A Wedding Ceremony for the 21st Century

That most ubiquitous ritual, minus the heteronormativity, patriarchy, and god.

Sophi Scarnewman
Mar 25, 2014 · 13 min read

Even before we got engaged, my husband and I spent a long time thinking about why it was that we wanted to get married at all. Obviously we loved each other, were committed to one another, and we already lived together. More importantly, we were disturbed by those still-detectable flavors of buying and selling women that permeate weddings and the dangerous tendency of our society to restrict a sense of legitimacy to those families headed by a heterosexual married couple.

But we knew we wanted to get married, so we got engaged. Unusually, we both wore engagement rings. We continued to talk about what marriage meant and why it was that marriage felt so important to us. Even though we had eighteen months between our engagement and our wedding to make the perfect ceremony, we didn’t finish it until four days before. There are a lot of things about our wedding that I’m proud of — our new portmanteau last name “Scarnewman” stands out among them — but nothing comes close to the pride I feel in the ceremony that my husband and I wrote with Christian, our friend and officiant.

Lizzie, our friend and talented harpist, begins the processional music, an original piece.

The parents of the groom and the parents of the bride enter.

Alternating bridespeople and groomsmen enter, with only the couples entering as pairs.

Lizzie begins to play Vangelis’ Cosmos theme. The guests stand.

The bride and groom enter, hand in hand.

The bride and groom part at front of the aisle, hugging their respective parents before taking their places on either side of the officiant, Christian.

Before we begin I’d like to ask you all to make sure your cell phones, iPads, and any handheld gaming devices are on silent.

Friends and family, welcome. For those who don’t know me, my name is Christian, and I’m Bobby’s childhood friend from Philly. I will be officiating the wedding of Sophi and Bobby.

We are here to celebrate love. Love gives richness, meaning, and strength to a complex and often difficult world. We have joined together today to celebrate love in all its forms — love between friends and love between family; in particular, we are here to celebrate the love shared between Sophi and Bobby — a love that they have chosen to solemnize by committing to one another through marriage.

Through this ceremony, Sophi and Bobby are excited to share their ideas about love and marriage. As a couple, they have given great thought as to what their relationship is and what they aspire to have it be. You may have noticed that Sophi and Bobby entered together today, rather than separately as is more common. Their journey together has already begun; today marks an important moment when they celebrate and make official their lifelong commitment, a commitment they have jointly shared for years. As such, they decided to walk down the aisle hand in hand, entering this marriage as partners and equals.

The two readings they have chosen today are a reflection of the values and aspirations they have developed together.

Sophi’s Aunt Kate will be giving the first reading, excerpts from Chief Justice Margaret Marshall’s opinion on the first United States court decision to rule in favor of same-sex marriage. The couple have asked her to read in recognition of the inspiration they draw from her marriage with her husband, Chris, as well as her deeply empathetic and insightful nature.

Marriage bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.

Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a “civil right.”

Without the right to marry — or more properly, the right to choose to marry — one is excluded from the full range of human experience and denied full protection of the laws for one’s “avowed commitment to an intimate and lasting human relationship.” Because civil marriage is central to the lives of individuals and the welfare of the community, our laws assiduously protect the individual’s right to marry against undue government incursion. Laws may not “interfere directly and substantially with the right to marry.”

The right to marry means little if it does not include the right to marry the person of one’s choice.

Thank you, Kate. As strong proponents of marriage equality and the social recognition of healthy partnerships more broadly, Sophi and Bobby chose this reading to encourage us to explore why it is that marriage is meaningful to us. It’s easy to take the concept of marriage for granted, and these excerpts from Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion use an important national debate to bring the focus of marriage down to the level of what is shared between individuals in the context of our society.

The state of “marriage” conveys a partnership that is grounded in equality and mutual respect between two individuals. Spouses should support one another and enable each other to be better, to be greater than they would be a part. Marriage is not a loss of individuality; rather, it is a unity of two individuals to create and strengthen a family unit.

Sophi and Bobby don’t necessarily “complete” one another via their union. Each of them is a completed individual in his and her own right. But their marriage will be a union of their individual strengths. As the saying goes they are greater than the sum of their parts, and their marriage should reflect that greatness.

