A Beautiful Secular Wedding September 24, 2010

A Beautiful Secular Wedding

A few months ago, I asked people for their secular wedding vows — what they said at their weddings that had nothing to do with anything godly — and they delivered.

Steven and Rea got married back in July. Since their wedding took place after my posting, Rea promised she’d update me with information about what they did throughout the ceremony.

And the wait was worth it. This wedding sounds (and looks) like it was amazing.

We released Painted Lady butterflies instead of having the bride given away. The parents released them symbolizing the release of children into the world. The chemical reaction of ammonium iron sulfate and potassium hexacyanoferrate to form Prussian Blue was our unity ceremony.

When we kissed, rockets launched. In lieu of favors, we donated over $500 to the Nature Conservancy, the ACLU, and the National Center for Science Education.

Our first dance was to “I’m Your Moon” by Jonathan Coulton. I’ll attach our Save The Date and the Program.

In case you missed the reference in the Save the Date card, that’s an homage to XKCD.

I approve of math humor in wedding programs.

And the script for the wedding was as follows:

Dearest friends and beloved family, we are gathered here to bear witness to the marriage of Rea Manderino and Steven Waner. It is our privilege to be present and to be able to share our love of them as they begin their one life together.

We begin with this poem by E B White: The Spider’s Web (A Natural History)

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.

Rea inscribed this poem to Steven on the back of a memorable picture before she left for college in Chicago, and so, their long-distance relationship began. The poem was her promise to him that her journey out into the world was not forever, and that she would never detach from him. Neither of them was forewarned of the efforts needed to keep this connection. But, just as spiders silk is stronger than steel, their commitment to each other was resilient enough to see them through to this day. To our great delight, we now celebrate their partnership as they begin their lives together.

Entering the world is no mean feat, and none know this better than those that raise children. Parents nurture and teach their children to the best of their ability, to prepare them for their adult lives. To symbolize this transition, the families of Steven and Rea will release butterflies. The metamorphosis of these insects from squishy caterpillars to intricate adults is a transition we all go through, and just as the adult butterfly must emerge from its cocoon, so must children fly out into the world. [Butterflies are released.]

As for my introduction, I was Rea’s Residential Assistant in the housing system for her last two years of college; we graduated on the same rain-soaked day. We both had similar ideas about the importance of the housing system; it was a structure that allowed students to building meaningful relationships. We connected over this and have been close friends since. I remember many a time talking with her in the house lounge or in the kitchen and Rea would always mention her long-distance boyfriend Steve. The more we talked, the more I began to appreciate the deep connection between the two of them and their passion for each other. The first time I saw Steve, I was never properly introduced. I simply saw a glimpse of Steve’s back as Rea dragged him towards her room. I was finally introduced to Steve over a game of Guitar Hero.

I got to know Steve better through his visits to Rea and from Rea’s stories about him. Steve is not a man of many words, but when he speaks he does so with confidence and conviction. His time in the military, as both an enlisted soldier and as an officer, has helped shape him as a leader. He is deeply versant in his field and able to complete the tasks given to him. At the same time, he understands the efforts undertaken by his subordinates who reciprocate with respect and deference.

Looking beyond today, Rea will soon be heading to the University of Virginia to pursue here Masters degree in Environmental Science. Her ambition is to preserve and protect all of Earth’s creatures. Steve is working at the Missile Defence Agency, working to destroy evil. With all this that they have to look forward to, more important is the fundamental change they make today by entering into marriage.

This change will be both emotional and intellectual. Emotionally, the love between these two will expand and deepen, so that no force could drive them apart. Intellectually, they will learn more and more about their partner’s psyche and grow to appreciate all aspects of each other’s minds. Their hearts and minds will become as one.

Allow me to continue with a second reading, by Robert G. Ingersoll:

Marriage is the most important, the most sacred, contract that human beings can make. No matter whether we call it a contract, or a sacrament, or both, it remains precisely the same. And no matter whether this contract is entered into in the presence of magistrate or priest, it is exactly the same. A true marriage is a natural concord and agreement of souls, a harmony in which discord is not even imagined; it is a mingling so perfect that only one seems to exist; all other considerations are lost; the present seems to be eternal. In this supreme moment there is no shadow — or the shadow is as luminous as light. And when two beings thus love, thus unite, this is the true marriage of soul and soul. That which is said before the altar, or minister, or magistrate, or in the presence of witnesses, is only the outward evidence of that which has already happened within; it simply testifies to a union that has already taken place — to the uniting of two mornings of hope to reach the night together. The idea of contract is lost. Duty and obligation are instantly changed into desire and joy, and two lives, like uniting streams, flow on as one. Nothing can add to the sacredness of this marriage, to the obligation and duty of each to each. There is nothing in the ceremony except the desire on the part of the man and woman that the whole world should know that they are really married and that their souls have been united.

