A Secular Wedding Ceremony from Start to Finish November 20, 2011

A Secular Wedding Ceremony from Start to Finish

Reader Dennis and his wife Holly got married in July. The ceremony was secular — and from what you’re about to see, everything about it was awesome 🙂

You want to see how a non-religious wedding works from start to finish? Keep reading.

First, Dennis explains their story:

A longtime friend of mine performed our ceremony while his wife was our maid of honor. The two of them helped to write and personalize our ceremony; one that we were very pleased with. Even the most religious people at the wedding commented that the ceremony was very appropriate and no one complained that it didn’t include god.

The story of how I met my wife involved one of our college text books, Linear Algebra, and so for his prop our officiant used that book while he conducted the ceremony. He explained why this book was important to us, his reason for using it, and even that wasn’t seen as a wedding faux pas.

My favorite part of the ceremony (aside from my beautiful bride) was that our wedding party was introduced using orchestral music from The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Those that recognized the music thought it was awesome and those that didn’t recognize it thought it was very nice instrumentals for a wedding.

There was only one hang up about our wedding. Getting it legalized was a nightmare. While I’ve been a militant atheist for years my wife typically described herself as agnostic. After seeing the discrimination that we faced in nearly every aspect of putting our wedding together she has become much more vocal about our atheism.

Finding a legal officiant was by far the hardest part. A self-uniting marriage was out; our county no longer does them and we didn’t have the money or time for any sort of legal action. There have also been several cases in our state of weddings performed by internet ordained priests being considered invalid. While we doubt this would have become a problem the cases where we did foresee it becoming a problem would have been horrendous (an insurance settlement after an untimely death or such). We considered just getting married at the courthouse the day before and would have settled for that option; but it just seemed unfair and we wanted to find a way to make our ceremony legal.

The most disheartening part of our search was when we turned to the local mayors. In our area mayors perform many wedding ceremonies and seemed like a nice secular option. The mayors we contacted were uncomfortable performing a non-religious ceremony. The pre-planned ceremonies that they typically used all included religion. We finally found a mayor who was willing to work with us, albeit uncomfortably, but he bailed on us 3 days before the ceremony!

In a display of real compassion my mothers pastor saved the day. He agreed to let my friend perform the ceremony an afterwords to do a secular pronouncement and sign our marriage certificate. He did read 1 Corinthians 13:1-7; but this particular verse doesn’t mention god or faith so we felt it was pretty fair.

I would offer this to anyone who is even considering having a secular or non-traditional wedding. Do it and stick to your guns. We faced an uphill battle to have our wedding; I almost came to blows with her dad. But in the end everyone (even her dad) agrees that we had a beautiful ceremony. Most importantly we can remember our wedding day with no regrets.

Second, Dennis was kind enough to provide the transcript of their entire ceremony. If you’re planning a wedding in the future, this would be a great template to use 🙂

Opening Words

Welcome friends, families, and honored guests. We are here to celebrate love. Love organizes our large and sometimes unpredictable world. It is that which enshrines and ennobles our human experience. It is the basis for the peace of family, and the peace of the peoples of the earth. The greatest gift bestowed upon humans is the gift of love freely given between two persons.

Officiant’s Welcome

All of you are present today because you, in one way or another, have been part of Holly’s or Dennis’s life. On behalf of the bride and groom, a hearty welcome to all. Today we witness a marriage that began with a math book. Dennis asked Holly if he could borrow this book I am holding in my hands. Holly suggested that they meet and complete their math homework together. And from that beginning in a math classroom, their love has grown exponentially and reached toward the infinite. Innumerable factors have joined them together, adding to both of their lives to create something greater than that which existed before. And now, today Dennis and Holly become a set that is natural, sometimes complex, and occasionally irrational, but always real.

Officiant’s Address

In marriage, two people turn to each other in search of a greater fulfillment than either can achieve alone. Marriage is a bold step, taken together, into an unknown future. It is risking who we are for the sake of who we can be. Only in giving of ourselves fully, and sharing our lives with another, can the mysterious process of growth take place. Only in loyalty and devotion bestowed upon another can that which is eternal in life emerge and be known. Two among us, who have stood apart, come together now, to declare their love and to be united in marriage.

