By Holly Pruett, Life-Cycle Celebrant
When Judge McShane overturned Oregon’s same-sex marriage ban, it was the culmination, for me, of 26 years in the trenches.
I came out just months before the first statewide anti-gay initiative in 1988. I threw myself into that campaign and every subsequent statewide ballot fight, serving as deputy campaign manager for the third round in 1994 and helping to form Basic Rights Oregon. I recruited the very first lesbian couple to marry in Oregon in 2004.
Over the past four years, I’ve served as a consultant to Freedom to Marry while starting to work with couples and families more directly. As a Life-Cycle Celebrant, I create and officiate unique, personalized ceremonies honoring births, deaths, and everything in between. One of my greatest joys is to stand beside gay and lesbian couples to say these hard-won words: “By the power vested in me by the state of Oregon…”
Couples who engage me to marry them know that a wedding is more than a party. When you set aside the details of décor and DJs, it comes down to this: what are the two of you committing to? Here are five questions to help you make your wedding ceremony a perfect expression of who you are and what you mean to each other.
1. What does marriage mean to you? I’ve been married three times – all to the same woman. Many of us created commitment ceremonies back before legal weddings were conceivable. We married in those few weeks before Measure 36 declared us “null and void.” By the time of the historic ruling, we already felt like an old married couple.
For some, the opportunity to marry is primarily a formality. Having long committed to each other, these couples want a simple way to confirm their legal status. For others, planning a thoughtful ceremony represents a do-over to the hurried, cookie cutter wedding conducted during the brief window in 2004. And then there are the newly-paired lovebirds.
What about you? Is your wedding threshold at the beginning of your journey together? Or a celebration of many years of road-tested commitment? Will it be a renewal of vows you’ve made to each other before, or a chance to newly consider the question of what you’re pledging to each other?
2. Who will marry you? Clergy and judge used to be your only options and they still suit many of us. Others have a best friend do the honors. Wedding Celebrants like me are secular ceremony experts who can help you create a ceremony as unique as the two of you, customizing every word to reflect your love story, your values, your community. Do you want someone to simply officiate the ceremony or to work with you as a creative partner? Do you thrive on the risks and rewards of a DIY approach or do you want the support of a professional with countless weddings-worth of experience?
3. What will you pledge to each other? Vows are often the last thing a couple gets to after wrangling over guest lists and catering menus. But these promises, likely the most intimate words you’ll speak in public, are truly the heart of the matter. You can each write your own, revealing them at the altar, or write them together (there’s no better values clarification exercise). You can get some great examples off the web or from your Celebrant. Give yourselves plenty of time and see what you can learn about each other through the process!
4. Will you involve your community? If you’re inviting more than the two-witness minimum, it’s because the presence of your community means something to you. How will you express that? A few special people might recite a reading, offer a piece of music. The wisdom of those whose relationships you respect can be written on ribbons that encircle you, to be consulted later when the going gets tough. Everyone can be involved through a ring warming or a community pledge of support. Get creative and find a ritual of connection that reflects you and your peeps.
5. How will you include those not present? Weddings are one of those times when those not present can be felt as deeply as those in the room. Whether deceased, estranged or unsupportive, or unable to attend due to illness or other circumstance, there may be missing loved ones who are on your minds. Find a way to honor their absence, even if privately. More public acknowledgement can take the form of an empty chair, a memory candle, a photo displayed discreetly.
Here’s to a heart-felt celebration of what really matters, expressed through a ceremony as unique as you.
Holly can be reached at: http://www.hollypruettcelebrant.com/.