I’ve been to a dozen or so weddings as an adult. Each of them were religious ceremonies, and I found each one of them lackluster and offensive to various degrees. The offensive content was usually tied to some dreadfully antiquated religious concepts – among them, that the man was the de facto “leader” in the marriage, the wife was to be subservient to his demands, and that the couples’ individuality was extinguished upon marrying. My wife and I were just as appalled at what was said at our own wedding ceremony. It seemed that no one could get it right.
At one wedding in particular that I attended, the minister presiding over the ceremony was hammering these points (among others) home in an unusually insulting manner. As I sat there in the pews, disgusted at hearing these passé beliefs being spouted yet again – and with such vigor – I thought to myself, “I can do a better job than this guy.” And so, in the following weeks, I took the steps necessary to become registered to legally solemnize marriages in Ohio. I performed my first ceremony just over two months later.
To some, a marriage is a religious institution, steeped in ancient – and to some, outmoded – beliefs and traditions. To others, a marriage is no more than a civil arrangement sanctioned by the state. To me, a marriage – and by extension, the wedding – is something much simpler and more beautiful than either of these. It is a celebration of the love shared by two people, and a solemn promise that their affections will be shared only with each other. This is the central theme to each of the wedding ceremonies I perform, and I incorporate spiritual (but not religious) overtones when the couple indicates that this fits in with their personal beliefs.
I was baptized Christian into the Eastern Orthodox church as a teenager. As I have grown older, my beliefs have evolved. While I still respect and adhere to some of its teachings, I no longer consider myself in communion with the Orthodox church.
I can be best described as an agnostic theist. I believe that the complexity and beauty of the universe points to the existence of God, but that it is folly to assume that any human being could deign to understand its will (I also believe that God transcends gender) if such a will even exists. It is my hope – not my belief – that God merely wishes for each of us to be happy. Therefore, I follow the most generally agreed upon commandments of the world’s great religious traditions: Love and be kind to one another, don’t lie, kill or steal, provide succor to those in crisis, and be compassionate, to name a few.
If two people were to take these broad “religious” directives and apply them to their marriage as a purely secular institution, how could it possibly fail? Wherever the bride and groom might fall in the spectrum of spirituality – atheists, practicing and pious members of an established religious tradition or somewhere in between – I attempt to appeal to these sensibilities in each ceremony, while respecting their own beliefs.
The corollary is this: if the bride or groom find that they fundamentally disagree with something that the person performing their wedding ceremony has said during that ceremony… that couple has chosen the wrong person to marry them. It is therefore imperative that the bride and groom understand the spiritual stance of the person they wish to bring them together in matrimony.