anti-gay sentiment they found at their church. In Minneapolis, Schlaak and DeGree were some of the first people that they befriended here. “They were that picture of what I wanted for Jake,” Randi said.

Also in attendance were activists Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt whose gay son, Andrew, died in combat in Afghanistan. Jeff says the silver lining to losing Andrew is that his story helped make a difference in altering people’s perceptions about equality.

Toward the beginning of the ceremony, the rings that the couple would exchange were passed around to all the guests. Safford instructed everyone to warm the rings in their hands and “bestow on them a silent blessing.” Right before the couple was to exchange the rings, Schlaak’s mother, Eleanor, said that Schlaak’s ring had been worn by his father at his parents’ wedding in 1966.

Music for the festivities was performed by the couple’s friends and also a student of DeGree (DeGree is a grade school teacher in St. Paul) and a member of the student band with selections such as “Same Love” by Macklemore and “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

Guests were then treated to catering provided by Wilde Roast Café, which included chicken bratwurst, an assortment of salads and cupcakes for dessert.

Comments are closed.