Thursday, July 31, 2008


By Leo E. Laurence

Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Charles Nelson, Rev. Gerald Green and Mark Gabrish Conlan. Photo by Brian Anderson.

Stepping to the music of the classic wedding march, Mark Gabrish Conlan and Charles Nelson on the Fourth of July joined the wave of gay marriages sweeping across California, after the state’s Supreme Court rules them legal on May 15th.

Mark is editor/publisher of Zenger’s Newsmagazine and Charles is associate publisher.

The Rev. Gerald Green, an African-American minister from the Unity Fellowship Church Movement at 5077 Logan Avenue presided over the dignified ceremony at the Joyce Beers Community Center in the Uptown District, scene of many regular meetings of community organizations in Hillcrest.

Charles has been attending Rev. Green’s church at Logan and Euclid for about 4 years and says his minister “is definitely family.” The minister added a special touch of warmth and understanding to the ceremony, acknowledging the historic nature of the wedding of two gay men, considered inconceivable 40 years ago.

The wedding invitation was also unusual.

Every month for about 171 months, Mark and Charles have been producing and distributing Zenger’s Newsmagazine, a 16-page, ad-free, community publication that covered “alternative lifestyles, politics, culture and health.”

For their wedding invitation, they re-created the front page of Zenger’s, complete with a photo of the happy couple and the heading: “We’re getting Married.

“MARK CONLAN and CHARLES NELSON hereby invite you to their upcoming nuptials, FRIDAY, JULY 4, 2 pm at the JOYCE BEERS COMMUNITY CENTER . . .” the invitation read on it’s front page.

Inside, were descriptions of the venue, food arrangements and the note: “Dress: Completely informal. Wear what you want.” Nobody was nude, however. Their Internet site is, and their e-mail is:

“I was surprised by the (unusual) format of their wedding invitations,” said writer Neal Putman. “(They) were quite unique and ingenious.”

Indeed, Mark and Charles have been publishing Zenger’s Newsmagazine since April of 1994. Its crusading drive for gay civil rights, helped make gay marriages a reality in California.

The Joyce Beers Community Center was filled with over 50 friends of both Mark and Charles, with some who came in shorts and others – including one young, gay couple – who came in suit and tie.

Two tables were filled with food, much of which was home cooked.

There were bright flowers everywhere.

The ceremony was scheduled for 2 p.m. At 2:07 p.m., Charles made the announcement that “Mark will be here shortly.”

“You hope,” someone in the audience said.

“Oh, he will . . . I sent my mother (to get him).”

A few minutes later, Charles made a second announcement that “Mark is parking now. Exchange numbers now because you may not have time afterwards.”

Why was Mark late?

“I was producing the program and burning the CDs (everyone received a gift CD of classic wedding music, including Wagner’s Lohengrin [Bridal Chorus] performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, though “in context, it actually takes place after the ceremony, when the newly married couple are on their way to bed).

“I will probably be late to my own funeral,” Mark said candidly at the time.

Everyone attending was able to follow the unique ceremony word-for-word because Mark had produced a printed program that was distributed to everyone. The ceremony was “based on the Old Catholic Prayer-Book (1876) and the Common Book of Prayer (1662).”

As Rev. Green began the solemn ceremony, he mistakenly referred to Charles as “Chris.” Everybody laughed as the pastor corrected himself. Many ministers will intentionally make an error with names during a wedding, so that each ceremony is quite unique. It’s not known if that was the case here as Rev. Green just smiled at the suggestion.

“In entering the condition of matrimony you enter upon an inner union, and a partnership which embraces every condition of your lives, and indeed a contract which should be incapable of dissolution throughout the whole duration of your lives,” the Rev. Green said, reading from the printed ceremony.

“This is a turning point in life, a turning point in which you stand in especial need of the help and grace. Wherefore mercy and loving kindness is promised to those who contract matrimony with upright intention,” the liturgy continued.

“Mark, do you take Charles as your lawful husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honor and cherish, till death do you part?” Then the same words were repeated for Charles, as to Mark. (Notice that the words are very common to marriages today, yet some go back to 1662.)

Both were so overcome with deep emotion that their words “I do” were barely more than a whisper.

Then both Mark and Charles exchanges wedding rings, saying to each other the following:

“With this ring I three wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: These three abide faith, hope, Love, but the greatest of these is Love (placing ring on ring finger).”

The Rev. Green then said those very important, blessed words: “As the minister of Christ’s Church, and by the power vested in me by the state of California, I ratify the marriage concluded between you, and bless you.”

Then everybody in the room cheered and both Mark and Charles hugged and kissed, with rose pedals tossed over them both. Both stood in front of the room full of friends for a few minutes.

“You don’t realize all the wonderful, beautiful people you know,” Mark said with a big smile, holding hands with Charles.

“My existence is the only evidence that my father and mother ever had sex,” Mark said with a smile.

“Raising him was a trip,” his mother added. Both mothers attended the historic marriage ceremony.

Whenever an alternative lifestyle emerges from an existing culture, as gay marriages are evolving out of the straight-marriage experience, there are sometimes semantical problems. In a straight marriage, a husband and wife exists. So, in many gay marriages between two men, when asked, one calls the other their “husband.”

“But, does that mean that you are a wife,” one might ask.

No, there are two “husbands.” (Who knows what the lesbians [some of whom consider themselves more butch than men] are doing.)

“I also want to remember those who didn’t live to see this day,” Mark said as the ceremony was concluding. He spoke the names of several, special, deceased friends.

“For the first time, Mark had difficulty speaking (during the ceremony),” Charles revealed.

“Thank you all,” Charles added, as he wiped away a tear.

Contact Leo E. Laurence at, or call (619) 757-4909