Do’s and Don’ts for Interfaith Weddings

In the 1950s, 20 percent of marriages in the U.S. were interfaith unions. By the first decade of the 21st century, the rate increased to 45 percent*. So, with so many traditions, customs, beliefs and heritages being blended like never before, it is crucial (and sometimes tricky) to honor and celebrate all that we bring to the altar without compromising the beliefs of the couple or their families.

Interfaith ceremonies are among my very favorites to create.  Perhaps it is because they offer the opportunity to incorporate so many diverse and wonderful elements. And on a personal level, I truly ‘get it.’ The key is to balance those elements, as well as provide clarity. You must understand the meaning, history and use of any religious or cultural ritual, and of course, be respectful, when performing it.

Here I am quite a few years ago, officiating a Catholic/Buddhist wedding

Here are a few do’s and don’ts when saying “I do” in an interfaith wedding.

DO

  • Have family members from each side read a blessing, prayer or perhaps a literary work or poem from their tradition.
  • Offer readings or rituals in the original language and provide translations
  • Personalize religious traditions to reflect your blended family, such as creating and signing an interfaith marriage certificate.
  • Perform one ritual from each religion, for example ‘Sharing the Sign of Peace,’ and ‘Breaking the Glass.’
  • Create your own blessing or prayer reflecting your blended union and read it to your guests.
  • Illustrate each family’s support by having both sets of parents walk their children down the aisle.

Some of the details we included.

 

DON’T

  • Step on toes:  respect each family’s ties to their own religious traditions and tactfully and carefully explain how rituals from both heritages will be included.
  • Forget to explain the different religious rituals being used, sometimes the officiant can do this or include it in a program booklet.
  •  Try to satisfy everyone:  remember, the wedding ceremony is ultimately a reflection of you and your spouse.  Be gentle but firm when saying “no” to your families’ requests when necessary.
  • Try to do too much:  you can’t replicate the entire wedding ceremony of each tradition; your guests will be bored and your wedding ceremony will lose some of its intensity.  Careful editing of the ceremony elements is key.

And finally, don’t give up!  If you and your fiancé truly want an interfaith wedding, don’t throw in the towel because the challenge of multiple traditions and family pressures become overwhelming.  You can have it both ways and start your own traditions on the first day of your new life together.

It does take some work, but you can create a wedding, and a family together, by being mindful, respectful, and finding all of the common ground our diverse traditions share.

 

*Til Faith Do Us Part, Naomi Schaefer Riley

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The Receiving Line

One wedding tradition that is losing popularity is the receiving line. This custom actually dates back to more superstitious times when it was believed that anyone who touched the bride and groom would be blessed with good luck. It later evolved into the practice we are familiar with, especially for large weddings, as a way of insuring that each guest is greeted. It is a nice custom, but it does have its drawbacks.

Here are some pros and cons to consider when deciding whether you wish to have a receiving line, because, it is not required.

On the negative side the receiving line slows everyone down because it creates a big bottleneck of people leaving the ceremony. After sitting through the ceremony (which I hope was lovely and meaningful) guests would like to get up and move around, and perhaps have a snack or beverage, or get out of the sun.

Other negatives are that the line may take at least a ½ hour, and frankly, sometimes the greetings can be awkward.

Instead, to be sure you see all over your guests make a point to visit each and every their table during the reception, and you will have fulfilled the intended purpose of the receiving line, and perhaps in an even more relaxed and meaningful manner.

I recently read a survey that ranked the receiving line as one of the least favorite things at a wedding. So if you are foregoing the receiving line, you are right ‘in line’ with the latest tends.

The receiving line outside the church.

On the plus side it is still a tried and true way to insure the couple greet each and every one of their guests. It is also an important opportunity for loved ones to express their congratulations and good wishes to the couple.

If you are having an outdoor receiving line in the summer – try to be in the shade and consider having beverages or music or add some element to make it more enjoyable for those waiting in line. Or keep the greeters to only the couple and parents, leaving the bridesmaids and groomsmen free. This will make the line go much faster. By the way – it is completely ok to have the attendants in the line or not in the line – either way is totally acceptable.

