If you want someone who “looks the part” to do the honors at your upcoming nuptials, Tony Adams is your man. With his ascetic bearing, fine features, and raven brows — all offset by a glorious shock of white hair — Adams looks like a parish priest straight out of central casting.
Which. In fact. He was. Way back in the ’80s.
Unable to reconcile his gay identity or moral values with a relentlessly (and hypocritically) homophobic Vatican, Adams eventually left the Church. But he never lost his call to ministry, which is why he gladly returned to the nuptial business almost as soon as marriage equality became a reality in these United States.
Since then, Adams has joined scores of LGBT couples in matrimony (holy and… less so), a service the snowbird performs both in South Florida and New York City. We sat down with this unconventional man of the cloth to get the skinny on life as a same-sex marriage officiant: the outfits, the vows, the horror stories.
How long have you been officiating?
As a Catholic priest, I officiated at weddings for many years until I left active ministry in 1982. I wanted to help LGBT couples who were denied marriage by their anti-gay Catholic Church, so just a few days after marriage equality became law in New York — July 24, 2011— I married two gay couples in Central Park in front of a huge crowd of cheering friends and strangers. A beautiful day. No dry eyes.
What kind of accreditation do you have? What did you have to do to get it?
I am a minister of the Universal Life Church, which is one of a handful of churches recognized by New York City for the purpose of becoming a licensed officiant. The application process is easy, all spelled out on the [New York] City Clerk’s website. Oddly, singing ability is not required. Most of my weddings have no religious overtones, but if asked, I’ll honor the couple’s traditions — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or otherwise.
Is your accreditation limited to a particular state or states?
Yes, requirements vary from state to state. There are some startling differences between New York and Florida, for instance. In New York City, there’s a specific licensing process. In Florida, your officiant needs only to be an ordained clergyman of any kind — and there’s no proof required!
Also, in NYC, the officiant must return the completed license to the City Clerk’s office within a specific number of days. Here in Florida, the officiant can return it whenever he or she feels like it! Of course, if it doesn’t get returned, and no wedding certificate is issued, a justifiably irate couple will probably hunt down their negligent officiant with more force than any Florida sheriff.
How many couples have you married?
I’ve lost count.
Lesbians as well as gay men?
Any opposite-sex couples?
I would not discriminate against an opposite-sex couple.
How do you prepare for a wedding? How much do you work with the couple?
Working with the couple is key. I have to get a sense of what they envision, and I have to honor their wishes 100 percent. Sure, I’ll give them advice, but it’s their day: Casual? Formal? Relatives? Rings? Vows? Pets? Children? Music? God? No God?
A good officiant isn’t just a plug-in. He orchestrates the ceremony, making everyone comfortable so that they can celebrate what they feel in their hearts for the couple. Humor among strangers is tricky; a good officiant uses it sparingly but will pour out good will by the bucket.
Do you have a set script? Or does it vary from service to service?
Never a set script, but there is one thing I always do when I know that there are straight relatives and friends in attendance. I start the wedding by thanking them for rising above any personal prejudices or religious beliefs they may have. I thank them for the courage of their presence honoring and supporting two people in love.
I address my words to the oldest people present because they have grown up in a time when LGBT people were closeted, invisible, and condemned. The older ones are also more likely to know the truth about marriage and how it works. I honor their presence. I always get a little choked up when I thank them and see them blink back tears, but hey, if you can’t make ’em cry, it’s not a wedding, right?
What do you wear?
I take my cue from the couple. If they want me in black, I’m there. If they want me in flip-flops, I’m there. I recently did a wedding on St. Patrick’s Day that meant shopping for a green shirt. I once attended a wedding in Key West where everyone was naked except for leather masks and harnesses. The exchange of rings was eye-popping! I’m glad they didn’t ask me to officiate, but if they had, I’d have worn latex.
Do you ever help the couple write their vows?