The words we say today have no magic or prophetic powers. The power of the wedding vows is merely a reflection of a reality that already exists in the hearts and minds of these two people. Holly and Dennis, nothing I can say, or nothing you can say to each other, will ensure a long and happy, satisfying and committed marriage. Only your love for one another, and your integrity to make your commitment real, can do that. I humbly offer the words of author William A. Peterson in “The Art of Marriage,” who I believe has captured in words, the essence, of that commitment. I hope you will keep his words upon your heart, and refer to them again.

The little things are the big things.
It is never being too old to hold hands.
It is remembering to say, “I love you” at least once a day.

It is never going to sleep angry.
It is at no time taking the other for granted;
the courtship should not end with the honeymoon,
it should continue through all the years.

It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives.
It is standing together facing the world.
It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family.
It is doing things for each other
not in the attitude of duty or sacrifice,
but in the spirit of joy.

It is speaking words of appreciation
and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is not expecting the husband to wear a halo
or the wife to have the wings of an angel.
It is not looking for perfection in each other.

It is cultivating flexibility, patience,
understanding, and a sense of humor.
It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.
It is giving each other an atmosphere
in which each can grow.

It is not only marrying the right partner,
it is BEING the right partner.
This is “The Art of Marriage”.

Reading #1

Marriage is a Promise of Love
by Edmund O’Neill

Marriage is a commitment to live — to the best that two people can find and bring out in each other. It offers opportunities for sharing and growth no other human relationship can equal, a physical and emotional joining that is promised for a lifetime.

Within the circle of its love, marriage encompasses all of life’s most important relationships. A wife and husband are each other’s best friend, confidant, lover, teacher, listener, and critic. There may come times when one partner is heartbroken or ailing, and the love of the other may resemble the tender caring of a parent for a child.

Marriage deepens and enriches every facet of life. Happiness is fuller; memories are fresher; commitment is stronger; even anger is felt more strongly, and passes away more quickly. Marriage understands and forgives the mistakes life is unable to avoid. It encourages and nurtures new life, new experiences, and new ways of expressing love through the seasons of life. When two people pledge to love and care for each other in marriage, they create a spirit unique to themselves, which binds them closer than any spoken or written words. Marriage is a promise, a potential, made in the hearts of two people who love, which takes a lifetime to fulfill.


At this time, Dennis and Holly have chosen to read a poem to each other. This is “Love” by Roy Croft.


I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.


I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.


I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can’t help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.


I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of the works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.


I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good,
And more than any fate
To make me happy.


You have done it
Without a touch,
Without a word,
Without a sign.
You have done it
By being yourself.

Parent and Community Blessing

People have been united in marriage in all lands and all cultures. In marriages everywhere, two individuals leave the families that raised them, to begin a new family. At this time, we ask the parents of the Bride and Groom to stand to bless this marriage.

Do you, [Parents of the Bride and Groom] who have lovingly raised and nurtured these two individuals, offer your blessing for their marriage, promising to support them, understand them, and encourage them in their solemn endeavor, in the years ahead? If you agree, please say, “We do.” [Parents respond.]

And to the witnesses and honored guests here today, I ask the same question. Do you offer your blessing for their marriage, promising to support them, understand them, and encourage them in their solemn endeavor, in the years ahead? If you agree, please say, “We do.” [Audience responds]

Unity Candle

Now, Holly and Dennis will commemorate their marriage by lighting a Unity Candle. [Holly and Dennis walk over to candles.]

Light is the essence of our existence. Each one of us possesses an inner glow that represents our hopes, our dreams and our aspirations in life.
Holly and Dennis, the two distinct candle flames represent your lives before this day, individual, unique and special. Please take the candle symbolizing your life before today, and together light the center candle to symbolize the union of your individual lives. [Place the tapers back into their holders — join hands and remain near the candles.] As this new flame burns undivided, so shall your lives now be one. From now on your plans will be mutual, your joys and sorrows both will be shared alike.

