What is a wedding ceremony?

21 Apr

(Olivia Leigh Photographie)

When we got engaged on that downright cold winter night a little over a year ago, giddy over the future and the present all at once, we talked about two things: standing in front of everyone we care deeply for and declaring our love for each other, and what our marriage would look like.

For me, it’s easy to focus on the marriage. We do it all the time, whether it’s talking about what our personal limits are for those hectic first years of working all the time, our goals, when we’ll be out of debt (I can hear the credit card companies laughing from here. and the federal government), if we’ll move, etc. Mostly there is wine involved with these talks. It’s good for nights like that.

But the ceremony is much tougher to talk about. Seems silly, doesn’t it? A little fifteen minute thing, where people will sit (or stand, because it seems silly to rent chairs for fifteen minutes which will probably be ten because I have Gilmore training in terms of quick dialogue) is this looming subject of what-ifs and buts.

Most ceremonies are fairly easy to plan. In fact, most couples barely have to plan them. There’s a pastor or clergy person who sits down with the couple and says (in my head, since I’ve never had this talk) “this is how the ceremony will start, music, a little intro, my spiel, maybe a hymn, a prayer, your vows, the kiss, the introduction as man and wife. And it’ll be beautiful, and it’ll go off without a hitch, because that’s how I’ve been doing it for twenty-five years now.”

And that’s great, and I bet you can even personalize it many places, and if you believe it, I bet it’s a really powerful thing. But we don’t believe it, and it’s just not us.

And so, there will be no pastor or clergyman. There will be no prayer or hymn.

There will be vows. There will be an intro, and probably a poem. There will be the two of us, promising each other that this partnership will be life-long, and filled with joy, adventure, hardship, struggle, and love. And we’ll be starting off our married life on the premise of us, something that is not one bit a lie, because we used only our definition of marriage to get there.

The good thing about having this struggle of what to say and how to structure the ceremony is that it really made me dig around for what marriage is. Why do I want it so much? Why do I get so upset when I hear people say that the GLBT population can have “everything but the word marriage?” What does it mean? Of course, in a global span, the history of marriage is kind of a depressing thing. That’s what you get when you take an institution based on practicality and inheritance and culturally fine-tune it to be this many-headed monster that can be inspiringly genuine and beautiful or painfully expectation-ridden and artificial depending on where you look.

We ended up looking no further than Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall’s words in ruling on ย “Goodridge Vs. Department of Health”

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations….Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.”

Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family…. Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

That says perfectly what I never could, and because of that, it will open our ceremony. Sometimes, certain passages just ring so true that you can say nothing but “exactly. This.” For us, that is what marriage means, and we are proud of taking what can only be described as “the hard way” in terms of family expectations and traditions.

The toughest thing about this is those who think that we’re turning on how we were raised. That we’re saying it wasn’t good enough. I suppose that there are, on the surface, plenty of glaring differences. Between the drive towards city living, the veganism, the lack of desire for children, and the differences in religion and philosophy, it seems we’re completely different people sometimes. But I think what many people forget is that the stuff that makes us up is the same stuff that you aim for, too. How to work hard, how to love, how to help, how to laugh, and how to care, how to experience life. Different doesn’t have to be bad, and I hope that on our wedding day, our family will look past the absence of what a wedding is to them, and see what marriage means to us.

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13 Responses to “What is a wedding ceremony?”

  1. Hannah April 21, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    As someone who shares many (okay, all except the city living and vegan thing) of your same views on life, marriage and equality I love that you are doing this. We were once told that we were being divisive by inviting my husband’s catholic family to a non-catholic (or any religion at that matter) wedding. That by not being married with god, by a clergyMAN, and in a church – we were, in fact, not actually getting married.

    We stuck to our beliefs and wrote a deeply personal, beautiful ceremony that I wouldn’t change for the world. I entered to Texas’ Put Your Arms Around me and we exited to the Roots’ Send Me On My way, and did not feel a need to include a hymn or prayer. Although it was only about 10-15 minutes I would never have changed a thing. Trust me, this will definitely be worth it!

    • Karen Tindale February 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

      I entered to Texas ‘Put your arms around me’ too! ๐Ÿ™‚ We left to his choice – Lionel Richie ‘dancing on the ceiling’ . We’re not religious so we had no hymns or prayers – just a reading of Mark Twain’s, ‘These I can promise’. x

  2. Colleen C April 21, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    This is beautiful. A very well written post and I love that as an opening to your ceremony. We were the first of our family to marry outside of the Catholic church in a loooong time. It didn’t go over very well with either of our parents but for us it was the right thing. We are totally cool with God so we did include prayers in our ceremony – but we were able to make the ceremony so much more about us then about rules and regulations. For so many of our family members this was their first non-catholic ceremony — and they all *loved* it. Many people complimented us on how they really felt involved and listened to every single word – because we chose every single word. Long story short – rock on! (PS I walked down the aisle to Something in the Way she Moves and we walked out to Better Together by Jack Johnson both on acoustic guitar, can’t do that in a Catholic church!!)

  3. Jessica April 21, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    What a well written post Anni, as always.

    Your last sentence said it all, “different doesn’t have to be bad.” And it’s so true. Everyone has a different view on religion, politics and marriage but in the end, aren’t we all on the same side? Like you said, to love, help, work hard and experience life. Don’t we all want this world to be a better place?

    Just because your ceremony won’t have a prayer or a hymn doesn’t mean people won’t see the love in the room. If they can’t see what you and Ross have, they’re obviously blind anyway.