The best way I can describe this imminent change is by analogy. As a student of chemistry, I imagine Rea and Steve to be two distinct compounds [hold up two flasks]. To the naked eye, they appear similar. However, the true beauty that they bring to this world is in their combination [mix]. It is this reaction, their bonding to one another, inseparable by any force, it is this reaction that gives the world more happiness to just marvel at their love. This is something special. This is something unique. The gift of love they give each other is amplified by all here, we revelers in their mirth. This is why we’ve gathered, and this is why we praise them!

I now ask you both to answer as one:

Do you take each other in lawful matrimony? (We do.)

Will you love each other as long as you remain on the Earth? (We do.)

Will you care for one another, no matter the circumstance? (We do.)

Do you pledge your commitment to each other before your friends, your family, and the world? (We do.)

You may now place your wedding band on your partner’s finger to symbolize in noble fashion your undying love.

By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you partners in life.

Someone marry me NOW. I must take advantage of all these great ideas!

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  • VXbinaca

    Awww, how sweet. Also the photographer has a nice camera/is talented.

  • I absolutely LOVE the unity ceremony.

    And anyone who has their first dance to JoCo is automatically awesome.

    Congrats to Steven & Rea!

  • If you’re looking for secular wedding vows and ceremonies, http://offbeatbride.com is a great source. They feature weddings of ALL kinds over there. Very sweet warm fuzzies all around.

  • Mel

    Awesome! Absolutely everything. Wish I could have a do-over ceremony, LOL. Congrats to the happy couple

  • Heidi

    Science! <3 Congratulations, guys! Great wedding!

    And I agree with VXbinaca. Skilled photographer + nice camera = photographic win.

  • Katie

    Beautiful! I love how “partners in life” rhymes with “husband and wife”, but is so much better.

    In most states, the religious community has a monopoly on weddings. In North Carolina, where I live, you must be married either in a courthouse by a magistrate, or outside of a courthouse by a minister. And North Carolina and Virginia are the only two states that do not allow these minsters to have obtained their ordination via the internet. Even if they did, why should you have to pretend to be a minister in order to officiate at a wedding outside of a courthouse? Why do you need an officiant at all? You have to obtain the marriage license at the courthouse; why can’t you just sign it and have witnesses sign it and then send it back in to the courthouse to be filed? (There are actually a couple of states that allow this… Colorado and Wisconsin, I think – are there more?)

    In North Carolina, my county’s laws are driven by a state statute. I plan to write my state senator and representative about this issue. Does anyone have any other ideas about what we can do to release the stranglehold that religion has on marriage? If you want to have your wedding officiated by a minister, in or out of a church, go right ahead, but why should non-religious people be forced to have a minister officiate at their wedding ceremony because they want to get married somewhere prettier than a courthouse? Why are ministers allowed to act as a de facto government officials?

  • Thegoodman

    My own wedding was just 2 months ago and it was completely atheistic. We did not mention the word god, the readings were that of poets, and the music was completely non-traditional.

    Google “Penelope’s Theme” to hear the music my bride walked down the isle to.

    My wife (who is an MD and much more well spoken than myself) wrote the ceremony with my help and she walked down the isle by herself. The word “god” was not said one time and MANY people were crying and many also told us that it was the best wedding they had ever attended (but I am sure everyone hears that).

  • Lisa

    My husband and I got married over 8 years ago and had a god-less ceremony. We found the text to a nice ceremony online that didn’t talk about god or anything religious and we hired the local justice of the peace to come out and officiate. It was a beautiful wedding and no one was the wiser to failure of mentioning god.

  • Catinthewall

    I was hoping for a large fountain of foam from the beaker.

  • In my humble opinion, love does not require a contract nor does it prove ones love for another. A true test of love is to stay with one another, in love, without the binding contract.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    A chemistry demonstration during a wedding. Now I’ve seen everything.

  • Michelle

    Travis, I would agree, but a binding contract does have some very practical purposes.

  • Sunil

    “I now pronounce you partners in life” – nice touch!

  • muggle

    What a beautiful ceremony! I love the chemical reaction demonstration and science leaves me befuddled but how apt in a wedding ceremony. There was chemistry for sure.

    I’m marriage allergic myself but am an utter sap for others displays of binding love for one another. Although you’re right, Travis, it doesn’t make the marriage or unity ritual any less important. No one suffers from the delusion any more that it can really hold two people together when they no longer love each other. And I think it’s just plain sweet when a couple says we want this ritual to show our love and committment to each other, that we love and trust each other enough to build our lives around one another.

    I will never have that because I can’t trust that deeply. All the more power to those who can and do and have it add beauty to their lives.

  • Jude

    This is *so* excessively elaborate. Why are weddings so over the top? Yuck.

  • Steve

    “Marriage is the most important, the most sacred, contract that human beings can make.”