Although you are now entering into a marriage, you do not, however, lose your personal identity. Rather, you will use your special individuality to create and strengthen the relationship of marriage. Therefore, all three candles remain glowing. The individual candles represent all that makes each of you the wonderful and unique person the other admires and respects. The Unity candle in the center symbolizes the union of your lives, families, and friends, as well as your shining commitment to each other, and to a lasting and loving marriage. [Holly and Dennis return to positions in front of Ryan.]

Reading #2

By Robert Fulghum

You have known each other from the first glance of acquaintance to this point of commitment. At some point, you decided to marry. From that moment of yes to this moment of yes, indeed, you have been making promises and agreements in an informal way. All those conversations that were held riding in a car or over a meal or during long walks — all those sentences that began with “When we’re married” and continued with “I will and you will and we will” — those late night talks that included “someday” and “somehow” and “maybe” — and all those promises that are unspoken matters of the heart. All these common things, and more, are the real process of a wedding. The symbolic vows that you are about to make are a way of saying to one another, “You know all those things we’ve promised and hoped and dreamed — well I meant it all, every word.” Look at one another and remember this moment in time. Before this moment you have been many things to one another — acquaintance, friend, companion, lover, dancing partner, and even teacher, for you have learned much from one another in these last few years. Now you shall say a few words that take you across a threshold of life, and things will never quite be the same between you two. For after these vows, you shall say to the world, this — is my husband, this — is my wife.


[We each wrote our own vows secretly. Ironically enough our vows turned out to be very similar.]

Exchange of Rings

Do you Holly, accept this man, Dennis, as your husband — joining with him today in matrimony — offering your friendship and loving care — honoring his growth and freedom as well as your own — cherishing and respecting him, loving and embracing him in times of adversity and times of joy? If so, answer now, “I do.” (Holly responds, “I do.”)

Please repeat after me:

With this ring / I thee wed. / Take it as a sign / of my everlasting / and unconditional love / with all that I am / and all that I have / from this day forward / as your wife.

Do you Dennis, accept this woman, Holly, as your wife — joining with her today in matrimony — offering your friendship and loving care — honoring her growth and freedom as well as your own – cherishing and respecting her, loving and embracing her in times of adversity and times of joy? If so, answer now, “I do.” (Dennis responds, “I do.”)

Please repeat after me:

With this ring / I thee wed. / Take this as a sign / of my everlasting / and unconditional love / with all that I am / and all that I have / from this day forward / as your husband.

Love freely given has no giver and no receiver. You are each the giver and each the receiver. The wedding ring is a symbol, in visible form, of the unbroken circle of your love, so that wherever you go, you may always return to your shared life together. May these rings always call to mind the power of your love.


Holly and Dennis, in the presence of your family and friends who have joined you to share this moment of joy, you have declared your deep love and affection for each other. You have stated your wish to live together, always open to a deeper, richer friendship and partnership. You have formed your own union, based on respect and honor. Therefore, it is my joyful responsibility to officially acknowledge your union as “Husband and Wife.” You may now seal your marriage with a kiss.

Final Blessing for Your Marriage

May the glory which rests upon all who love you, bless you and keep you, fill you with happiness and a gracious spirit. Despite all changes of fortune and time, may that which is noble and lovely and true remain abundantly in your hearts, giving you strength for all that lies ahead.

Introduction of Bride and Groom

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my privilege to present to you for the very first time, Mr. and Mrs. Dennis and Holly _______!

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • M Vanroy

    If they used an algebra book can I use Howard Stern’s Private Parts?

  • Here in the UK civil wedding ceremonies have been possible for some years now and they have become very popular, not least because of the range of venues which are licensed for them. And the law requires that there be no religious content in civil ceremonies.

  • Anonymous

    In most of continental Europe it’s standard that you must have a civil wedding at city hall before the optional religious ceremony. That perfectly separates the civil and religious parts of the wedding. People who want a big or a private ceremony can have it afterwards. People who want only a simple wedding only have the civil one – which can either be done in the office or at some select locations as you said.

