By Marianne Lincoln
This is a story about resilience, Christianity, exuberance, joy and love. This is about my friend, Michael Zubitis (zoo-bye-tus). In high school in the 70’s we called him “zoo-bits.” I remember him talking about being Latvian. He was also a proud Christian and often spoke with friends about his love of the Lord. He was one year younger than me in school.
Many of the kids at school found him annoying. Many others teased him. He was often the brunt of jokes. He hung around with the band, choir, drama and nerdy kids like me and my friends. We were the kids who spent an over abundance of time focusing on school work and grades. We were not in the social cliques.
Michael was in several school plays. Drama was a good vocation for him. He was exuberant, sometimes needing to tone down his performance. He was the reverend in The Crucible, an apt casting. I was the character Goody Nurse, an old woman respected in the community. In the play he had me burned at the stake as a witch. We were also in Our Town where the final outcome was not so dramatic.
After high school, Michael went on to college and as I remember, with a plan to become an ordained minister. Not a surprise to anyone who knew him well. The moment was poignant when we, his friends heard that he ran up against the harsh reality that he would never be able to become a minister. He had to change his lifelong dream because he had realized something he hadn’t fathomed in high school. He was gay.
Twenty five years ago, Michael found the love of his life, Craig Markind. They endured the whirlwind of public opinion that swirled around them over the years. Enter Facebook, Michael began to speak out with his close friends. A civil union was not sufficient. He loved the Lord and he wanted to be able to be married to Craig n the church. In November of 2012, the voters in the State of Washington passed Referendum 74, making same sex marriage legal. In January of 2013, the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia made the decision to allow their clergy to follow the state law and modify the marriage ceremony for the union of same sex couples in the church.
Saturday, May 25, Michael Zubitis and Craig Markind were united in Holy Matrimony at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. Their marriage was in the middle of the Trinity Sunday service; the bulletin had an insert with their wedding program. I couldn’t miss it. I was thrilled that the time had finally arrived for my friend to achieve his heart’s desire.
During the sermon, the Mother Melissa Skelton spoke of the various civil rights efforts that Saint Paul’s had participated in over the years. They supported civil rights law in the 1960’s, they supported women’s equal rights in the 1970’s, the list went on. In the 1980’s, when a mystery illness was taking the lives of gay men, they helped fight for research and then toward a cure for AIDS.
Saturday was her first and the first at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. A service of holy matrimony for Michael and Craig. Michael had finally gotten his wish. As they took their vows, the congregation stood. A couple a row ahead of me held hands. Michael said, “I do!” with all the exuberance I remember he had in high school, quite a lot louder than was really necessary. I am certain it echoed off the mountain tops. When they were presented as a wedded couple, a roaring cheer went up in the congregation while they clapped their hands with glee.
Next there was communion and then time for the reception, cutting the cake, toasting the couple and a chance to speak at the microphone. That’s “mike,” it was named after him I’m sure. I reminisced as he spoke on and on. (Love you Mike!) He does love to talk.
I thought back to when I was on the Bethel School Board. One day, there was a student suicide at one of our high schools. This student was said to have been bullied. It was also said that it was because he was gay. He had conservative religious parents who would not have been accepting of a gay son. He was conflicted without a safe place to turn. I thought of Mike at the time; how I would have felt if that had been him. At the next board meeting, I tossed my fear of political retribution behind. I stood up for all the staff and students in the school district who were of alternative orientation. I directed the district to GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) to order materials for the school buildings.
GLSEN is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students, a place in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Soon after, the District presented new policies on bullying and held several public hearings on the new rules prior to adoption.
I am joyful for my friend Michael. He survived those very awkward years, found who he is. He is happy in his life, has a loving spouse and many great, understanding friends. He and Craig are living breathing examples of the power of love over fear. With this great change there are many who are still skeptical. There are those who have left their life-long churches when the church chose the path of acceptance. They are still unable to be comfortable with this newest civil right. Having known Michael for so many years, how kind he is and how much he has always loved the Lord, I just simply cannot see how this could be wrong.
Best wishes to my friend Michael and his new spouse Craig. May you live a full life together in peace, love and joy. May many others of all orientations find the love, peace and joy you have found together.