Tracie & Michael, married 07/20/06 on left and Julia & Bob, married 10/04/13, on right.
Here I stand, chatting with the photographer while waiting for the wedding couple and party to arrive. After a week of autumn storms I’m pleased to see that the weather has cleared to gorgeous, warm and sunny. I’m glad I recommended this beautiful location on the Willamette River: the Foothills Park in Lake Oswego. The bride had called me from North Carolina only the week before. She was arranging her impromptu wedding to coincide with a visit with her sister and husband here, a couple I’d married 7 years before at the Rose Garden. She was excited that I was available on short notice; the family had clearly liked and remembered me. I wish I could say I remember them; I officiate well over 100 weddings per year and they sort of run together.
But when today’s Matron or Honor, the bride of 7 years ago, arrives, I recognize her immediately. Their wedding was so much fun! She had worn a big traditional white gown with a train, while the groom and groomsmen had dressed in suits—and flip-flops. (These were leather rather than rubber and therefore, evidently, their “dress” flip-flops.) I also recall that during the ceremony when I’d asked for the bride’s ring, the Best Man dug and dug into his pockets, appearing to have lost it. Finally, with great fanfare, he produced a bright green candy pop ring. It was joke, which surprised and delighted the bride. She threw her head back and laughed and laughed, thanking him graciously with a Southern drawl and even pretended to give the ring a lick. The real ring was then presented and we went on with the wedding, the bride still chuckling.
When I meet today’s bride, I find that she is even more laid back than her sister. Today the two are dressed semi-casually but in classy southern style; pretty blue dresses accessorized with cowboy boots! Dad is clearly feeling at home in denim overalls, though they appear to be brand new. The groom is polite and kind, making sure to tell me that if I’m ever in North Carolina, I’m welcome to come and visit them. It’s a pleasure to reconnect with the parents and brother, who have all traveled to Oregon once again for a family wedding.
I don’t get much in the way of repeat business—ideally once I join a couple, they will stay together for a lifetime. I sure do love getting referrals of their family members, though. It is such an honor to serve the same family again and share in yet another joyful occasion!
I've officiated a few weddings in which one or the other party was terminal. I recall a bride who had cancer. Her doctors had predicted she had only a year to live. This couple made the most of their celebration with beautiful clothes and a fancy venue, a posh hotel in downtown Portland, with guests attending from near and as far away as Japan. Most notably, there was a lot of love between the bride and groom. It had to be bittersweet.
On another occasion I received a call to officiate a deathbed wedding later the same day in a hospital. The man was apparently in the final stages of his illness. He and the bride had been together for over 20 years and he had wanted them to be legally married before he passed. I expect this was partly to provide for her in the way of benefits, which I find admirable. Naturally, I made sure he was of sound mind and knew why I was there before proceeding. I had been prepared for a sad tone for this wedding, but everyone was surprisingly upbeat. They put on their bravest, smiling faces. She and her mother, a sibling, and a spouse were all there to witness, and were quite supportive. He had clearly been considered part of the family for years.
Then there was a deathbed wedding I had officiated in which the couple were both fine—it was his mom who was nearing her end. Her dying wish was to live long enough to see her son get married. He and his longtime girlfriend simply took Mom’s request as the inspiration needed to make it official. They didn't have time to get a license, so I did a non-legally recognized ceremony at Mom's bedside in a care facility. The peaceful smile on her face when she heard me pronounce them husband and wife (symbolically, of course) was priceless. A few days later after they obtained their license, I met them again in a different location and officiated their legal wedding. Interestingly, they reported that Mom had still not passed at that point. Possibly a part of her was still hanging on, wanting to make sure her son was legally and officially wed before she could die in peace.
Two other weddings come to mind, which I performed in my office/chapel. Both were May-Decembers. In each case, the 75-plus-year-old groom arrived by medical transport in a Hoveround in order to marry a 40-something-year-old bride. In the first instance, it was obvious he was marrying his caregiver, possibly as a way to thank her. There did not appear to be a romantic relationship between them; she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek after I pronounced them. She also gave me a hug afterward and thanked me for not judging her.
For the other May-December couple, it was purportedly true love, though I have often wondered about that one. Was she really in love with him, or was she more in love with the notion of gaining her new husband’s financial assets? Despite my reservations, it is still not my place to judge. Believe me, I made sure to ask specific questions of that elderly groom to satisfy myself that he knew what he was doing. If both parties are of sound mind and if the proper paperwork is presented, I will go forward with the wedding. It is my job to help a couple tie the knot, not to judge their motivations. That is between them and their conscience—or between them and God, for those of a religious persuasion. Either way, after I do my job, the rest is up to them.