    The US wouldn’t have a lot of its perception problems about marriage if priests couldn’t perform legally valid weddings. I don’t see how this ceremony would have been any different if they had done the legal aspects before and just had the ceremony for themselves. It’s just not something they are accustomed to

  • digitalelysium

    Agreed. My wife and I had a secular wedding in a country hotel, and they had to check our vows and music up front to ensure there was no religious references!

  • Americans seem to place a lot of importance on the “I do” or “I will” and then the “I now pronounce you man and wife”.  If it were all official before the ceremony, then that would diminish the significance of the “I do”.  But I do see your point.  If there is a problem getting an official to do the paperwork at the ceremony, you could always simply take care of that first before-hand and then have the ceremony a day or two later any way you want with anyone you want presiding over it.

  • My wife and I had a mostly secular wedding about 17 years ago.  We found an ad for a minister for hire to do weddings in the local style magazine.  He was an ordained minister from one of the more liberal denominations and didn’t have a problem with doing a mostly secular service.  I can’t even remember if there was any mention of God at all.  If there was, it was brief and as a side-note.  I would imagine that there may be lots of such ordained ministers who preside over weddings as a little side business for a little extra money. 

  • Anonymous

    Humanist celebrants/officiants seem like a great option if you can find one near you:

    There are probably more. Google turned up tons of results for the UK

  • Dcott44

    Here in Virginia, we had a Humanist Celebrant who could legally certify the wedding as well, so there was no need to go to a church or courthouse, no mention of any gods, just lots of love and happiness.  We were married outside in a grove with old oaks and dogwood trees.  She told stories about how we met, we had poems from Mr Rodgers and Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, and we did a “wine ceremony” since I’m a Sommelier and my passion is wine where we combined two glasses into one and each drank a sip to symbolize coming together as one.  My wife’s recessional was “Here Comes The Sun” by the Beatles.  Plenty of ritual as symbolism instead of hollow promises to the supernatural.  Almost everyone loved it, although I could tell that several of the older Catholic extended family members were secretly damning us from behind a veil of civility (one just chose not to come in the first place because as he put it “we’d been living in sin, and studies show that people who live together before marriage are more likely to get divorced,” I’m sure he would have loved our ceremony). Anyway, it was exactly what we wanted, and two years later, we couldn’t be happier together.

  • Hughes

    Impressive cake.

  • Trace

    May the force be with them!

  • The last wedding I attended the ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ had already been legally married for several weeks.  On a trip to LA – they found a judge who married them.  They ceremony itself was later conducted by the grooms brother in front of a crowd of 100 people.  Completely secular and even better – very short. 

    All the state cares about is the paperwork.  They can care less about the ceremony.  Its not necessary to perform them at the same time.

  •  Texas has common-law marriage, so if there is ever a debate over whether Aron Ra’s Universal Life Church ordination is valid, it won’t matter, since my husband and I present ourselves as married.

    Also, here is our transcript:

  • Prosepetals

    Cool! Always great to see another godless wedding. My husband’s & my wedding was also *good without god* ~ and most attendees commented that ours was the first non-religious wedding they had ever been to – in the same sentence with the ‘most touching’…I would say this one was *just as* touching and beautiful, with much laughter and joy. Which is what the coming together of two people in love *should* be. Good on them, and many congratulations! 🙂

  • Annie

    Aw!  We used Roy Croft’s poem as our vows 18 years ago.  Where I live, you can get married by anyone who is a notary.   I wish a long and happy life to the beautiful couple.

  • S8n666

    It is unfortunate that his mullet totally negates all of the effort that was put into this wedding.

  • Beautiful!

  • Xeon2000

    “studies show that people who live together before marriage are more likely to get divorced”

    These studies are such crap.  Do they even take religion into account?  Most people that denounce cohabitation are the same that denounce divorce and choose to stay in unhappy, sexless marriages.

    The real study should be:  “Are people that live together before marriage more likely or less likely to be happy together after 10 years?”

  • Anonymous

    “and probably some Southern American countries that got their laws from there”

    Indeed! My boyfriend’s brother, who lives in Ecuador, had two wedding ceremonies–the official civil wedding (either at the city hall or you can pay a civil officient to come to your wedding venue), followed by an optional religious ceremony, which is popular mostly among the rich. Sometimes people even have two receptions, often with very different tones–one with a fancy sit down dinner and a band (appealing to parents and grandparents), the other with a very late dinner and a DJ and some sort of entertainment (dancers, fire-breathers, etc.; appealing to young friends and relatives).