Yes. Often the couple is not sure what they want to say, so it’s helpful for me to submit a list of words and phrases. They are never shy about then telling me what to avoid. For instance, an old-fashioned phrase like, “Will you be obedient to your spouse forsaking all others?” can sometimes elicit snorts and eye-rolls. The majority of the couples I’ve married have specified that there be no mention of god or religion. I also never presume that their vows will include sexual exclusivity.
Do you recall any particularly memorable vows?
I have had to learn some phrases in Hebrew, Ukranian, Spanish, Italian and Polish — just enough to honor the heritage of the couples. Sometimes, I’m not quite sure what I may have actually said! I enjoy delivering the final blessing in Latin if the crowd is Roman Catholic but only if the couple asks for that. It’s part of what sets me apart from other officiants.
Where have you performed marriages?
All over Manhattan and Brooklyn, including several spots in Central Park. In Fort Lauderdale, I’ve officiated on the beach, on yachts, and on a bridge over a pool at a private residence.
What’s the most memorable ceremony you’ve performed?
I cherish the memory of each one, none more than the other. I’m friends with almost all the couples I have married, so I would never rate or rank those ceremonies. Each one was beautiful.
Do couples usually invite you to attend the reception?
Yes. I love socializing with folks in the context of a wedding. Great fun!
Have you witnessed any wedding mishaps? Do tell.
The guests had arrived and were milling about in a restaurant in Greenwich Village a half hour before we were to start the ceremony. The couple had a cute little dog that would be the ring bearer. The rings were tied to his diamond collar with a festive ribbon. When I tried to take a picture of the dog that had been scampering through the crowd, I saw that he had chewed through the ribbon and that the rings were lost somewhere on the floor of the restaurant. Everyone was enlisted in the search and they were located. What do performers say about working with dogs and children?
In Central Park I married two lesbian couples by the Bethesda Fountain. Pouring rain meant we had to go under the Bethesda Terrace, but a Halloween haunted house had been set up there and we were kept out. One of the lesbians got spooked by the sounds of devilish recorded screams from within the haunted house, and she refused to go on with the ceremony, saying it would be cursed. She calmed down, umbrellas were located, and everything ended well as the rain turned into a gorgeous snowfall.
What made you decide you wanted to officiate weddings?
To make up for having been a priest in the anti-gay Catholic Church. It’s my way of making amends.
While you were a priest, did you marry any couples?
I’ve heard you charge no fee for officiating. Is that true?
I refuse to accept even a penny. This is another way I make amends for having been a priest in a Catholic Church that makes money via the distribution of its sacraments. When the couple asks about a fee, I suggest they make a donation to The SMART Ride via my rider page. [The annual two-day benefit bicycle ride from Miami to Key West raises funds for groups providing HIV/AIDS service in South Florida.] They have all been amazingly generous.
In your experience, what makes a wedding ceremony memorable or moving?
In a world in which half of all marriages fail, and given that many in attendance have had failed marriages, if I can make people feel hopeful again, and able to set aside the past or their fears for the future, and if I can make them believe that love can last forever, I’ll have done my job — and I can feel it in the air.
What should a couple look for in an officiant?
Efficiency! A good officiant never waits to the last minute when working with a couple. A good officiant is never late or unprepared for glitches! Beyond that, I think it’s part instinct, part compassion and part wisdom. I’ve lived with the same man for 35 years, married to him for nine. I’ve been around, and I got stuff to say about it!
Some couples will have a friend get accredited to officiate at their wedding. Good idea?
Maybe, but will that friend know how to set the tone and pace and roll with glitches in the ceremony? I think it is better to ask your closest friends or relatives to read, recite, or sing something, as long as they keep it brief!
Do any of the couples you’ve married stay in touch with you?
I am in touch with all of them, even if it’s just on Facebook. I am happy to report that they are all still together. “Who’s your daddy?” should be my officiant motto!
Tony Adams, a minister of the Universal Life Church, can perform weddings in Florida and New York City. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his wedding page on Facebook: facebook.com/Tony-Adams-1532614977002074.