With the demise of DOMA and approval of same-sex marriage across several states, the times they are a changing for sure! Same-sex marriage is a game changer, and a name changer as well. Those of us who craft words have had to invent some new language for wedding ceremonies. I’ve joined several same sex couples in symbolic “marriages of the heart” here in Oregon where such unions are not yet legally recognized. I’ve also officially wed several others in Washington State where they recently won that legal right.
When interviewing same-sex couples in order to customize their ceremony, I’ve had to revise my questionnaire a bit. “Bride” and “groom,” has become Bride #1 and Bride #2 (or Groom #1 and Groom #2). Beyond that, there is a wide variety of preferences of terminology from couple to couple. When asking two women, for example, how they would like to be referred to in their ceremony—I’ve offered some suggestions: “wife,” “partner,” “beloved,” “spouse?” The responses have been a mixture of “yes’s” and “no’s,” some of them quite strong, on the term “wife,” in particular. One who had been with her partner for over a quarter century, was emphatic: “No way, we’re too feminist for that!”
I’ve even had two females who wanted to be referred to as “husband and wife.” Husband, really? But it was not surprising when I met them on their wedding day. One wore her hair in long, flowing curls and dressed like a traditional bride—in a long, elegant white gown, and she carried a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Her “husband,” on the other hand, sported a short haircut, and white tux pinned with a boutonniere. If not for the womanly voice of the latter, I might have thought she was a he.
I notice the State of Washington had to revise it’s form as well. There are still two sides on the form, with spaces for each of the party’s names, date and place of birth, parents’ names, etc. But instead of the previously-stated “husband” and “wife,” this has been revised to, “Person A” and “Person B.”
One other unique wedding that raised a gender issue comes to mind. The groom was a transsexual, or at least that was his legal status. Technically he was a hermaphrodite or to use the modern term, “intersex.” He openly shared his story with me. He had been born with both boy parts and girl parts, he said, and it was up to his parents to decide his gender. They had chosen to raise him as a girl. Other than remembering that as a kid he cried when they dressed him in a frilly dress, he had been pretty much okay living as a “she” until puberty, when male hormones kicked in and became predominant, resulting in a low masculine voice and facial hair—but ironically, he also grew breasts. His girlfriend fell in love with him as a man. They asked me to perform their wedding, a symbolic-only union because his birth certificate and ID still list him as female. There is a legal process to go through as well as some surgery before he can fully transition and legally become a male. Interestingly, this couple brought their child to their wedding. I have no idea whether the groom was a step-parent claiming the role and title of Dad, if there was a natural birth, adoption, or even surrogacy—nor did I dare to ask! If someone wants to volunteer information, that's one thing, but I'm not one to pry.
Whether it’s a traditional marriage between a man and a woman, or a same-sex union with or without the State’s blessing, it is my honor to help couples declare their love and lifetime commitment as partners, under whatever label they prefer. Yes, the times they are a changing, and I say thank God for that! And, by the way, I will not make any God references for those desiring a nonreligious ceremony. I just substitute the word “love” where I might have said “God,” and really, to me it means the same thing. There is no need to get hung up on names and labels. The only thing that matters, no matter what you call it, is love, the primary essence that unites us all.
Nothing like presenting the wrong marriage license to throw a curve ball at your officiant. That’s what happened to me. I had driven from my Portland, OR home over the bridge into Vancouver, WA for my first wedding of the day. Carefully following Mapquest’s directions—I’m still behind the times and do not own a GPS—I arrived at the couple’s home where the wedding was to take place. The young groom met me in the entryway, dressed in a cream colored tux and looking like a million bucks! A curved staircase led up to the bedroom wing of the house where the bride was still getting ready. With a thick Russian accent the groom introduced me to his mother; who appeared not to know much English at all. A cheerful cloud of brightly colored balloons floated near the ceiling in the dining area, where a cake and spread of delectable food was laid out. In the kitchen other dishes still simmered, and the aroma filled the house. The celebration had clearly been well planned. Except for one thing. When I asked to see the Marriage License, it was from the wrong state: Oregon. Oops.
I explained the legalities: a wedding must take place in the state in which the license is issued. Period. For their Vancouver wedding, they would need to get a license from any County in Washington State—Clark County being the nearest one. Then there’s a three-day waiting period before it can be used. And since this was a Saturday, they would have to wait until Monday during regular business hours for the County marriage office to reopen. Once they got the right license, the first day they could have a legal wedding here would be 3 days later, on the following Thursday. The mother became upset and actually laced her hands together in a prayer-like pose, begging me, “Please.” That was one English word she knew. Guests were coming to fill the house very soon and we were miles from the Oregon border. It was a crisis that could have become a disaster!
Time was ticking and I had another couple of weddings still to perform that day, elsewhere. Fortunately for this couple, I also have a small chapel in Oregon. I told the groom that we could have them go ahead and say their vows before their family and friends here in their home, now. But I would explain to the guests that to make it legal, the couple and two witnesses would have to meet me in Oregon later that day with their Oregon Marriage license in hand. That would be their legal wedding; this one would be a symbolic one. Fortunately, I had an opening at 6 p.m. that day in my chapel. They agreed. To his mother’s great relief they could still share a wedding celebration and feast with their guests, as planned.