    I think that’s an ideal way of doing things here in the US, especially if it were possible to arrange to have the officiant come to your chosen wedding location (as people would freak out if that was no longer possible), which is exactly what my parents did 25 years ago, much to the chagrin of my very Catholic paternal grandmother.

  • Oldfogey

    I note that at the end it says “Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my privilege to present to you for the very first time, Mr. and Mrs. Dennis and Holly _______!” Which I take to mean that one of them (probably Holly) has changed her name.

    In my circles (in the UK) it is increasingly the norm for names not to be changed – though some go double barrelled – and I was therefore not in the least surprised that my wife did not change her name (and would have actually been very surprised if she had wanted to).

    So I was just wondering if this is at all common elsewhere in the world; has anybody kept their own name(s), and how did it go down?

  • Anonymous

    “we’d been living in sin, and studies show that people who live together before marriage are more likely to get divorced,” – My unwife and I have been living together “in sin” for almost 20 years so this seems like a great reason not to get married.  “Don’t fix something that isn’t broken” should be one of those universal laws like “don’t do anything stupid”.

  • Tex

    Didnt say what state they got married in, but in Texas (and Id assume other states as well) you can have a justice of the peace (or judge) officiate the wedding.  Thats how we did our wedding this past summer.  Had some problems w/ him not reading the script properly because he didnt have time to come to the rehearsal and the other JP for the county was busy  but otherwise was a great way to do it (and my wife actually liked it better with the mis-reading lol)

  • Anonymous

    belated congratulations to the couple!  In Spain, though civil ceremonies have now surpassed Catholic ceremonies (yay!), full on flowers-dress-pretty building/garden-officiant  secular weddings still lag. Most people dress up and go to City Hall to be married in a decidedly non-romantic room that doesn’t usually hold very many people anyway. The party afterwards is usually quite traditional, but we still have to work on the ceremony itself, in terms of making it just as symbolic and beautiful as any religious ceremony.

  • Anonymous

    In Spain women don’t change their names. It isn’t some modern liberalization either. Though traditionally Catholic, changing names just does not happen. Here everyone has two surnames that come from the first surname of each parent, so for example:

    Father: José Perez Sánchez
    Mother: Maria Fernandez Jimenez
    Child: Paula Perez Fernandez

    Of course, traditionally your first surname is your fathers and your second is your mothers, so in effect your children will lack a surname from their grandmother, so last names still come through the males eventually. However, recent new laws make it so you can decide which of the surnames of the parents your children get and in what order. Adults can also opt to switch the order of their surnames and single parents now have the option of giving a child both their surnames, as long as there is no other parent in the picture.

    I’m very glad of the system, since the idea of changing my name, which I associate strongly with my identity, to that of my theoretical husband, frankly makes me really uncomfortable.

  • Alexander Kuzimski

    I’d really like to know what tracks from Zelda and Final Fantasy were used and where on the transcript they were played. Is there any chance someone could provide that information?

  • Dennis

    More details on the music:
    During the ceremony the Moms and I entered to:
    The wedding party entered the ceremony to an orchestral performance of the Zelda theme and entered the reception to “You are not alone” from FF9.

    A note on making the ceremony legal. It was difficult. I know there are suppose to be secular ways to get married but there are a ton more hurdles to jump through than for a religious wedding. Maybe a part of the difficulty was that we wanted to still have a ceremony and not just stand in front of a judge; but weddings are at least as secular as christmas and plenty of atheists celebrate that. The ceremony was important to us and getting someone out to our venue who could legally marry us was a huge hassle.

    Finally, there was no mullet. I have long hair and it was pulled back into a braid >.<

  • Dennis

    Sorry for the double post, forgot to address something.

    Yes, Holly did change her name to mine. She is far more traditional than I and it was actually me who brought up the discussion. She didn’t like her last name and was overjoyed to change it to something far shorter and more manageable.

