RE-WED IN RED: The first Valentines.
The Big Weddin’ is a uniquely self-centered act. Brides talk about “my day” and might well buy a $12,000 dress, don a tiara, and be whisked via horse-drawn coach to a sanctuary where the groom, 500 guests, and a fountain spurting 8 gallons of blush Chablis a minute awaits. It’s a lot about pageantry.
Mike and Janet Huckabee’s Valentine’s Day re-nuptials at Alltel Arena may have been the most prolonged and extravagant show since Mickey Mouse jetted in from Orlando to officiate at the wedding of Breezy Osborne.
An estimated 6,500 faithful started showing up at 5:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. showcase of Arkansas’s 2001 Covenant Marriage law. (The Huckabees have been too busy before now to make use of the law.) The audience drove in or rode church buses from all over Arkansas to sit in hard folding chairs and listen to the governor preach the merits of the law, which he said puts “speed bumps” in the road to divorce. Thanks to the law, the millions who might divorce every year over hangnails, custody of the remote, who left the toilet seat up and other inconsequential differences of opinion, will come to their senses.
A group of about 80 gays, lesbians and their supporters got there early as well, waving signs protesting last year’s vote that banned them from getting even the freeze-dried version of what was being sold at Extra Strength inside. A woman handed out pebbles with John 8:7 inked onto them — the one about stones and who should cast them. Another waved a giant cardboard wedding cake. Sheena Alford, 19, of Conway, stood beside her friend, Brandon, holding a sign. What would she say to the governor if she could? “Just support us,” she said. “Our love is just as valuable as theirs is. We’re not any less because we may love someone of the same sex.”
Protestors close to the entrance became entertainment for those catching a smoke before the doors opened. People snickered at them, some took photos. A young man in a western shirt with a cigarette smoldering between his fingers put a boot up on the rail and scowled.
Then the doors opened, and people tramped to their seats to the strains of “My Girl” booming on the loudspeakers. Soon the floor and lower tiers of the Arena were packed, and more seating was opened in the upper tier.
On the floor seats were Luke and Heather Rivich of Maumelle. Married five years, with a “blended family” of children ranging from 8 months to 16 years, Luke Rivich said they were there because they support traditional marriage and wanted to spend time together with like-minded people.
“We have some friends who are getting divorced right now,” Heather said. “And it seems like it’s very easy — a lot easier than I thought it was.”
Though they said they probably won’t convert their marriage to a covenant marriage, Luke said he likes the idea. “A lot of times people get divorced because of circumstance, not because they don’t love each other — money, children, things that are a huge stress on a relationship. You shouldn’t be able to just walk away from it.”
About 7:10 p.m., the lights dimmed, and the program began — equal parts tent revival, comedy act and the kind of counseling session that event sponsor and coordinator FamilyLife is known best for. Short clips from romantic films played throughout the evening on big screens. Grammy-Award winning singer CeCe Williams gave a rousing performance, inviting “God to fill this place.” Rabbi Daniel Lapin with the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, spoke of the need to “sculpt the raw rock of male aggression and sexuality” into marriage (when he pointed heavenward and mentioned “The Boss,” people in the audience hooted and cheered like they were at a Springsteen concert). Speaker Rev. Crawford Loritts, associate director of U.S. Ministries with Campus Crusade for Christ, compared marriage to — and I am in no way making this up — a dog inside an invisible fence. Dennis Rainey, co-founder and president of FamilyLife, finished up, showing off the 1957 paper cake topper from his grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
The real show, of course, was the bride and groom. Governor Huckabee, wearing a black suit and a red tie, and Mrs. Huckabee, in a floor-length red satin dress, presented themselves to Pulaski County Circuit Clerk Pat O’Brien, who walked them through the three steps required to upgrade their marriage to Hi-Test. Yes, they had talked it over with a counselor. Yes, they had filled out the Covenant Marriage Certificate. Yes, they had their marriage license. O’Brien crimped all with the appropriate stamp.
Then God got in the act. The Huckabees recited wedding vows that proclaimed He had chosen them for each other. Mike promised to “protect” Janet, and Janet promised to “submit” to him. Then it was the audience’s turn to make some promises, with prompts from the governor and first lady.
Later, at a press conference, the governor said “the fact that we have been married 31 years is in my mind her forgiveness and God’s grace. It’s not that we’re an exceptional couple.”
Finally, at 9 p.m., the witnesses to the remarriage of the unexceptional couple filed out and got back on their buses to Smackover and Rogers and Monticello.