The guests all arrived, and the bride finally made her grand entrance down that curved stairway, dressed in a lacy white gown with a long, sweeping train. I explained the plan to the guests, also telling them how much this couple wanted to make their promises in front of their family and friends. And so they did. I’m not sure whether the guests fully understood English, either, but the bride and groom knew and that was the most important thing. The couple did follow through that evening, meeting me at my chapel, still dressed in their wedding clothes. The bride’s train practically took up the entire chapel.
The couple then said “I do” a second time that day in the presence of the two witnesses they brought with them. We signed the proper documents on the proper lines, in the proper State. When all was said and done, I wished them a happy life, and they left hand in hand, officially and legally married. Crisis and disaster averted!
It is Sunday now, a perfect, sunny 85-degree day for Amanda and Lynn to tie the knot. Their wedding is a stroke of serendipity; they only planned it three days ago. It was Lynn who got the bright idea mid-week as they flew in from Tennessee to attend a friend's wedding. As the plane passed over Mt. St. Helens in Washington State (where same-sex marriage has recently been legalized), Lynn turned to Amanda and remarked, "We could elope." Now that's a unique place to pop the question; not much room in the aisle of a Boeing 777 to get down on bended knee, a good enough reason to skip that tradition. But then Lynn and Amanda are not a traditional couple.
After looking into it, they learn that they do not have to be residents of the Washington State to obtain a marriage license there. However, there is a three-day waiting period after obtaining a license before the marriage can take place. What better time of year and what better place than the glorious Pacific Northwest to play tourist for a few days?
By Thursday they have license in hand and call me to make arrangements. Then they line up some friends including two to serve as witnesses of record. Sunday rolls around, and presto, I officiate for Amanda and Lynn before their friends under the shade of a lovely big evergreen tree in Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver. Thus, their 18-year relationship is legalized. Serendipity!
I firmly believe in minding my own business on a couple’s wedding preferences. This includes whether and when to marry, whom to invite to the wedding, and what to wear. That last item can cause some discomfort for traditional folks who have fixed ideas on what is proper wedding attire. The fact is here in Oregon many of us are pretty laid back. At local weddings I’ve seen my share of tank tops, shorts and flip-flops among the guests—and sometimes the couple themselves. I prefer to follow the old adage of not passing judgment until I’ve walked a mile in their moccasins—or possibly socks with sandals, a common fashion misstep in these parts!
Anything goes, really. I see all kinds from brides who arrive in a big ball gown that practically takes up half the chapel, to couples that dress like they are on the way to the beach—and quite possibly they are. I would never dream of judging a couple’s fashion statement. It is only my job to help them tie the knot in whatever style is comfortable to them. I have no idea what’s happening in their world or what is behind their choices. However, when they share their story, sometimes it can be very illuminating.
Case in point was a couple who arrived for their elopement-style wedding both dressed in t-shirts, cutoffs and tennies. Their demeanor was just as casual. The bride kept cracking jokes during the ceremony, like: "Can I skip that part?" And when I was talking about life-long commitment, she said, “He gets five years and then we will have to renegotiate!” They were laughing the whole time, she especially.
Afterward she shared with me that she's been diagnosed with a brain tumor. She showed me the scar on her scalp from her surgery; at least she got to keep most of her hair. Her docs have given her five years to live. I see now that humor is her way of coping. My heart goes out to both of them. I don’t care what they wear on their big day. What really matters and what I so respect in the groom in particular, is his heart full of love and devotion for his new wife, while knowing he is likely to lose her all to soon. The courage and grace with which they face an uncertain future is a wonderful thing and h. I wish this brave couple all the best in their journey together.
Have you ever noticed that weddings seem to be getting shorter? Short and sweet is what many couples want, and the most guests appreciate it, too. It’s kinder at outdoor ceremonies where everyone is made to bake in the sun or when restless children are involved. That said, there is also such a thing as too short—which may not be so sweet. The guests will likely feel shortchanged if the wedding becomes just a blip on the screen.
I have always made it a practice to send couples a script of their ceremony beforehand. This leaves some tinkering room if they want to add or omit a poem or other ceremony segment and to make sure the language reflects their style. Some couples panic when they get five pages of script, assuming that the wedding is going to be an hour long. I’ve seen them start snipping and cutting until there’s not much left. So I tell them I will do it that short if they really really want me to, but my original script would not translate into a wedding that is nearly as long as they think.