    It was important to both of us to share a name. It is undeniably part of American culture that a shared name indicates family and we want to present ourselves as a unified pair. It is also undeniable that a male changing his name is far far harder and more expensive than a female had the name change been an issue.

    I didn’t like her name, she liked mine so she took it. Had the situation been reversed we’d have come up with the money to change mine. And if we couldn’t agree we’d have probably come up with a neutral third party name and both changed.

  • I often wonder how many of those divorcing couples who lived together before marriage had major relationship troubles before the marriage, got married thinking it would fix said relationship troubles, and then ended up divorcing when they realized that getting married to fix your relationship is only slightly less stupid than having a baby to fix your relationship.

  • Wow. Way to be a dick dude. Can’t keep your internet comment to yourself just once for someone nice enough to share their f-ing wedding photos?

    His hair is pulled back and braided… not a mullet.

  • Priests, in and of themselves, don’t automatically perform legal marriages, i.e. just because a priest did it, doesn’t make it a legal marriage. (if it did, you’d have a lot more gay marriages) There are some legal hoops they jump through to be officiants, so they can legally sign marriage licenses, etc. Getting that squared away is part of the paperwork of being a priest, rabbi, etc.

    It is a pain in the ass to get that paperwork done, but the level of pain varies from state to state. Unfortunately, TX is a bit more restrictive in who can be an officiant. From http://usmarriagelaws.com/search/united_states/texas/index.shtml:

    Persons authorized to perform weddings in Texas include licensed or ordained Christian ministers, priests, Jewish rabbis, officers authorized by religious organizations, justices of the supreme court, judges of the court of criminal appeals, justices of the courts of appeals, judges of the district, county, and probate courts, judges of the county courts at law, judges of the courts of domestic relations, judges of the juvenile courts, retired justices or judges, justices of the peace, retired justices of the peace, and judges or magistrates of a federal court of Texas.


    Other states are more liberal in this. Florida allows Notary Publics to be officiants, which makes finding a secular officiant far easier. (In my case, the wedding planner was also a notary, so when our original officiant had to back out due to work emergency, she could take over with ease.)

  • Abram Larson

    The missus and I got married by a Mormon pastor (or whatever it is they call themselves.) We were having trouble finding a judge to come on the day we wanted and this guys happened to be a friend of a friend of a friend. I personally found it quite hilarious when he said, “…by the power invested in me by the State of Kansas and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints…” I had a hard time not cracking up during the ceremony.

  • Anonymous

    I did a bit of research and found that there are tons and tons of officiants who call themselves “Reverend”, but who advertise that they are doing somewhat unusual, non-Christian, inter-faith and also secular ceremonies.

    Of course they are certainly not be available everywhere (people in rural areas are probably out of look), but it shows that people shouldn’t immediately discount all religious officiants when searching.

    Here is one site I found to search:
    http://www.weddingwire.com/vendor-reviews (select “officiant” in the first drop box)

  • Anonymous

    I know that they need to be authorized and such, but they really shouldn’t have any legal function. What they do should be entirely ceremonial. The distinction between civil and religious marriage isn’t obvious enough when both can happen at the same time.

    They still act as agents of a state and as such a lot of people seem to think one is required. And they themselves have an overly inflated opinion of their importance, what with the “oh noes, we’ll be forced to marry gay couples” paranoia

  • oh nonsense, that’s going to the other extreme, and extremes solve nothing. The fact that a member of clergy can also act as a legal officiant for the civil aspect of marriage is of precisely zero harm.

    How do you even go about what you propose? Ban clergy from being notaries? You can’t do that. Literally. Can’t. Do. That. 

    Reciprocal discrimination solely because some people are stupid is also stupid.

    The better solution is to press states like TX to make it easier for someone to be an officiant, i.e. notary publics, or California’s “officiant for a day” thing, used in VERY secular wedding during, of all things, Macworld Expo. 

    Creating the same problem in a different direction is just robbing peter to pay paul. 

  • Anonymous

    It’s not an extreme. It’s how much of the world functions! That is those countries influenced by European law. Some Asian countries like Japan too.

