In the past four years, I have married six people, including my sister. You wouldn't believe how much that upset my grandmother (she's a strict Calvinist who doesn't approve of that sort of thing). After Wood and I got married, she told my dad she does not believe we are actually married because our ceremony was performed by a judge and not a minister. It was of little consolation that my sister's wedding would be conducted by a minister, once she learned that she used to change the minister in question's diapers and (despite his ability to read the gospels in their original Koine Greek) his ordination was conferred by a single click of a mouse, just one of the 20 million ordinations performed by the Universal Life Church since 1957. She knew her newly-ordained grandson did not attend church, and that he had not believed in the truth of every word of the Bible since he was eleven. And besides, what kind of minister has hair like that?

Still, all three marriages I have performed were legal and binding. I conducted a great deal of research before each ceremony, once discovering case law that suggested New York state does not recognize ULC-ordained ministers as proper officiants. So before I married two friends upstate, I incorporated my own church, with a board of directors that included my wife and our neighbor the go-go dancer. I then ordained myself as the bishop of this new church. When others questioned the validity my newfound faith, I launched into an inspired diatribe about the beauty of the first amendment's free exercise clause and the separation of church and state, and how both ensure that the government has no business investigating the merits of my religion, which at that time consisted of a weekly liturgy of several pints of Anchor Steam and a lot of loud, live music at various holy night spots spread throughout San Francisco. Were it an evangelical faith, I would have had no trouble finding converts willing to help sacrifice a six pack.

At the rehearsal dinner for the wedding in New York, I was introduced to members of both the bride and the groom's families as "the minister" who would be conducting the ceremony, and quickly realized some of them thought I really was clergy. I was addressed as "Reverend" by several people whose names I forgot as soon as I was done shaking their hands. I humbly avoided correcting anyone who failed to call me "Bishop" or, more appropriately, "his eminence." Forgiveness, you see, is an important tenet of my faith. Wood slurped down half a box of Chablis at the prospect of being the minister's wife that night, drinking, perhaps, to forget that half the people in the room assumed she was having sex with a man of the cloth.

At the first ceremony I officiated, I wore my law school graduation robes, all medieval and wizardly. If I'd talked at all about trees, I could have been a druid. The bride was Wood's college roommate, a girl I once spent two years not speaking to after she encouraged Wood to let some frat boy suck a jello shot from her cleavage. The not speaking thing was a little awkward when the only bathroom in their apartment was in her bedroom, so we eventually started talking again once I grew sick of pissing off the front porch in the middle of the night. Among the congregants at her ceremony were several people who would commonly be called "rubes," or "yokels." One such specimen approached me while I was drinking a large glass of gin with very little tonic; he had more earrings than teeth, a sad little mustache and a wardrobe that looked as though it was purchased entirely with Marlboro miles.

"So, it must be really hard, huh, not having sex and all," he said, not asking me so much as contemplating celibacy as a barrier to himself ever entering the priesthood.

"It's not so bad once you consider the alter boys," I said, and downed the rest of the drink.

At one time in my life I considered myself a fairly-competent public speaker, and in college I frequently gave speeches in front of dozens or even hundreds of people. I was always nervous before I took the podium, but something about performing weddings was worse; I always lost the contents of my stomach right before I had to stand up at the front and watch all that formal wear approach. There is so much pressure on you during the ceremony; you have to invisibly bring everything together under the knowledge of all of that money spent to make that moment when the couple affirms their commitment so perfect, and there you are, at the center of it all, your words the ritual, repeated, the legal binding of two individuals. It is an awesome risk to ask a friend, or even a brother, to do it.

Each time I wrote out the ceremonies individually and revised them late into the night before; I tried to fill in the emptiness I had found in the bland minister's sermons at other weddings I'd attended, and improve upon the perfunctory civil ceremonies handed down at city hall. I tried to fill my remarks with with personal details about the couple, their stories, and the things I knew about them both that everyone in attendance would find beautiful and true. In the end, I found a certain spirituality there that transcended my own lack of religious credentials. These people chose me because they did not want to be married in a church; they wanted to be married on their own terms, under their own beliefs. But even without mentioning a god, when you're talking about love it's hard to avoid transgressing boundaries that the great religions have already drawn. I tried to write the ceremonies the way a talented vegetarian chef can make a meal that doesn't leave even the most fervent carnivore missing the meat. For my sister's wedding, I hope grandma hardly noticed that God wasn't in attendance.

I was listening to the radio yesterday, and several men were debating whether gay marriage will ever be legal in the United States. The conservative spouted off the tired homophobic talking points about how next it will be legal to marry goats and lemurs. The moderate suggested that perhaps religious marriage could remain penis-and-vagina only, whereas civil unions may one day be used by any two individuals who want the legal benefits of a marital relationship without disrupting anyone's holy sanctimony the sanctity of anyone else's holy matrimony. Civil ceremonies are usually only performed by public officials specified in statutes, like mayors or sea captains in international waters. But as we have seen, religious marriage rites may be performed in tenebrous Mormon temples or sacred groves of oaks, ash and hawthorn; they can legally be performed by high priests of Cthulhu, scientologists, or even web-ordained pricks like me.

I hear all this talk about the sanctity of marriage, but it seems to me every day there are straight people undermining the narrow idea of divinity-sponsored marriage simply by rejecting it. And yet in my experience, there is still something inherently spiritual about these marriages, largely stemming from the depth of love shared by the two people committing their lives to one other. Wood and I were in a camera shop a few blocks from San Francisco City Hall when the mayor started marrying gay couples. Two chunky, middle-aged men came in with tears in their eyes, looking to buy a frame for their freshly-printed marriage certificate. They'd been together twenty years, they said.

And to this day I don't understand why anyone would worship a God who would decree that love a sin.

[His Eminence will happily perform any wedding ceremony in the Detroit metro area in exchange for a donation of a case of Bell's Third Coast Old Ale to his church]