If you have decided not to have a receiving line, don’t have an unintended receiving line. By this I mean that after recessing, the bridal party finds themselves standing at the back of the ceremony area. Then, if they are unsure of what to do and where to go – guests begin departing, and, viola! a receiving line begins (albeit an unintended one). So plan where you’re headed after that recessional to avoid the pile up!

Whatever you decide, remember, you always have choices – it’s your wedding!

 Thank you Rob Lettieri for the lovely photo

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To DIY or Not to DIY? that is the question!

With all the Pinterest pages, facebook posts, and the newest wedding gurus filling our heads with ideas, its difficult not to get caught up in a million cool little details you must have for your wedding. The rustic signage, the hay bales, the mason jars, the table numbers, and the amazing arbor your beloved will surely build for you – each one calling you. How do you keep yourself from going crazy?

A simple but beautiful place setting.

The simplest answer is to only do it yourself if it is something you actually know how to do yourself. Don’t decide to create or craft something if you’ve never done this before. Countless times people have visited my home and seen a piece of art created by a friend of mine and said: ‘I could do that.’ To which I reply – ‘no, no you couldn’t.’

Things can look deceptively simple when they are not.  In fact, sometimes that is the hallmark of good work, the simplicity. But well made crafts take experience and skill. Of course most of us can put candy in a bag for favors, even me, and that’s fine, go for it! But please don’t take on a major project unless you truly have the skill set.

Leave the complex stuff to the professionals. It really is worth paying talented people to do what they do best. If you are trying to save money with the DIY approach, it usually doesn’t work out that way.

And remember, there are many things that, instead of doing it yourself, you can simply do without. Wedding programs are one of those things. Save-the-dates are another. Many little dodads, or ‘chotchkies,’ that in the end really don’t matter. What does matter is a quality wedding ceremony, family and friends, good food and music, and fantastic photographs.

Some professional details.

Centerpieces are tricky. You can do-it-yourself but a truly professional floral arrangement is something to behold. Candles can always work (indoors, that is). Just remember that all the spray-paint and sparkly stuff looks great in the photos, but sometimes turns out quite tacky.

If you think you’d like to try your hand at one of the many ideas out there, do so well in advance. But do exactly that – try it – and be open to the idea that it may not work. Don’t leave it to just before the wedding, assuming you’ll provide the centerpiece, ceremony décor, or other items, only to find you can’t pull it off. The week before the wedding is often an emotional whirlwind.

Just about every couple I’ve married has told me that wedding planning was more work and more difficult than they’d anticipated. Why make it any harder on yourself?

Gorgeous professional centerpiece.

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the wonderful photos

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Cool thoughts on a hot day

Summer’s in full swing here in the Poconos. It’s pretty hot, so I thought I’d write about something cool: fall and winter weddings. After all, now is the time to make plans (if you haven’t already!)

Fall is rich with color and the fullness of harvest, and winter, in contrast, is more sparse. Look carefully at your date and try to assess what will work best. I once attended a late fall wedding that the couple had decorated with a winter theme. It turned out to be quite a warm day and the entire décor felt out-of-place. Autumn is like that – you just never know what you’ll get. On October 31 it could be 80degrees of 30 degrees. So you just have to prepare for options, especially if you are planning some time outdoors.

Autumn makes a beautiful backdrop.

Remember that while you may not mind being outside in the cold, some of your guests, especially older family members, may mind quite a bit.

Here are some tips for the cooler weather wedding.

For outdoor ceremonies serve warm beverages. Indoors, how about a hot chocolate ‘bar’ to make your own, including marshmallows, caramel, and liquors such as Kahlua, Rum, Bailey’s or Peppermint Schnapps all compliment hot beverages.

A basket of blankets is also great. Collect them from your friends, roll them up, tie with a ribbon and put in a basket. Practically free but very usefull!

Another beautiful Lisa Rhinehart photograph

Is a bonfire possible? There’s nothing quite like it, complete with toasted marshmallows.  Don’t forget the smoores.

Toasted marshmallows!!

Plan a seasonal menu with a hearty soups, county style bread, and classic comfort foods.

Be sure to have beautiful shawls for your bridesmaids and a cool looking ‘shrug’ for warmth for the bride, in case it is cold. Some venue have outdoor gas heaters you can rent. They are very cozy.