    Britain is somewhere in between, in that clergy of large denominations can officially notarize marriages, while smaller sects have to go through civil registrars. But at least civil marriage ceremonies are readily available everywhere now.

    Of course, it’s not possible to radically change this arrangement in the US now. But that’s only because of 200 years of established customs and the resulting privilege. Not because it’s a great system or one that works well. I was speaking more hypothetically and about what would be ideal than advocating real change.

  • So those countries *ban* clergy from being able to sign off on the civil aspect of marriage? Links and proof.

  • A. McCann

    Not so many celebrants here in New England – but more are coming.  I went to an inter-faith chaplaincy school, and am in the less-than-comfortable position of being a ordained atheist.   It frosts me that I can legally perform marriages in Massachusetts, but Humanist celebrants must get a special license each and every time they perform a ceremony. 
    Great ceremony, and thanks for sharing! 

  • Kckathleen

    I was married 2 months ago in New Orleans in a fun non religious service. Cost me $300 for a JP and I wrote vows that had no religious tones at all. It took me about a day to plan. It shouldn’t be (and isn’t) as tricky as this article makes it out to be.

  • Edithblood

    God is implied in the seventh sentence of the opening.  “The greatest gift bestowed upon humans is the gift of love freely given between two persons.”  The acknowledgment of a “gift” implies a “giver”, or in this case a “bestower”.  Who do you think that giver is, Santa?  No, it is God.  Atheist try so hard to ignore God, but every once in a while the innate knowledge of God slips out.  Here is a perfect example.

  • Anonymous

    The gift giver doesn’t have to be an entity.  It could be nature itself.  The acknowledgement of a gift can simply be a sense of joy and gratitude experienced by two people at their own good fortune in a generally unforgiving environment.  Or Santa.

    Not everyone wants to interject a deity into their lives.  We can be grateful and find happiness with our circumstances without having an imaginary friend to give credit to.  Well done for reading the whole thing though.  Not many would go to the effort of looking for a sentence that might be misconstrued as including a deity in the wording.  A for effort.

  • ” It is also undeniable that a male changing his name is far far harder
    and more expensive than a female had the name change been an issue.”

    I really wish guys would stop perpetrating this myth.  It is, in fact, quite deniable.  Do you know what my husband had to do when he  changed his name to mine?  The same thing your wife had to do to change hers to yours.  It cost nothing.  A trip to the social security office with a copy of your marriage license gets the ball rolling.  The rest was all just “change of name” forms.  The only headache we had was at the bank when we deposited a couple of checks that were made out to Mr. and Mrs. His-Last-Name which was cleared up easily enough with his old ID/SS card, his new ID/SS and our marriage license.  Not trying to be a jerkface, I just see this argument against men taking their lady’s last name and it irritates me because it’s just an outright fabrication.  Take whatever name you like, create your own, whatever floats your boat, just don’t spread misinformation that might discourage someone from taking his wife’s name because they think it’s cost prohibitive.

    Congrats on an awesome wedding and I hope you both have  a great partnership for many, many years to come. 🙂

  • Spiralout

    Not only did I keep my name, but my husband took MY last name! I’d never planned to change my name when I got married, even as a young girl I thought this was a weird practice. My husband (fiance at the time) was disappointed when he found out I didn’t want to change. But after going through the various options, such as each keeping our own names, hyphenating, blending our last names to make a new one, etc., HE suggested taking MY name! What an awesome idea! I was also the last of my family with our last name (I come from a long line of only children) so this will preserve it as we’ll pass it on to any offspring we may have. 

    We also had an amazing secular wedding (I’m a devout apatheist, he’s a devout atheist). Don’t understand why that’s such a big deal though… the post above implies such a wedding is pretty rare, hard to accomplish, and perhaps even looked down upon. We encountered none of the troubles above and the same result, a phenomenal wedding with sweet vows, nerdy overtones, and symbolism that even the religious enjoyed. :o)

  • Spiralout

    Just saw your comment after responding to another comment about name changing below. Have to say I’m very glad to see another couple that shares the WIFE’S original name! And I second what you said, it is a myth that it’s harder for a man to change his name. It was very simple for him to do, and the same procedure as if I’d changed my name. Socially, a man changing his name is harder because it’s non-traditional, but it’s not harder in terms of legal procedures.