First of all, I use a large type font so I can easily read it on their big day; that fills more sheets of paper. Secondly, it takes very little time to read through text. Five pages amounts to about ten minutes, tops, even when I speak slowly and deliberately as I will on their big day. If there’s a huge wedding party, the processional can add a bit more time. But even if there’s a long distance to cover and they space out the bridesmaids and groomsmen rather than bunching up, the whole parade rarely lasts longer than two to three minutes.
Candle lightings take a minute or so and sand ceremonies slightly longer, particularly if children or other family members participate. Still, it normally does not amount to more than a couple of extra minutes. Poetry readings may take a minute or two each. For couples who choose an additional two or three ceremony elements such as a ring warming, presentation of flowers to moms, or a wine ceremony, all told, these will likely add only a few minutes. In my experience, the entire ceremony from processional through recessional rarely exceeds 20 minutes. More often it is 10-15.
What is much more likely to eat up time at a wedding is the waiting beforehand. Uncle So-and-So takes the wrong exit and is retracing his steps on the freeway; or I’ll get everyone lined up and invariably a member of the bridal party will be MIA in the rest room; or the bride has a wardrobe malfunction and/or her hairdo won’t do what she wants. There are lots of reasons why a wedding may take more time than expected, but it won’t be because I’ve gotten longwinded! I will leave long discourses to the orators and sermons to the preachers. As a wedding officiant, I vow that my words will be elegant and yet succinct. I will make the ceremony long enough to convey the meaning and feeling, and short enough to keep everyone awake.
We officiated at a wonderful place for a wedding this weekend, the Portland City Grill, which is located on the 30th floor of the US Bancorp Building, better known as "Big Pink" in downtown Portland. The view is spectacular and the setting sophisticated and classy. The bride told that the prices are surprisingly budget friendly. Most venues charge one price for a regular party or gathering, and then a much higher price when the word "wedding" is mentioned. But Portland City Grill charges the same reasonable price for either type of celebration. We snapped this photo just minutes before Saturday's ceremony began. The guests were all waiting with anticipation! http://www.portlandcitygrill.com/private-dining.php
A recent bride told me she was so glad to have found our little chapel for her second marriage. She explained that she wanted a simple civil ceremony, which we are happy to offer. But she definitely wanted to skip the courthouse setting she’d chosen the first time around. That wedding was apparently interspersed between divorces; when the clerk had announced the next item of business on the judge’s docket, he had called them up as, “Smith vs. Brown.” She should have known then that the marriage was doomed, she told me!
Some courthouse weddings might be sweet, and judges friendly. But a couple cannot expect immediate service. First of all, they may not always get right in. During busy times it may take weeks to get on the docket. Then once there, it may take awhile for their turn to come up. And they may not be the only ones waiting. I’ve heard about criminals also hanging around in the courtroom, waiting for their cases to be heard. One couple joked that their courthouse wedding was “love among the felons.” That gives a whole new meaning to the term “ball and chain!”
Then, too, courthouse weddings by nature are very brief, virtually no more than a blip on the screen in a busy judge’s day. After all, the court has to work you in around other important business. With us, a couple is our only and most important business--and you won't have to wait. Once you have your marriage license, we can often marry you the very same day (though you will need to get a waiver of the 3-day waiting period--just ask the clerk when you get your license). Even if you prefer short and sweet, we will make your wedding warm and personal, something to remember fondly as you begin your married life together.
The daughters/bridesmaids connect with family in New Zealand.
We live in an electronic age for sure. While virtual weddings aren’t legal yet, at least not in this State, guests are finding inventive ways to “attend” a wedding from afar. While officiating one such ceremony I noticed the bride holding something next to her bouquet. I mused: A small Bible? A photo of a departed loved one? Nope, turns out it was a cell phone. Dad couldn’t come, but he was right there with her on speaker phone.
At another wedding of an older couple, their daughter stood with them holding her brother, or at least the laptop through which he was Skyping from Hong Kong. After the ceremony, the family posed for an interesting picture; the sister stood between her newly married parents, holding the electronic version of her brother, whose smiling face filled up the entire computer screen. It gives a new meaning to the expression “talking heads.”
Speaking of “talking,” it’s a good idea for the guests to hit the mute button at their end. I recently officiated a wedding at our chapel in which guests were Skyped in from New Zealand. I’m sure they were not aware that we could all hear their running commentary, in a thick New Zealand accent, amongst each other. "Crackie!"
At still another in-home wedding, a young couple traded vows in front of the fireplace before a dozen or so guests. They perched on the living room couches and chairs, with two more on the coffee table—that is, two laptops. One was connected to loved ones in California and the other to a branch of the family in Canada. Following that ceremony, the couple squatted down in front the coffee table with a glass of champagne, in a virtual toast to each computer, and to the kinfolk who could not be there in person. I wonder if wedding invitations will change their RSVP Yes-lines to: “I plan to attend in person,” or “I plan to attend via cyberspace.” Yes, it certainly is an electronic age we live in!