In straddling the seasons, between fall and winter, remember that simple white, black and white, or brown and white, always works. I have quite a few November weddings – is that a fall or winter wedding? Darned if I know.

A cozy ceremony in front of a fireplace is great – just don’t stage it too close – I’ve had that experience and it’s not fun! It looked amazing, but we were really, really hot standing there.

Arrive in a horse drawn carriage and take your guests for a hayride, to capture that seasonal feel.

Consider a bouquet of wheat sheaves or other classic dried flowers, also great for the décor.

Bring some boots for extended times outdoors for picture taking.

Embrace the changes of the seasons.

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the wonderful photos

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Unusual or too far out?

I have officiated some unusual and unique weddings. How far out is too far? I don’t know the answer to that, but the weddings I’ve done in various locations, with a variety of themes, and seemed reasonable (and fun) to me.

Marrying people at the top of a mountain and by waterfalls has been absolutely wonderful – but remember this is not something that can be done with a lot of guests.

By a waterfall - louder than you may realize!

The challenges for extreme locations are seating and hearing what is going on. These are best for elopements or very small groups. Sometimes even getting in and out can be a problem. All of the locations that I officiated at were off-the-beaten-path and required some amount of special transportation or hiking.

The ocean is also loud, the sand is hot, but its still great.

There is a wonderful tree-house in Nay Aug park in Scranton – it’s very cool – and I’m happy to say I have officiated there! Don’t forget the woods and the beach. Of course in the Poconos we don’t have the ocean, that’s why I once travel to the New Jersey shore. I just wanted to have that experience. However, we do have lakes and rivers here, and I’ve officiated by the water quite a few times.

On the dock by the lake!

For theme weddings I’ve officiated for a truly romantic couple who drew their inspiration from the world or wizards, warlocks and the Renaissance. They wore period clothing and recessed under the crossed swords of their bridesmaids and groomsmen!  I had a couple who used their passion for hunting and nature as a theme and wore camo inspired dresses and camo vests for the men, and carried their theme throughout the entire celebration. And I once officiated a wedding in the Jim Thorp Jail – not for inmates, it’s an historic site. I almost forgot: there was the wedding in the couple’s stables (they were equestrians) and on the roof of Skytop for two pilots.

Yes, that is the cell door in the jail.

I created a musical wedding incorporating the bride’s choral group. The singing functioned as a ‘Greek Chorus,’ the collective voice that helped bring out the themes through short musical interludes.

Cool 'camo' vests for the guys.

There was the vampire inspired ceremony, with a small nod to that passion, through a reading and a few humorous references. They did not dress as vampires, but did have a few subtle touches here and there.

I can’t remember every interesting place I’ve officiated, and I wish I had photos of them all, but I do know they all had their own magic, and I never felt any of it was inappropriate.

Everyone wore the camo.

I have read about some pretty extreme ceremonies. There are nude weddings, and I actually once got an inquiry about that, but to my relief, they never followed up.

I’ve also read about fairy-tale weddings, under-water weddings, hot air balloon weddings, sky-diving weddings, and all sorts of extreme places and ways to say “I do.”

So what is weird and what is wonderful? Like, beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder.

 

Thank you JF+AB Photography for the photo for the camp wedding. see them all here! 

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Tying the Knot

We all know the expression: ‘tying the knot’ – it simply means getting married. But where does this phrase come from? There are many different stories, in different communities throughout the world. It is certainly one of the oldest wedding traditions we know. Here are a few of these origin stories, and some ritual ideas involving literally tying the knot for your wedding ceremony.

A cord or a cloth may be used.

Some research indicates this originated in the Roman Empire when the bride wore a garment that was tied with knots. The groom had to untie the knots to consummate their marriage. This custom then grew into the tying of hands together for the ceremony, similar to how we think of it now. The consummation of the marriage was extremely important because the expectations for marriage (even not so long ago) was two-fold: a wife was to provide services, that is work, such as cooking, cleaning, farming, and many other tasks, and was to bear children. Marriage was not about love way back when! Not at all.

Another story has it that sailors and soldiers, gone from home, would send a piece of rope to their sweethearts when they wanted to get married. If the rope was returned with a knot, it meant yes. This is a bit more romantic.

