Getting married and being an atheist seems to be causing a lot of grief to some people. Walking down the aisle in the white-gown does have its attractions, but Church and atheism don’t really go together.

Marriage ceremonies around the world, and the beautiful buildings some of them are held in, can be quite breathtaking, why wouldn’t you want to do what lots of other people do? Because as an atheist you aren’t comfortable having ‘God’ involved in your vows. Like myself, who got married in a church out of ‘tradition’ and to not offend the parents (mine, hers wouldn’t have cared), you will regret it later, because you will realise what a hypocrite you had been.

A wedding is a big day, it is a public demonstration that you love your partner so much, you want to spend the rest of your life together. This doesn’t have to occur in a church, or with any religious overtones, to still be a beautiful thing and to mean something to you, your partner, family and friends.

There are non-religious celebrants in most places these days and you can hold the ceremony anywhere you want. The wedding should be about you and your partner, the vows should express what you both want out of life together.

Why am I saying all this? Well I just received a new comment on a previous post called wedding blues (written after receiving a cry for help from another reader – I hope things turned out alright for her). This new commenter, Sarah, has a similar quandary. I’ve re-posted her comment below:

I’m having a similar quandary here. My boyfriend of four years and I are deeply committed to each other. We will both be graduating from college soon and moving in together. Several of our friends are getting married and we are starting to get the “so when are you going to get married” questions. I had always thought that even though I am not religious, I would have a semi-traditional wedding, just because I hadn’t thought of anything else. The older I get, the less ok I am with taking part in a tradition that it bound up with so many things I disagree with, whether or not they are taken as such today.

I know that I love this man and I want to be with him for the rest of our lives. I would like to have some sort of ceremony/party to show this to others (I don’t know why, maybe I’m just incapable of being strong enough to forgo the cultural pressures of “proving it” to everyone else)

I’m totally lost however as to what such a ceremony would entail and why I would even bother. As far as I see it, the term “marriage” means one of two possible things

1) A spiritual union blessed by a religious organization
2) A legal contract

I have problems with both of these, the first is easy. However the second is more problematic. I believe marriage as a legal entity should be abolished and then people can create their own individual contracts with whomever they see fit. That is why the whole are argument over gay marriage is missing the point. Marriage as a legal contract, and the rights that go along with it, devalue non-traditional relationships, gays and lesbians and singles.

Ergo, if I have a ceremony, I will not be married in the eyes of a deity or the government, So, what the hell is the point? If I have a ceremony of some sort, just because I want one, is that shallow and cheap? Are people going to ask what is the point? How can I explain myself without seeming to criticise their decision to get married? AHHHH….I am a strong woman but damnit, sometimes I cant get over visions of the two of us on a cliff, and a pretty dress and flowers.

I’m not even sure if there is a question there, sorry for the rant. I’m just a bit lost right now.

Firstly, I think you can still have a semi-traditional wedding without any of the religious overtones, you’ll just have to put in a bit more effort (unless you have a good non-religious celebrant handy).

I don’t think it’s ‘weak’ to “prove it” to everyone else. Think of it more like a celebration, you have parties with all your family and friends for birthdays, especially big ones like 21st, why not when you get ‘married’ (in whatever form you choose)?

Yes marriage is a legal contract, whether you do it in a church or down at the registry, and in lots of countries you don’t need to get married to still enjoy all the legal benefits.

You could just live together, have a ‘living together’ party, and still enjoy most of the legal recognition and benefits. The difference with gays and lesbians is that they get no legal recognition. (at least that’s the case in Australia, de facto relationships – heterosexual ones at least – are provided with nearly all the same legal rights as married couples).

I think you may be missing the point of the whole legal aspect of marriage. The legal rights are, in the most part, there to protect you both. Being married confers various rights and benefits, such as: Filing joint income tax returns with the IRS and state taxing authorities; Inheriting a share of your spouse’s estate; Receiving Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits for spouses; You have the right to visit your spouse in a hospital and make medical decisions for them. It can also entitle you to buy a house together without having to sign an extra legal agreement.  Check this site (where I got most of the above rights from) for a long list of benefits for being legally married and a brief discussion on the lack of benefits to same sex couples. As the link says:

… many of the benefits of marriage won’t apply to you, because the federal government does not recognize these same-sex relationships.

Having a ceremony, of what ever type you both choose, does not make you shallow and cheap. Hopefully, as I’ve previously said, you have it to celebrate with family and friends. One would hope that your family and friends would be happy you are getting married and would want to show their joy and commitment to your relationship.

Being married can, at times, be very difficult, having family and friends who witnessed your nuptials who can then help you through the difficult times can be quite beneficial.

There’s nothing wrong with a pretty dress and flowers, even the toughest woman is allowed to be feminine now and again.

I’m not sure if I’ve helped at all, I’m not even sure if this makes any sense.  Anyway what the heck would I know, I’m no marriage expert, especially at the moment.

Whatever you do, don’t do it because others want you to. Do some research; find out what options there are in your State for non-religious marriages. Discuss with your partner if marriage is really right for you both, it’s not compulsory after all.

cheers for now,

Help from others with Sarah’s plight would be appreciated, I’m sure, so please leave a comment.

