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!
I'm the founding minister of Wedded Your Way. I love helping people tie the knot!