5 Keys to preparing couples and clergy for marriage ceremonies
Careful, deliberate and prayerful thought allows us to create celebrations worthy of the commitment and love couples share in the covenant of marriage.
When celebrating the marriage or commitment of a same-gender couple for the first time, clergy may have a host of questions and concerns. It may feel like a completely new territory or unfamiliar ground, but the desire of the couple before you is just like any other couple we counsel and serve: They come to us with love for one another and the hope of a ceremony to honor, share and seal that love before God and by law. We have a great opportunity to assist the couple in naming and seeing what is essential and important to them for this day.
These are some questions to be asked and some considerations to be observed.
Key #1: Family
A particularly sensitive conversation for same-gender couples is the one about family attendance and participation. For some couples, the family of origin is ready to celebrate their commitment, but for others, this step into marriage causes friction. Some parents, siblings or relatives may decline to be present. Aiding the couple in creating a celebration that honors their love and demonstrates their commitment to the world can be healing in the face of existing tension. The strength of love to “conquer all things” is made real in this experience.
Key #2: Language
The words used in the ceremony should reflect the wishes of the couple and be appropriate to their commitment. For example, do they wish to be referred to as spouses, life companions, life partners, husbands, or wives? Is the ceremony a wedding, celebration of marriage, holy union, marriage commitment, commitment ceremony, etc.?
Key #3: Ritual
The structure and amount of formal liturgy in the ritual should be discussed. Some couples desire a fairly traditional ceremony with adaptations. Other couples will want their spiritual commitment demonstrated and God’s presence honored, but not in highly traditional form. Talk this through with the couple so that the meaning of this life transition is powerful and reflective of their lives now and into the future. Readings, prayers, meditations, music and the vows are all opportunities for creating a beautiful and true celebration of these two lives.
Key #4: Statement of Intention/Commitment, Pledge of Support
This portion of the ceremony offers an opportunity to invite the couple to state their freely chosen intent to enter into marriage and for the family, friends, and community to state their full support of the couple in their lives together. Enveloping same-gender couples in this blanket of love and support is highly affirming and comforting as they embark on a new journey together.
Key #5: Pronouncement
Another time where language and desire intersect is the declaration of marriage. Will they be introduced as wife and wife, husband and husband, spouses, partners for life, companions for life, etc.? Will they share last names? Will the religious ceremony follow or precede a legal ceremony in a jurisdiction where marriage of same gender couples is the law? Are you only performing the religious ceremony, but not acting as an agent of the State and signing the Marriage License?
There are certainly other questions that will arise for individual clergy and particular questions for specific couples. We invite you to share questions and experiences with us here or via our Forum. We can all learn and become better equipped in more completely affirming and blessing the unions of couples in our care.
Contributed by Reverend Cedric A. HarmonContributed by Rev. Cedric A. Harmon
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