    You are a whiz with words and know you two will come up with a beautiful ceremony that is personal and moving. That passage is a great start!

  4. Jessica @ One Shiny Star April 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    We had two ceremonies. One was a private religious ceremony that wasn’t personalized at all. The second was a ceremony that we invited EVERYONE to. We had a quote, a close family friend and my sister sang a song, we has asked a close family friend to “preside”, and he spoke about the purpose/meaning of marriage, and then we exchanged out vows. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Gogo April 21, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    That excerpt from the Mass supreme court ruling has always really touched me. The whole decision from the case is such a beautiful treatise on marriage and equality in marriage.

    We are having a ring ceremony in addition to our religious marriage ceremony – like Jessica. And we have designed it completely ourselves and I am so excited for this part of the day. Because we get to invite our community of people into the love and commitment of our relationship that usually only exists in the small space between the two of us. This also makes me nervous, haha.

    I’m a little nervous about what some people will think since it’s not the traditional LDS ring ceremony. But mostly I like making people think outside the box.

  6. Mrs. Puma April 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

    I love how much thought you have put into your wedding ceremony. I really admire your passion and thoughtfulness in all you do! This is a fantastic way to start your ceremony!

  7. Emily April 21, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Aaaannndddd I’m crying. So thanks for that.

    During our planning people always asked where we were getting married. Every time I answered, “The same place as our reception. We’re not really church people.” Mostly we were met with, “Oh yeah, that totally makes sense!” But on two separate occasions this was the reaction: “You’re not getting married in a church? Do you even believe in God?” I’m sure you can imagine how that felt. Not good.

    Bravo to you and Ross for already putting so much thought into your ceremony. It may only last 15 minutes (I think ours was 20? 25?), but those 15 minutes are not a joke. For me, it was an out-of-body experience and the most emotional 20 minutes of my life.

    I’m so glad to hear you’re making it your own. Every couple should do what’s right for them, be it a full Catholic mass or an elopement in Jamaica. Don’t get caught up in what you “should” do or what’s “expected.” In the end you’ll be so much happier that you stayed true to yourself instead of pleasing everyone else. (Clearly I have a lot of um…thoughts about this. Let me know if you want to talk more or flush out any ideas. I love this stuff!)

  8. stellemarie April 21, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    Anni, are you sure you are 21? Because when I read your posts, you are just wise beyond your years. (Not to mention my sister is the same age as you, and you are on two totally different planets. Which is fine, but it’s just eye opening for me too. And maybe can make me think of her as more of an adult? haha. She may thank you someday!) Anyway. James and I were also married at our reception spot, the first in my family not to get married at our church. I’m sure there were comments about it… although, I’m glad to say I didn’t hear any directly to my face. All I had to deal with was getting through to my parents, who ended up being so much more supportive than I could have imagined.

    I really loved our ceremony. It took a lot of looking and thinking before I could find anything I wanted to use. Esp. after reading so many blogs, and seeing so many of the same elements used over & over again. We ended up not even having a reading, which I never thought would happen. Our fabulous officiant pieced together our favorite songs, and quotes and it just worked. It was such a crazy feeling to be up in front of everyone for those 25 minutes – I was so scared and I know for me to be able to get up there and actually do this thing, I had to truly believe in what James and I were presenting to people. That’s why a church never would have worked for us.

    Good luck on the rest of your wedding planning journey. haha. I’m closing this like you are never writing about it again. But I just love hearing about the two of you as a couple. You seem like a real team, with a real need to stay true to yourselves. I like to think of James and I in that light, as well.

    Thanks again for such an inspiring post. I truly truly love your writing.

  9. Krysten April 22, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    We totally put together our own ceremony with our officiant. Actually, I found a book on all the different aspects of the ceremony with different ways to do it depending on if you want religious, funny, overly romantic, etc. So with our officiant we picked what we liked and then rewrote things to our liking and voila… ceremony!

  10. Jackie April 23, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    We had the church wedding, because that is what’s important to us. But I remember having lots of the same questions. What does it mean to be “married?” Is it still dating but with a promise not to break up? Is it moving in together? Is it only a legal thing? Why do we have this right and others don’t? (because our sex organs look different??) What do love and honor even mean?

    All in all, it’s a mystery. A beautiful mystery.

  11. Abby April 25, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    I think that in order to really attempt to understand the complexity that is “MARRIAGE” you need to relate to it and define it in your own terms — which is exactly what you’re doing with your wedding ceremony. Good for you. ๐Ÿ™‚ We had a church wedding because that is how we related to it…and I don’t think one way is “better” or “more correct” or more anything, really, than another…it’s just how we all relate to it and reflect on it and let it into our lives. Great post!

  12. Steph April 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Beautifully written, Anni. And that passage is just perfect.

    Scot and I are struggling with this as well – I am the daughter of two Lutheran pastors, and he is an athiest. I’m currently trying to figure out my faith and religion – I know I believe something, but I’m not sure what, at the moment. It just wouldn’t be right to have our wedding in a church, or even with God present in it – it’s not fair to Scot, it’s not how we live our lives. We have faith in each other, in our marriage, and that will be what we celebrate.

    It’s wonderful that you both will be celebrating your marriage and defining it in a way that represents you, and not other people’s idea of what it should be. Plus, depending on who your officiant is, they can always help you pare down the ceremony to be exactly what you want ๐Ÿ™‚

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