The reading brings up another significant point: that Sophi and Bobby cannot be the only two individuals to acknowledge this partnership. It is also the job of society to validate their decision to marry, to reflect these ideals of equality and mutual respect associated with marriage back to them. And so that is where we all come in. Sophi and Bobby have given us the great privilege and responsibility of being the very first to witness their lifelong commitment to one another through marriage. Our presence here today is a physical and metaphorical sign of the expectations that we convey of their union and our willingness to support their decision.

And that brings me to my last point. I’m paraphrasing a bit here but Marshall says “civil marriage is a commitment to and celebration of family.” Families come in all forms, and Sophi and Bobby have decided to make marriage a part theirs. Love is not just romance; it is also the intimacy, safety, trust, loyalty, and unwavering support and affection that a family shares. It is an incomparable human experience. And the wonderful thing about it is that we are born into and defined by family. But marriage is a point in life where we can choose our own identity and definition of family. Sophi and Bobby have chosen to define themselves alongside each other in the context of the family they form today.

Our next reading examines love as one experience of and entry point into a world full of awe and wonder. Bobby’s brother Rocco will be reading for you a translation of the Chilean poet and songwriter Violeta Parra’s song “Gracias a la vida,” or “Thanks to the life.” Sophi and Bobby immediately thought of Rocco and his poise, kindness, and dedication when choosing readers. They are honored to have him participate in this special day.

Thanks to the life that has given me so much.
It has given me two eyes like stars that, when opened,
perfectly distinguish the black from the white
and in the sky above, its starry background,
and in the multitudes, the one I love

Thanks to the life that has given me so much
It has given me hearing, that within its width,
records the night and day and canaries,
hammers, turbines, bricks, storms,
and the tender voice of my beloved.

Thanks to the life that has given me so much.
It has given me sound and the alphabet,
with it those words that I think and declare:
mother, friend, brother, and light illuminating
the path to the soul of the one with whom I am in love.

Thanks to the life which has given me so much.
It has given march to my tired feet;
with them I walked through cities and puddles,
beaches and deserts, mountains and plains,
and in your house, your street, and your courtyard.

Thanks to the life which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart that flutters in its frame
when I look at the fruits born of the human mind
when I look at the good so far from the bad
when I look into the depths of your clear eyes.

Thanks to the life which has given me so much.
It has given me laughter and it has given me tears.
And so I distinguish joy from sorrow,
those two materials that form my song
and the song of you that is my own song
and the song of everyone, that is my own song.

Thank you, Rocco. In my opinion, the words of this song encompass ideas about love better than any analysis could. The message is simple: Take the time to delight in the wonder of life and love. Parra’s song explores and celebrates the complexity found in everyday human experience, most especially the experience of love. We are reminded that life is precious in so many ways, a realization that comes so easily with the presence of romantic love in our lives. When we find love, it informs the way we perceive our past, present and future. All our experiences interplay with those of our loved one. The values and principles we develop ourselves merge with those of the other as we grow closer and love grows. Again, we return to the idea that we so often define ourselves in the context of our experiences with a loved one. Parra concludes with the lines

And so I distinguish joy from sorrow,
those two materials that form my song
and the song of you that is my own song
and the song of everyone, that is my own song.

She reminds us how the “song” of our experiences comprises not only the good but also the bad. Life is struggle and joy, and often both at once; it is through these experiences, good and bad alike, that we are able to learn and grow, as individuals and as part of a family.

Sophi and Bobby have prepared their own vows that they will now share.

For many years, I was scared to rely on others. I was scared of a sense of indebtedness, scared of relinquishing total control. I saw love as an inherent lessening of oneself, as if love were the kind of compromise people mean when they talk about security breaches, a loss of structural integrity.

Just before I met you, Bobby, I wasn’t sure what I wanted love to look like. I was full of ambition and energy, and I wasn’t sure how love could possibly fit into my aspirations. Suffice it to say, I had “love” all wrong.

On our first date, I was caught off guard by how how warm you were. I’d grown used to interesting, intelligent people coming with a side of standoffishness or arrogance. It would be the first time of what will be a lifetime of finding inspiration and strength in your patience, your open mind, and your kindness.

I discovered that love can come easily, that love, rather than taxing my ambitions, actually gave me more strength than I ever thought I could have, a life I never thought I could have. I stopped being afraid of failure. The depth and breadth of opportunities I have now never stops surprising me. I wouldn’t have sought them out without you. My dreams are so much bigger than I ever thought they could be. You have taught me how to be patient and forgiving with myself, and I’ve explored and learned so much more than I ever could have on my own.

