Lately I’ve been thinking about marriage. Not surprising, really. The media attention and public furore over the possibility, no likelihood, of same sex marriages keeps the issue front and centre with sound bytes, interviews, theatrics and predictions of hellfire and damnation.
Much closer to home I’m contemplating our 30th anniversary. When I was in my twenties I used to believe that if anyone celebrated their 25th they had to be a couple of old farts. And sure enough, it’s true. Juuust kidding. It’s funny how the definition of old keeps moving out a decade or two further than where we’re at.
Things have come a long way since 1973. We were married in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Andrew by a young priest whose first language was not English. How else can I explain why he didn’t understand my objection to one particular phrase in my vows? I was required to say “love, honor and OBEY”. No such thing in Roy’s part. Much as I questioned and protested the inequity, the priest just smiled and didn’t budge from the church’s stand. And so it was.
When Greg got married last summer in the Russo Greek Orthodox Church those vows and church conventions weren’t up for debate either.
And that’s okay. I’m come to understand that churches, priests, and traditions exist for a reason. Whether those reasons are still valid or reasonable is another debate and one I won’t be tackling.
I do know that for many people marriage commissioners like me are offering an alternative. Each couple approaching me to officiate their wedding has their reasons for going the civil marriage route. Some have conflicting religious backgrounds. Some have no religious beliefs at all. For some it’s a second marriage because of death or divorce. Some do it just to avoid the parental/familial pressures that sometimes drive couples to despair.
Often couples want a hand in writing their own vows or selecting quotes and readings that reflect how they feel. Many of them desire a theme or location or options just not available to them with a church wedding. Perhaps there are children or a pregnancy to factor in. Whatever the circumstances we can make it work. In my mind, all things being equal, a civil marriage is preferable to no marriage at all.
Marriage commissioners are required to be open-minded and non-judgmental. I suspend my own beliefs because in the grand scheme it really doesn’t matter what I think. It does, however, matter what they think. I do my best to ensure that this day be as special, memorable and stress-free as possible. I give the couple as much leeway as the law will allow. I bring to them the benefit of my experience — both good and bad — of things that can and do go wrong.
My role is to help two people who love each other make a meaningful life commitment. For better or worse, it’s all about live and let live, from where I sit.
*Reprinted with permission