An Atheist Wedding

My husband and I’s decision to get married was mostly analytical.  We loved each other, for sure, and we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, but neither one of us felt there was any reason to get married.  So for awhile our plan was to spend the rest of our lives together with no piece of paper legally tying us together.

I slowly began to change my mind though.  We were still in college, and in one of my college classes, I had a professor who was determined to teach us about gays and gay rights.  So you remember my English teacher who was determined to bring diversity into our lives by teaching us about Judaism, well my one education professor had the same mission but different focus.  She was going to bring diversity into our lives by bringing to us the gay community.

So a few times throughout the semester, she would bring in discussion panels.  One panel in particular really got to me.  I heard a story about a lesbian couple who had been together for 15 or more years.  Unexpectedly, one of them died.  We found out that the surviving partner was not allowed to visit the dying partner in the hospital because she “wasn’t a member of the immediate family.”  She wasn’t allowed any survivor benefits.  And as an additional slap in the face, the family of the dead woman took everything that was in her name, including the house that the two women had lived in for years.

That got me thinking.  If Adam and I are not married, who will make my funeral arrangements?  I want to be cremated, but my dad already told me that he wouldn’t do it.  What about sharing property and medical and survivor benefits?  I mentioned this to Adam.  He agreed that we should get married.  It was all very nonchalant.

Only a few days later, tragedy struck my friend Jennifer.  Her younger brother had died in a car accident.

I rushed over to her and her family only to find myself waste deep in controversy.  Jennifer’s brother had a girlfriend, no, fiancé that no one in the family really liked.  Tony, although very young, had been doing well for himself.  He had purchased a truck and a trailer all in his name.  I watched my friend and her family take everything from this woman simply because they weren’t married yet, so in their eyes she had no real claim to it.  Jennifer’s family even pushed their way into her brother’s trailor, where the fiancé still lived, and started going through Tony’s stuff.  And this happened before the funeral.  They even attempted to stop her from attending the funeral.  This fiancé, by the way, had nothing to do with Tony’s death.  And I never really got a clear explanation as to why everyone hated her so much.

So this REALLY got me thinking, and once I was home again, I made it clear to him that at this point marriage would be a necessity if we were going to live the rest of our lives together and share property and benefits.  He still agreed, and we both became excited about planning this major and secular event in our lives.

It was a difficult event to plan.  Even though our families knew we were Atheists and had known for some time and had seemed to accept it, at least a little bit, they were still pushing for a more traditional Christian ceremony.  Adam’s mom mentioned I don’t know how many times at how well her Methodist minister performs ceremonies and doesn’t mention God “all that much.”

We went through numerous ceremony ideas.  We looked more closely at Pagan ceremonies.  We did this for a couple of reasons.  1. We didn’t want to create a ceremony from scratch.  2. We wanted the ceremony to be remarkedly different from a Christian ceremony.  We eventually discovered handfasting and incorporated that into the ceremony.

We didn’t want a minister or priest to perform the ceremony, so we enlisted our friend Josh to do the honors.  Josh has always been interested in religion and had personally explored many different kinds of religions more deeply than any of us, so we thought that he was a good choice.  And he was the person who had introduced us.  So Josh became ordained by the Universal Life Church, and we had our minister.

Because we knew even then that our wedding wasn’t going to be the biggest and most important event in our lives, Adam and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it.  So we didn’t want a lot of bridesmaids and groomsmen, but because I am a feminist, I wanted an equal number of men and women in my ceremony, we opted for a priest and a priestess instead of a best man and maid of honor.  The priest, Josh, conducted the ceremony.  The priestess, Susan, helped.  And it was Susan who actually wrapped our hands during the handfasting.  So we had our ceremony.  Check.

We obviously couldn’t get married in a church, which seemed to bother my mother-in-law the most, so we looked for a long time for the correct venue.  I didn’t want our guests to travel to two different places and our wedding was in October, so we had to find a place that would allow us to do the ceremony and reception in the same building.  Luckily, we found a place that was able to partition part of their dining hall off so that we could use that space for the ceremony.  And we had our venue.  Check.

Like many Atheists who choose to get married, we chose to do things that were considered traditional.  Adam wore a tux, and I wore a white dress.  I was accompanied down the aisle by my brother, and because I had to have gender equality, Adam was accompanied down the aisle by his mother.  We exchanged rings.  We exchanged vows.  We kissed, and most importantly, we signed the marriage license in the presence of two witnesses in order to make our union legally binding.

Looking back, I wish we had eloped.  Planning a wedding is never as much fun as it’s supposed to be, and when you’re planning an Atheist wedding, you’re bound to piss people off which tends to sour the event.  However, many people liked the ceremony though some of the older members of the family were upset that it wasn’t more religious.  I overheard comments like, “Well that was an interesting ceremony,” which we all know is a polite way of saying that they didn’t really like it.

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