    Seems like a religious reference managed to slip in after all.

  • Rea and Steven’s wedding was a lovely, thoughtful, joyous ceremony. Celebrations like these are the very best part of life– when we take a day out of the routine to be thankful for being alive, and to celebrate our lives with those we love.

  • Nathan (not the Christian Nathan)

    I agree with Steve…souls were also mentioned.

    maybe i’m just being picky…seems like it was very nice, however.

  • ursulamajor

    Hey Jude?

    “There’s a shit at every party. Party pooper. Party pooper.”

    Having met both Rea and Steven, they are a lovely and loving couple. I hope our paths meet on many more occasions.

  • Nerdette

    @ Steve

    The author is Robert Ingersoll (look him up if you are unfamiliar with him). The language is a remnant of the time. “Sacred” is a synonym for “precious”, just as “contract” is a synonym for “agreement” and “souls” for “what makes individuals unique.”

  • Wow what a cool wedding! I love the butterfly idea.

  • Nicole

    I’m not a big fan of elaborate or formal ceremonies either, but “yuck” is a bit… inconsiderate.

  • Mike G.

    Wow, congrats guys. I agree with nerdette, you have to take a deeper consideration to the meaning. Many a great non-believer has used words such as these to convey and idea, and not to strike concord with a superior being. This was a beautiful wedding, much thought was put into it being…. well awesome! Chemistry? At a wedding? Hell yes.

    I have been thinking of ways to have a secular celebration, and this definitely lends some great ideas.

    And how do you guys say this was excessive? They didn’t take gifts and instead donated to charity. How cool is that?

  • I also really like this: “I now pronounce you partners in life.” Much better than the usual pronouncement of “husband and wife.”

  • Beautiful! We were also married outside, though inside a ring of flowers to represent unity. I totally dig the “Solve for Steven” equation and the chemistry demonstration. Very nice!

  • Argentum

    Jude said:

    This is *so* excessively elaborate. Why are weddings so over the top? Yuck.

    You’re kidding, right? This was anything but excessive. It was simple, beautiful and very tasteful. I bet they managed to spend well under $1000 for the whole thing, in an age where too many people seem to think you can’t have a nice wedding without forking out twenty grand.

    Yay for people making weddings uniquely theirs!

  • Brian C Posey

    Awesome wedding.

  • sarah

    Great touch with the donations instead of gifts. 🙂

  • jumping in unread: “prussian blue?” um, we all know where that originates, right?

    it’s not a good term.

  • Steve is working at the Missile Defence Agency, working to destroy evil.

    dood. i don’t even know what to say to that. “evil?” on an atheist blog? krist.

  • ursulamajor

    jumping in unread: “prussian blue?” um, we all know where that originates, right?

    it’s not a good term.

    I indeed had to look it up. I’m assuming you are referencing the white supremicist singing twins. They certainly aren’t the only way those two words can get together and certainly weren’t what was meant for this ceremony.

  • Dan W

    Holy crap, this sounds like the most awesome wedding ceremony I’ve ever heard of! Secular and geeky. Wow.

  • Richard Wade

    jumping in unread: “prussian blue?” um, we all know where that originates, right?

    Uh, yeah. Prussia?
    Uh, yeah. Out of my tube of Prussian Blue watercolor?
    Uh, yeah. mixing ammonium iron sulfate and potassium hexacyanoferrate? Okay, I didn’t actually know that one until today.

  • Liz

    jumping in unread: “prussian blue?” um, we all know where that originates, right?

    it’s not a good term.

    yea…it originates as a color. although when I read the words, I too thought of what you’re probably referencing. Although that is NOT where it originates from, they only used those words because it’s a color.

  • Nerdette

    dood. i don’t even know what to say to that. “evil?” on an atheist blog? krist.

    Because that segment doesn’t read tongue-in-cheek at all… Perhaps giving the witnesses something to giggle at in the middle of all the lovey-dovey stuff?

  • CatBallou

    I, too, had to look up “Prussian blue” to find out what else the term referred to. I don’t feel more enlightened for having done that!

  • Good camera means crap! It was the talented photographer behind that camera that made such nice images.
    Trust me, you cannot buy a Hasselblad and go out and shoot a wedding without ever having shot an image, it still takes raw human talent.

  • hamiltongirl

    And I will marry you, Friendly Atheist.

  • for folks who don’t know: google “prussian blue” and the gassing of jews and nonconformists during the holocaust. wow. i guess that’s not common knowledge after all. it’s also the name of a vile, racist musical group that is popular in modern white supremacist circles.

    it’s not a neutral term, by any stretch. it’s not “just” a term, or a color of paint. it’s as strong as words like “nigger” or “kyke.”