In the Hindu tradition the bride and groom each tie a necklace of flowers around one another, so they, too are tying the knot, and the Hawaiian lei tradition is similar.

Most popular today is the Celtic version, the ancient ‘handfasting’ ceremony that comes from the pre-Christian era.This is the one I usually reference. One narrative has it that couples would commit to a trial marriage for one year and one day, with a handfasting ceremony. Then, if they wished to remain together they could marry. It’s a nice story and if true, would have been very empowering for the bride and groom, giving them a chance to get to know one another before committing to a lifetime together.

Today the handfasting is used as a marriage ritual and there is no right or wrong way to do it. I have performed this many times and in as many different ways. You can use a cloth or cord and your officiant can wrap or tie it, or you may choose a special person, perhaps parents, or a friend, to do the honors. The coupe joins hands, sometimes crossing their wrists making the sign of infinity, and the cloth is wrapped around their hands, if a cord is used, it can be tied in a knot. This can be done during the exchange of vows, or just as a ritual unto itself. There is a special blessing that can be said or any reading or poem could used, if it expresses your intent.

Another way to ‘tie the knot’ is to have the couple takes two cords and tie them together using the fisherman’s knot. They then pull it from each end to show the strength of their union. This is tricky, though – please do practice it!

Tying or wrapping the cloth.

There are many different kinds of knots, if you’re using actual cord, and the type of knot you chose could be meaningful for you. ‘The Fisherman’s Knot’, known as true lovers knot because it is one of the strongest knots. ‘God’s Knot’ – consists of three cords representing the trinity. The ‘Infinity Knot’ forms the symbol of infinity and is popular with Wiccan couples. The ‘Mystic Knot’ is part of feng shui practice and is shaped like the mystic knot – and believed to bless the marriage with good luck, harmony and longevity.

So if you are planning on tying the knot, perhaps you’ll want to tie a knot for your ceremony!

Thank you Garth Woods for the photos from Harmony Gardens.

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Surprise Wedding!

The idea of a surprise wedding is not new to me – I’ve done a few of them over the years. Let’s be completely clear here – the wedding is not a surprise to one of the two people being married! That would (#1) be completely unethical, as a marriage must be a mutually agreed upon commitment, and (#2) impossible, at least from a legal point of view, because to obtain a license both parties must apply together. (I suppose if you got the license but one of the two people didn’t know the exact date, that might qualify as a surprise wedding, in which case they’d have already agreed to marry.)

So clearly I’m not talking about surprising a partner, as they did on Good Morning America last year. That was just a terrible idea! And I’ll bet it wasn’t legal either.

No, what I’m talking about is a wedding this is a surprise to the guests!

Surprise!

There are several ways to do this and several reasons. I love them all.

One way is to plan a party of some kind, something that makes complete sense and doesn’t tip off the guests. For one surprise wedding I officiated, the couple had recently bought a house and also become engaged. They invited family and friends to a house warming. I arrived and played it low-key. The couple disappeared for a moment, and re-appeared dressed in full wedding attire. A huge group gasp was heard, then tremendous laughter and cheering.

One caveat is that you risk the possibility that someone important to you may not be in attendance. To avoid this you may have to divulge your plans. This is tricky. If you tell one or two people your secret, will the word get out? Will anyone be upset by this? And do you care if they are?

Another surprise wedding I officiated took place at the couple’s annual summer party at their cabin on the river. The usual suspects were in attendance, as always, and again, the couple disappeared and came back out a little dressed up. The parents were in on this one and helped with the details. It was fantastic.

Why would anyone even want to do this? Well, for one thing, they may not want gifts and a big hullabaloo. They simply want to be with their closest family and friends. It may also appeal to their sense of humor, or they just like the surprise aspect. But I do believe that it is because they dread the pressure that sometimes comes with weddings.

The surprise wedding is a good alternative to elopement. Many couples choose to elope for those same reasons, or because of the expense, or to avoid family drama.

For a second marriage couples feel freer to choose an alternative to the more traditional wedding they may have had on the first go-round.

A surprise wedding is not something most people would do, but there are those rare couples, for those very particular reasons, that find this idea appealing, and if so, I say ‘go for it.’