What makes you truly exceptional, however, is that your steadfastness and empathy comes with an equally strong streak of intelligence and motivation. So few of us have both of these qualities. You look at inefficiency and inequality and injustice and want to make it better, but never pass judgment on others. You empathize so easily, and you don’t lose sight of others’ humanity. As awe inspiring as the world around us is, it’s also a place of evil, pain, and fear. Yet you are never cynical. You use your awareness and privilege to support and teach others whenever it’s possible.

Every day, I learn from you. I learn how to listen more deeply to others, how to give without expectation of anything in return, how to forgive. I am all push, all climb, and it’s often all I can do to hold myself together, let alone have something to give others. Your affection and support sustain me. When I’m hungry and exhausted to the point of tears, you happily walk to the grocery store and buy me my favorite foods. You make it easy to feel grateful, not guilty. You have the best kind of strength: that which strengthens others.

I vow to be a true partner to you, learning every day from your example of kindness and always empowering you to grow and reach for more. I vow to be a loving, responsible parent to our children and to always put our family and our partnership first. I vow to seek to understand and to appreciate you for who you are. Our love will change through the years as our lives change and we ourselves do, too. I do not fear this change, and welcome it with open arms, trusting the strength of our commitment and the depth of our delight in and affection for one another. I love you expansively, Bobby, and cherish each moment that we have spent and will spend together.

Back in the day, my roommate was this handsome gentlemen to my left, Kevin. One day, I came home and we sat down at the TV to play Super Smash Bros. Melee, as we often did. But on this particular day, I was distracted. I told him that I had just been on an interesting first date, and that there was something different about this woman. After my second date with this woman, I called my mom and told her that I met someone really special.

Sophi, it was so easy to fall in love with you, and it’s just as easy today to commit to spending the rest of my life with you.

You’re always there when things are hard for me, telling me that you believe in me. It’s so empowering to hear someone that you truly respect tell you that you’re capable of something. It helps me overcome the parts of me that fear that I cannot. Your encouragement and support inspire me to be brave and to try new things, even ones that seem small, like spicy food.

Just the other night, I ate medium curry.

You’re constantly engaged with the world around you. Often in my life I have done things without really considering why, but you always seem to be deliberate. I remember when you pushed me to reflect on my passion for video games. You helped me understand, for myself, why I wanted to invest so much time into competitive gaming. It is in large part thanks to you that I went from just competing, to doing things like leading movements, promoting discourse, and raising money for charity. I always valued the community I’m a part of, but I’ve shifted from passively participating to actively working to make it better.

You have an amazing ability to sniff out injustice wherever it exists, and you have a strength of conviction that allows you to stand up for what you believe to be right. Your example challenges me to pay attention to the world around me, and to continuously re-calibrate my moral compass. When I look back on the last 3 years, I am proud to be able to say that I’ve been the change I wish to see in the world more fully than ever before.

Growth isn’t always easy, and is often painful. But after we’ve had a fight or a disagreement and we start talking through it together, I get butterflies knowing that we’re going to figure it out and be stronger than ever. And we always have.

For all of these reasons, Sophi, I’m so proud to have someone like you as my wife and partner.

I enter into this marriage without the expectation of perfection, and with a commitment to always make my best effort to understand you. I vow to always adore, love, and support you, and to ensure that asking for my help feels easy and safe. I vow to be an active father who shares equally in the responsibilities and joys of parenthood. Most of all, I vow to always treat you with the same dignity, respect, and love that I’ve shown thus far, and I vow to never stop insisting that we be on the same team.

I believe in you so strongly, and I know that you are capable of changing the world. I love you, Sophi, and I’m so excited to be marrying you.

I will now lead the couple in their final vows.

I, Sophi, take you, Bobby (Sophi repeats)

And I, Bobby, take you, Sophi (Bobby repeats)

(The following are repeated in unison.)

To be my partner in life and love
From this day forward,
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
until we are parted by death.

I, Sophi, give you this ring as a symbol of my love and commitment to you.

I, Bobby, give you this ring as a symbol of my love and commitment to you.

We will close today with a quote from the late Carl Sagan, one of the couple’s favorite thinkers. In his book Cosmos, he writes in the dedication to his wife Ann Druyan,

“In the vastness of space and the immensity of time, it is my joy to share a planet and an epoch with Annie.”

By the power vested in me by the state of California, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may share your first kiss as newlyweds!

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