  • Annie

    @ chicago dyke: It might benefit you to google prussian blue yourself. It was first coined in the early 1700s, as it was the first synthesized paint color, and the pigment used in blueprints. Many famous artworks have used this pigment. I think the fact that the people getting married here appear to be scientists, and not nazis, it is safe to assume this is what they meant by the term.

    Lovely wedding, by the way! Tasteful, beautiful, and so creative. I wish the happy couple many years of love, laughter, and learning together.

  • NFQ

    I think the chemistry demo is an awesome idea for a wedding ceremony. Totally jealous that my husband and I didn’t come up with it, actually. 🙂

    For those of you panicking about Prussian blue, please do five minutes of actual research before having a heart attack. Prussian blue is called that because it was synthesized in Berlin in the early 1700s. Not because of anything to do with the Holocaust. You might as well freak out at people who apologize for “passing gas” because the Nazis had “gas” chambers.

  • A Portlander

    Okay, is nobody else going to say it? That is one smoking HOT bride; good on ya, Steve.

    As for the vows & ceremony, I think a bunch of you folk need to remember that “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”, so to speak. Living free of dogma means, among other things, that the whole world of mythology and ceremony is ours to plunder for our own purposes, and to invest with whatever meaning and beauty we like. We win a little back from the churches every time somebody says “soul” and doesn’t mean “ghost”.

  • Liz

    @chicago dyke

    Where does it say anywhere on the internet that ‘prussian blue’ is the equivalent to ‘nigger’ or ‘kyke’? Seriously…you’re just making this shit up. YES the band is insulting. And yes there’s some made up controversy about the gas chambers not being dyed this specific color, which supposedly proves that the holocaust didn’t happen. But I would completely agree with NFQ when (s)he says that’s like freaking out about the holocaust when someone mentions passing gas.

    You claimed that the words ‘Prussian Blue’ originated from these unfortunate holocaust events…which they didn’t at all. It IS just a color. If the chemical reaction that was supposedly not found in the gas chambers happened to form some other color…that wouldn’t make that color automatically evil. Although I understand your concern, you misspoke when you said the word ‘originates’ because the term doesnt originate from where you thought
    …even if it can be connected to a holocaust controversy and a shitty band the couple pretty obviously weren’t implying this connection in their wedding. If that were the case…they probably would have mixed Prussian Blue and Prussian Blue together to make another beaker full of [a beautiful blonde hair] Prussian Blue[-eyed baby].

  • AxeGrrl

    chicago dyke:

    for folks who don’t know: google “prussian blue” and the gassing of jews and nonconformists during the holocaust. wow. i guess that’s not common knowledge after all.

    This is the first time I’ve ever heard of this reference. Prussian blue only elicits lovely memories of high school art classes for me……and it’s beautiful 🙂

  • Steve

    Who the frak thinks of gas chambers when they hear “prussian blue”? Anyone should know it as a color first.

    Yes, Zyklon B was based on hydrogen cyanide, aka prussic acid, which was first isolated from prussian blue (nearly 200 years before WWII!). But that’s totally besides the point and a ridiculous connection.

    FYI, American gas chambers for executions also used hydrogen cyanide.

  • muggle

    it’s not a neutral term, by any stretch. it’s not “just” a term, or a color of paint. it’s as strong as words like “nigger” or “kyke”

    Not to belabor a point but are you serious? No, because if it were, you wouldn’t have to enlighten us. Everyone knows the two words you’ve referenced and apparently almost no one’s heard this connection between a color and Nazi gas chambers. Let’s not get too extreme in trying to disallow anything with any vague connection to a horrific event, shall we? Or do we start banning attics because Jews hid in them during the Holocaust?

  • Luciferadi

    Thanks for posting! Looks like a lovely day.

    While I don’t know the details of how this particular couple handled it, I would caution others against getting inspired to use butterflies at weddings. It’s a popular practice, but often ends with dead butterflies; they are delicate and they are living things, not decorations.

  • Heidi

    Good camera means crap! It was the talented photographer behind that camera that made such nice images.
    Trust me, you cannot buy a Hasselblad and go out and shoot a wedding without ever having shot an image, it still takes raw human talent.

    I totally knew someone was going to whine that, and almost didn’t bother to make the compliment. FFS, only two people mentioned the camera, and BOTH of us also mentioned the photographer’s skill. Trust me, you can’t do your best work without worthy tools. Or do you think Michael Jordan bought his shoes at K-Mart?

    prussian blue

    I too, had to Google it. Holocaust deniers and dimwit blondes in white supremacy bands don’t generally make my radar. (I avoid stupid people when possible.) Shall we also ban the color white, then?

  • ButchKitties

    Rea is gorgeous! It’s so refreshing to see a bride who isn’t drowning under 5 lbs of makeup.

  • Ham Nox

    That was beautiful *tear*

    ((But am I the only person who couldn’t help but notice that these vows could be technically nullified by space travel?))

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