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Weddings are Ritualistic

I often write about specific cultural rituals and traditions, but recently a bride said to me, ‘what if I don’t want any rituals in my wedding?’  That would be difficult because everything about a wedding ceremony is ritualistic and/or traditional. Walking down the aisle is a ritual. Exchanging vows and exchanging rings are rituals. Having someone escort you down the aisle – also ritual. Carrying a bouquet is traditional, wearing a white dress as well!

 

Wearing white is very traditional.

 

In fact, the entire concept of a wedding is in itself a ritual. But of course I knew what she meant – no additional, special cultural or religious rituals added.  So I thought it might be interesting to explore some of the most basic of customs.

Walking down the aisle and giving away the bride.

Giving Away the Bride. The tradition of a father escorting his daughter, to ‘give her away,’ is clearly an old and quite patriarcal. Today, at least in our culture, we understand that fathers no longer ‘own’ their daughters, and then give them to a man to take possession – but this is the origin of this ritual. But many a woman has dreamed of the day her dad will walk her down the aisle, and we all simply agree it is a lovely moment for a father and daughter, even in our modern times, and leave go of all that baggage. Interestingly in the Jewish wedding both parents escort the bride, and many other people are going in that direction.

Rings have a long history. Some people believe rings are the oldest known wedding tradition and there is evidence going back to ancient Egypt, about 4800 years, of the use of twisted, braided papyrus placed on women’s fingers. But it was in 860 AD that rings were first used in Christian weddings, and they have been a part of weddings ever since.

Rings are an ancient symbol.

There are various theories about why the fourth finger of the left hand is used. It’s often thought that the left hand, fourth finger is used because there is a vein called “Vena Amoris” (vein of love) that connects directly to the heart. This is absolutely false, but we cling to this story anyway because it’s quite charming. A more likely explanation is that as a priest recited ‘in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’, he would take the ring and touch the thumb, the index finger, and the middle finger; then, while uttering “Amen”, he would place the ring on that fourth finger, which sealed the marriage. That’s as good a theory as any, I suppose, but I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.

Often there is confusion about the ‘I do’ part and the exchanging of vows. These are two separate things. One is the question, sometimes called the monitum, i.e.: ‘do you take this person to be your wife/husband?’ If the couple answers in the question in the affirmative, they may go ahead and exchange their vows. By the way, the question to the guests: ‘is there anybody here who objects’, is something I never include, and neither do most modern officiants.

No matter how ‘out of the box’ or creative my couples wish to be, there are still so many ways a ceremony is tradition and relates to the past, even while moving forward into the future. There is no danger that any wedding I create won’t look like a wedding!

Weddings ceremonies are, in and of themselves, very ritualistic and traditional, and that is what we love about them. They give us a sense of place in the world, a connection to the past and to the promise of the future. Weddings also connect us all though the collective familiarity and sharing of a special time together.

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the wonderful photos

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How to be the Best Guest, Ever!

I write a lot about wedding ceremonies, and try to inspire couples to focus on the true meaning of their wedding. I expound on the entire experience, for the couple getting married.

But today I’m going to talk about all of us who attend weddings. Don’t you want to be the best guest ever? If so, here are a few useful tips.

RSVP – you’d be surprised how many people do NOT! Please respond in a timely manner, and give all the information requested (meal choice, number attending). By the way, if you are not attending, and if you can afford it, send a gift.

Be on time. Leave extra time for getting lost, unknown parking situations and traffic. Don’t be that person running into the ceremony after its already begun. I have seen that all too often, and believe me, it’s not a good thing. However, if it does happen, quietly slide into a seat, don’t hover in the back, please.

Do not skip the ceremony. I understand that when the ceremony and reception are held in different places, there is that awkward ‘down time.’ That is regrettable. And some people do not wish to attend a religious ceremony when they not familiar or comfortable with the faith tradition. Only you can decide, but when weighing the pros and cons, try lean on the side of attending. The ceremony is the part where the couple is getting married – this is the real reason you were invited – to witness and support this huge milestone in their lives. Please keep this in mind.

Don't skip the ceremony.