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7 Comments to “More Wedding Blues”

  1. Karen says:

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting a ceremony, and nothing says it has to involve religion. One of the nicest weddings I ever attended was a medium-size event organized in a hall overlooking a picturesque bay. The ceremony itself was conducted by a judge, and the reception was not elaborate but very pleasant. They didn’t need to get carried away with lots of decorations — the hall had these big windows, and nothing could beat the view for decor!

    Do think carefully about what you might want in a ceremony. Look around for stories of unusual ceremonies; they might give you some ideas. Remember that ANY part of the “traditional” ceremony can be changed to suit you. I had a church wedding, but my husband-to-be walked in together rather than having my dad “give” me away. Didn’t bother Dad in the least, thank goodness.

    I understand your wish to express solidarity with non-traditional couples who aren’t permitted the privileges and protections of legal marriage, but that isn’t necessarily the best choice you can make for each other, and for any children you might have. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in accepting civil marriage for yourself, as long as you stay active in trying to promote it for everyone else.

    Personally, I’d like to see government get out of the marriage business altogether. Anybody who wants a legal contract should be able to have one (as long as they are of age!) and “marriage” should be a religious institution. The church can’t establish the validity of the contract, and the government can’t impose doctrine of any sort on the participants. People who want a legal union and a religious marriage just have to get both. Civil unions for all!

  2. possummomma says:

    It sounds, to me, like Sarah does not want to get married. I say, if you have that many doubts or reservations, then it’s probably not ‘right’. And, if the relationship you have is working out under the current understandings between two people, then tell the Wedding Cheerleaders to go to hell. If it aint’ broke, then don’t fix it. I think a lot of people push marriage because we still live in an age where sex is something to be ashamed of…and getting married, in the eyes of some, makes that sex okay. It’s bullshit, but I really think some of the pressure comes from that sort of narrow-minded approach.

    That said, Pdaddy and I had a secular wedding (even though, at that time, we were both Catholic). I had issues with the Church and, though I wanted to continue being a Catholic (at that point), I didn’t want the Church presiding over my wedding. So, we found an old victorian home with a beautiful garden and got married in that garden with only our nearest and dearest friends and family. Since I came into the marriage with two children, who Pdaddy adopted, the ceremony was important for them. I know it sounds hokey, but it really sealed us as a family. But, I’m of the opinion that that bond can be celebrated in thousands of ways. Just like marriage… your marriage should be for you and not your family or friends. Put in the pieces that are important to you. If you have a special place, as a couple, and you want to formalize your living arrangements (to enjoy some of the legal benefits of marriage or whatever), then YOU make the rules for your wedding.

    Love is beautiful. It should be celebrated. I can understand your desire to sit in solidarity with those who can’t marry legally right now. But, I think that’s a disservice to what love is about.

  3. wineymomma says:

    I think both Oz and Karen are exactly right…this is all a matter of personal choice…

    If you are looking at a legal union you must do you research because every where you go will have different rules and timelines!

  4. Sarah says:

    Thanks for all your posts…

    “It sounds, to me, like Sarah does not want to get married. I say, if you have that many doubts or reservations, then it’s probably not ‘right’. And, if the relationship you have is working out under the current understandings between two people, then tell the Wedding Cheerleaders to go to hell. ”

    -I suppose I’m having trouble separating “I want to stay with this man forever” from “we have to get married” I know one does not neccesarily mean the other its just how its always been put to me.

    “I know it sounds hokey, but it really sealed us as a family”

    -That doesnt sound hokey, thats what I hope a ceremony of some sort would do for us but I’m just so skeptical, I have trouble believing that a nice day, some nice words and a legal contract are going to somehow solidify our feelings more than they would be without them. Maybe that’s something I’ll just never know for sure unless I do it…

    I know that its terribly unromantic to be so concerned with political and social issues when considering marriage but its such a big decision that I dont want to do it without thinking about all the possible repercussions and knowing exactly how I feel about it. If I’m going to get married I certainly dont want to regret any part of it later.

    Oh and just to clarify, even if we do decide to get officially married sometime it will still be quite a few years. The “marriage cheerleaders” are definanlty gonna have to go to hell for at least a couple years ;)

    Thanks for all your posts and such. Feel free to keep sharing, I’ll take all the advice I can get!

  5. Poodles says:

    My husband and I got married in the catholic church. He is catholic, I am an atheist (I crossed my fingers during all of the god part :) ). We did it for legal simplicity as well as wanting to committ to each other. It makes, taxes, insurance, buying major purchases, bank accounts and even visiting in the hospital much easier.

    This has to be your choice though. If we had it to do over again, we would have gone to vegas with some friends and called it good. A big wedding for us ended up being more headache than worth it.

    Best of luck.

  6. ozatheist says:

    One last thing, if you do go ahead and have a wedding, don’t spend too much!

    After all, it’s only one day. It doesn’t have to be lavish and extravagant, and you don’t have to out-do everyone else, for it to still be memorable.

  7. Got married when I was more of a Buddhist ans my wife a Lutheran in a Uniting church. We will renew our vows this year and it will be all secular :)

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