If someone says they’ve been married more than once, in mainstream US culture the listener would assume the speaker got married, divorced, and then married someone else. Sure, there have been cases where people remarry the same spouse, most notably celebrities. Generally, other than renewing vows, most people don’t have more than one wedding with the same person.
For queer couples, however, it is not unusual to have had multiple marriages to the same spouse. Some friends of mine have had more than a half-dozen ceremonies: one religious not legal, one legal not religious that was then voided by the state, a big ceremony in their hometown for friends and family who couldn’t travel, and then, recently, another legal ceremony.
I thought of this because my friends Alan & Steven recently asked me to officiate their legal ceremony. They had a big synagogue wedding nearly three years ago where friends and family fêted them during a beautiful ceremony and later at a delicious bay-side dinner reception.
Our rabbi had officiated for their first wedding but, for this ceremony, they wanted something simpler with a few close friends present. I was honored and touched that they asked me to make their very real and very loving relationship legal in the eyes of all governmental agencies.
I started in with my standard questions such as: Which rituals, if any, would you like to include? Do you have any favorite readings? Would you like for me to mention the name of someone who is no longer living or can’t be present? And so on.
They replied that there was no reason to include typical rituals, since they’d already done all that the last time. Their instructions to me were “simple and legal.” Perfect, I thought, and some ideas immediately started coming to mind.
In many, if not most cultures, the community gathers to support brides and grooms on their way to the altar. I included a touching hundreds-year-old Jewish tradition in which the town keeps a wedding ring that is used by all couples. This way, even if the couple cannot afford a wedding ring, they have one for use during their wedding ceremony.
I combined this 18th century custom with a contemporary ritual that has been used by many of my couples: a blessing of the rings. The couple gives me their rings to pass around to all those present. Each guest then holds the rings while bestowing blessings (typically silently) they wish upon the couple.
After the ring circulated amongst the guests, I asked Alan & Steven to face each other and join hands. I then had them place the communal ring, which was now imbued with loving blessings, on their beloved’s finger, as I had them repeat after me, “I give you this ring, in token and pledge of my constant faith and abiding love. With this ring, I thee legally wed.”
I’ve always found it quite queer (in the old sense of the word) that there is no separation of church and state in matters of weddings. But it is certainly to my benefit, as I love the rituals, traditions and other religious aspects I can bring to a wedding ceremony as clergy. My goal is always to make a ceremony relevant and touching to both the couple and their guests.
Steven and Alan broke glasses under their chuppah the last time…and there’s no reason not to exclaim “Mazel Tov” this time!
Howard M. Steiermann is an Ordained Ritual Facilitator based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit www.SFHoward.com.