Remember to silence, or better yet, completely turn off your phone. Only doctors and other emergency professionals get a pass on this. Limit your photos as well. Chances are the couple has a professional photographer and your cell phone pix aren’t going to nearly as good. Please pay attention during the ceremony and stop taking photos or videos. Even if you’re bored – please fake it!

Don’t post photos of the couple on social media – especially before they have had a chance to do so. It’s their moment to share when they want, and with whom they want. That goes for video, too. And if doing social media – use the couple’s hash-tag, Instagram, tweet, facebook or other platform in the way they request.

Participate in anything that is asked. Special dance? Do it! Sign the guest tree, scrap book, quilt, wish jar, or any number of personalized do-dads that are asked of you.

If you have to leave early please stay until the cake is cut. When leaving be sure to say goodbye to the couple and all parents and thank them. Don’t sneak out.

Wait for the Cake

Don’t over indulge. Don’t be the drunk who wrecks the whole affair or simply says something they should not.

Put your full name and address of on your wedding card and/or gift, preferably on the back of the card as you would if you were mailing it. It’s a subtle but useful way to make it easier for them to send out their thank you notes.

Smile, dance if you can, and have a great time!

 

Enjoy the wedding!

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the wonderful photos

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Marriage should be based on equality

I’d like to talk about two things that are related in an unusual way: equality in marriage and marriage equality. This week PA took a big step forward when a Federal Judge struck down the ban on same-sex marriage. So marriage equality has arrived in our fine state. I also want to talk about equality in marriage.

And because language really matters and words have meaning, they can carry baggage, I am very specific in the language I use with couples in their ceremonies. For example, almost no one wants to hear ‘love, honor and obey’ in a modern wedding ceremony, and most officiants do not use those words any longer. This is because most people believe that marriage is a partnership based on equality. It doesn’t mean that there are no differences between people. It doesn’t mean that we can’t divide our responsibilities, even along more traditional gender lines, if we so choose. But it does mean that two people joining together for a life-long relationship expect each to put their best and fair share into the relationship.

With that in mind, I like to be sure that the words I use also reflect that idea equality, and couples I work with welcome that. When we get married we are joining in a partnership, one that I hope is truly based on mutual respect, trust and caring. There are many ways to be sure your wedding reflects this sense of equality.

Marriage should be based on equality, in whatever way that means for you.

Instead of having a father ‘give away’ his daughter, have him ‘present’ and/or ‘support’ her, and while we’re at it – why not do the same for the groom?

Use the terms husband and wife, not man and wife. The equivalent of man is woman, not wife. For same sex couples I always ask how they want to be pronounced and announced. Usually it’s something like ‘I now pronounce you married!’ But there are many ways one can do this.

Do not be presented as Mr. and Mrs. John Smith – even if a woman is taking the man’s last name, don’t leave out her first name – its almost like she’s disappeared into him.

Don’t shy away from terms like partner, because that’s what you are: partners!

If you are writing your own vows, and keeping them secret, make sure each of you has written something of about the same length, with the same feel and tone. Have someone (hopefully your officiant) check that out for you both!

I know many girls have dreamed of that moment when they hear the words: ‘You may kiss the bride.’ But don’t we really kiss each other? I prefer to say, ‘You may kiss,’ or ‘You may seal your promise with a kiss.’ See the difference?

If you think I’m nit-picking or this doesn’t matter, that’s ok. But for some people these details mean a lot.

And as to marriage equality –  the rights of gay and lesbian couples to be married with all the same advantages and legal rights that straight people have – remember, marriage is a legal government sanctioned status. Marriage isn’t gay or straight – its just marriage.

Love is love.

Faith traditions or all kinds still have the right to marry or not marry couples as they deem fit.  After all, the Roman Catholic Church, for example, will not marry people who are divorced or marry couples if one of them is not Catholic. That is totally their right, and no law permitting gay couples to marry can change that.

But I believe that government should not be in the business of denying rights, but rather expanding rights. It’s the way America as grown and moved forward over the years. And although some people have a hard time with these changes, just as they did with civil rights for African-Americans and other groups, or with inter-racial marriage, and many other changes, this too shall pass. As Dr King said: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’  We’re getting there!

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the wonderful photos 

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    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Follow her on Pinterest, ... Read Full
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