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Justice Kennedy's gay marriage opinion is celebrated again -- in wedding vows

Justice Kennedy's gay marriage opinion is celebrated again -- in wedding vows
Ann Vardeman reads Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's words during the wedding of Chris Ernt and Jamie Lawler at the Washington County Historic Courthouse in Stillwater, Minn. onJuly 11, 2015. (Anna Genevieve / Associated Press)

When Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion legalizing same-sex marriage, it's unlikely that he intended to compose a preface for wedding vows. Yet his conclusion has become just that.

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family," he wrote in June for the court's 5-4 majority. "In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.

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"It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

Those lines have since been incorporated into wedding ceremonies of same-sex and heterosexual couples around the country.

The night the high court's ruling was announced, Sandy Queen of Weddings by Sandy called Craig Lamberton and David Ermisch, whose wedding she was performing in Rockville, Md., the next morning. She suggested including Kennedy's opinion in their ceremony.

The couple immediately agreed.

"We thought it was perfect," said Lamberton, an administrative officer at USAID. He and Ermisch, a cartographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have been together 15 years.

"It was a tear-jerker," Queen said, adding that the justice's words have the power to set a ceremony's tone.

"It's very succinct, it's just beautifully said, it's simplistic, and it fits really well," she said. "It's just wonderful."

Since then, she said, she has incorporated the passage into weddings several times.

She isn't the only one.

"Honestly, in the 14 years I've been ordained, there has not been a passage that struck a chord as quickly as Justice Kennedy's statement," said the Rev. Pamela Brehm of Berks County, Pa. "Perhaps there may never be another quite so touching."

Bernadette Smith, a New York wedding planner, estimated that a dozen couples had asked her to include the excerpt in ceremonies scheduled through the end of the year.

Alan Katz, who runs the largest wedding-officiant company in Southern California, said five couples -- three gay and two straight -- have asked him to include the passage.

"It's a very cool thing to do," he said.

Katz said other couples feel their wedding should be about them, not legal affairs.

Jennifer Nies, who officiates at weddings in Portland, Ore., said no couple had asked her to include Kennedy's words.

"Maybe at the end of the day part of the equality is being like everyone else," Nies said.

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As same-sex marriages became more common, Kennedy's words may become passe. Previous legal opinions have had their turn in wedding popularity, including that of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in 2010 that overturned California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.

When Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage, the words of that state's chief justice, Margaret H. Marshall, were often cited.

"The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society," Marshall wrote for the court in 2003. "For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial and social benefits. In return, it imposes weighty legal, financial and social obligations .… It is a 'social institution of the highest importance.'"

Lamberton's spouse, David Ermisch, said Kennedy's words, too, may fade in popularity as time passes.

But that time has yet to come. Right now, the passage holds special resonance, said Lamberton and Ermisch.

At the June 27 wedding, Queen read Kennedy's words aloud to the couple and about 120 guests who had come from around the world to attend their ceremony.

"When she read it to us, just hearing her read it, I felt a little emotional," Lamberton said. "It was something that validated our relationship in the eyes of our family."

Twitter: @natalieschachar

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