As Pride parades wound through cities across the country and rainbows decorated storefronts, T-shirts, flags and stickers marking June as Pride Month, two men quietly ushered in a new age for Stowe Community Church.
Cameron Stowe and Duncan Hughes are the first same-sex couple to marry in Stowe’s most prominent church.
“It surprised me that it’s been (two) years” between an actual same-sex wedding and the congregation’s vote to host them at Stowe Community Church, Hughes said.
In 2017, the congregation voted 71-16, with five abstentions, to approve an openness policy that affirms same-sex marriage, and allowed the Rev. Will Vaus, the pastor, to perform them.
The Vermont Legislature legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.
Stowe and Hughes married June 12, with just Vaus, a photographer, their own pastor, a quartet from Burlington and a reporter from the Stowe Reporter in the room with them.
The newlyweds have been together seven years, and live in Boston. They vividly recall their first date at Boston’s B&G Oysters.
Stowe, a professional pianist at Boston’s New England Conservatory and a faculty member at New York City’s Juilliard School of Music, said neither he nor Hughes, an interior and furniture designer, was certain they’d have a second date.
“I so remember that first moment when I first saw him. There was definitely something very special there, but … neither of us were really looking for a relationship. It was just the furthest thing from our minds, but something kept bringing us together,” Stowe said. “There was enough of a connection that we knew we had to get together again. … Over the next few months, we just fell in love, slowly but surely.”
Stowe’s parents loved taking family trips to Stowe, and Hughes, originally from Montpelier, grew up skiing in Stowe.
Hughes’ parents married at Stowe Community Church. Both sets of parents have died, and the couple said for them, marrying at Stowe Community Church was a way to honor their families.
After the wedding, they stayed at the Pitcher Inn in Warren — the place where they had exchanged “I love yous” for the first time.
“The next day, we drove over here, so we came to the church. We found it open, so we just wandered in,” Stowe said.
“It was kind of a magical moment … There was just the sunlight streaming in, and I just felt my parents’ presence there. It was just amazing, and I’d always wished that my parents had met Cameron. I know how much they would have loved him,” Hughes said.
“I felt them there, and I just felt close to you in that moment,” he told his new husband. “Then, Cameron sits down at the piano and pulls out the hymnal and starts playing from memory all these songs that (he) had played growing up. … It was just an amazing moment, to see (him) there, this guy that I’m falling in love with, playing the piano in the church my parents were married in, and just feeling all the love,” Hughes said.
Stowe and Hughes are proud to be the first same-sex couple married at Stowe Community Church.
“I never thought I was going to be able to get married to somebody, to my boyfriend, and to be able to do that legally and in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the law and in the church where my parents got married is very moving to me, and very meaningful to me,” Hughes said.
“We live in a little bit of a bubble in Boston. There’s so much going on and so much progress, and if you had said we were the 500th” gay couple to get married at Stowe Community Church,” Hughes wouldn’t have been surprised.
In 2009, Vermont became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage, and the first to do so through the legislative process, rather than through a court ruling.
For a time, Vermont was seen as a destination for same-sex weddings, although those numbers have decreased as every state in the union now recognizes same-sex couples’ right to marry.
“More and more people” are marrying outside a church, said Vaus.
“The church has given gay people such a hard time, I’m not surprised” some same-sex couples choose secular weddings, he said.
“Even if you are open, it’s still a church, so there’s still a little bit of bitterness,” Hughes said.
Vaus had tears in his eyes after the ceremony.
One of his sons came out as gay about a year ago, so the issue became more personal to him, but when he was hired in 2015, he said an openness policy for same-sex couples was important to him then.
“It was the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever seen or been a part of,” Vaus said. “When you see a couple like that who so obviously love each other, how can I as a minister withhold my blessing? Love and faithfulness between two people is the thing that counts.”
He says about 15 people left the church when the openness policy was affirmed, and haven’t returned.
Congregation member Kay Stephenson said the Jesus she worships would want couples like Stowe and Hughes to fall in love and get married.
She was among the first to champion the openness policy in 2016.
“I really felt this was something we needed to have as a church,” she said. “Several people turned around and walked away.”
The congregation held several evening meetings to discuss the openness policy, and heard talks from ministers and rabbis.
More than 100 people voiced support, Vaus said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind Jesus would have accepted this,” Stephenson said. “I’m really happy about it.”