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 “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.