    The only minor headaches we had were: (1) the DMV where the clerk was highly confused that my hubby changed HIS name and had to ask her boss what to do (the answer was do what you do when a woman changes her name); and (2) my husband’s mom, who pretty much freaked out about him changing his name. That was just WAY to non-traditional for her taste and she’ll complain about it forever, which only makes it more fun. 

  • Liam

    Wow, it was a battle to find someone to perform a secular ceremony? That stands in stark contrast to our experience in Canada.  We were married in September by a justice of the peace.  My wife, Katherine (see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/10/03/obviously-two-people-in-competition-never-ask-god-for-the-same-favor/) has a family tradition on her father’s side where a poem written long ago is read at every wedding.  Katherine wanted to honor the tradition by having her grandmother read it during the ceremony, and it does mention God, though not prominently.  This was actually a legal issue with the JP, who said she’d pretend a different word was said, so long as the remainder of the actual ceremony and vows remained secular.  Oddly, in Canada separation of church and state isn’t nearly as well-codified. The Roman Catholic church is written into our constitution.

  • Yeah, there were a few raised eyebrows like at the DMV, but it wasn’t too much of a headache.  Luckily, my husband’s last name was his mother’s maiden name anyway, so nobody in the family was too fussed about him changing it.  He could have changed it as a teenager to his stepfather’s name, but chose not to.  Guess he just loves me more 😉 

    His grandma was a little weird about it at first, until we explained to her that my family name’s branch will die off with me and his family has boys coming out of the rafters to pass on the name (or girls! I’ve opened a door for them!).  We plan to give our kids my last name and it was just to keep things easy for kids and others.  We live in a small town, so we just *knew* that there would be some jerk asking why our kid’s parents have different last names, assuming we’re not married and getting snarky, etc.  Saves us a headache down the road.

    I think the funniest was the look on a secretary’s face when my husband asked her if he had to put his “maiden” name down on his form. XD

  • My husband took my last name.  I’m the last in my family to carry the name on and he wasn’t overly attached to his family name, so he was cool with it.  Not a very common thing to do, but at least we’re to a point where most people don’t look at you like you’ve got a third head or something.  His family was ok with it, as was mine, so no biggie and we share a name now.  To be honest, it just makes it easier for some things here in the US if you have a shared last name.  Calling utility companies and doctor’s offices to make appointments for each other is a nightmare if you’ve got different last names sometimes.  I would have kept my name regardless, but his appreciation of my suggestion that he take my name does help a bit.

  • Emily

    Thank you so much for posting the ceremony, it is great inspiration and so beautifully written! 

  • God’s Daughter

    While I am very happy for you both, I am sure that you would appreciate honesty from others in the someway that you would hope for others to appreciate your honesty. My response here is not to try and question why you and your wife are non believers but to share with you that without God’s presence in your life, you will never have the true content and comfort in knowing that God is taking care of you. Your answer maybe that you can take care of yourself, and while that may be true, let me know how that goes when you and your wife decide to have kids. If you do not have God to rely on and to pray for their safety everyday, you will always be in agony. We as parents have no way of watching our children every minute of the day, but God does. So think about that and for the sake of all the people you care about, I hope you change your mind

  • Uh, there are millions of atheist parents who aren’t “in agony” because they don’t believe an invisible deity is watching their children.

    Why do you feel compelled to come here and push your religion on everyone else? This post is about a wedding. No one asked for your opinion on the couple’s belief system.

  • Ijy10152

     You my friend are an ASS. These people have the right to make their own decisions. Who are you to say that they will be less happy because of lack of “god”? If anything the lack of promise of life after death makes the time they spend together more important and more fulfilling. They chose to accept reality and their children will make their own decisions as well, belief in god will not make them love each other any more or make their marriage last longer.

  • Jjspittle

    Any chance you’ll just keep to yourself in the future and not go out of your way to try and insult and diminish other people? Who weighs in on your “vows”?

  • Brett


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