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    Does Marriage Equate to a Loss of Freedom?

    howardI love chocolate chip cookies, hiking, and art. No, I’m not composing a relationship ad, but rather, explaining how one of my interests took me to Alcatraz to view Ai Weiwei’s art installation entitled @Large ( exhibit was terrific. The ways his works highlighted freedom moved me. I am still thinking about it two weeks later. The exhibit continues through April 26, and I highly recommend making reservations to see it.

    The installations are powerful in themselves. Witnessing them at the site of a former penitentiary sent goosebumps up my arms. As quoted from the website, “the exhibition raises questions about freedom of expression and human rights that resonate far beyond this particular place.”

    As a wedding officiant, the exhibition raised the question as to why marriage is often referred to, even jokingly, with negative references. Does marriage really equate to a loss of freedom? Some examples: Unless one is in an S & M session, “tying the knot” can be viewed in a less than loving manner. Calling a spouse “the ball & chain” is also a restrictive reference. How is it that bachelor/bachelorette parties are said to be one’s last night of freedom? If someone is referred to as “whipped,” that is typically said in a derogatory fashion. And saying that “a couple is getting hitched” sounds to me more like a trailer is getting connected to a truck than star-struck lovers!

    I don’t believe that weddings are the harbinger of loss of freedom. Rather, being in a relationship can provide the foundation to weather life’s storms.

    During these weeks while I was contemplating freedom, I attended (as a guest) a wedding extravaganza at the Nourse Theatre. I joined with hundreds of others at Dan England & Tim Seelig’s celebration of love, replete with emcee, singers, dancers, laughter, applause and standing ovations. I witnessed a couple who took the freedom to marry and bedazzled it big time! Their love shone through it all, bringing tears to my eyes. It wasn’t lost or overshadowed by all the hoopla.

    I love that, in San Francisco, such a wedding can take place. Leaving the wedding venue, I walked by our impressive City Hall and recalled the numerous times I have seen it awash in rainbow lights.

    Be it a wedding in City Hall, a house of worship, or a vineyard, the couples I marry often choose these words as they exchange rings: “I give you this ring as one small symbol of the love I feel for you, and the commitment I make to you today. With this ring, I give you your freedom and my trust in you. I give you my heart until the end of time; I have no greater gift to give.”

    I have included this set of vows as an option for my couples primarily due to the statement: “I give you your freedom and my trust in you.” It runs counter to all the sayings that, in marriage, one loses their freedom. On the contrary, I have seen individuals grow and flourish upon realizing that someone has their back.

    As the artist Ai Weiwei is quoted on the exhibition website: “The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill.”

    And as one of my couples vowed to each other, “May we grow as individuals, and delight in the elegant freedom born from mutual respect.”

    Howard M. Steiermann is an Ordained Ritual Facilitator based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit