"Is there something else?"
This is a frequent question when I do pre-marital counseling and wedding planning with young straight couples. We have finished the counseling part of our time together and are working on what the liturgy will look like. I give them the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and we turn to p. 423, A Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, and they read it over. Sometimes they take the BCP home to discuss music, readings and other choices.
At our next session I can see the question coming – is there something else? From the opening prayer with its silly rationale that because Jesus went to a wedding we should have weddings; and its proclamation, the obviously untrue claim that marriage was established in creation; the whole thing is steeped in ideas that the couple don’t want said at their wedding.
It took me a while to see beyond the “we don’t want to use this” statement of couples. At first I thought it was just a desire to “do their own thing,” but as I listen I hear much more. One objection is the story line of the service, but there is another thing that had couples asking for something else.
This objection did not become clear to me until the last wedding at which I officiated. After looking over the BCP rite and their rejection, I gave them A New Zealand Prayer Book with its variety of options. They breathed a sigh of relief – it has lovely traditional language but gave them a way to express their commitment to one another publicly and receive the community’s affirmation and receive God’s blessing. This is an experience I have had with many couples.
It was not until the godmothers appeared that I tumbled to one couple’s deeper objection to the BCP. Suddenly the embedded heterosexism of the BCP was revealed when the beloved, obviously partnered, godmothers walked into the rehearsal. I had not seen this until that moment, though I have long found the service to be less than satisfactory.
This is all a part of the reason why I would lobby the church to come up with something that all couples can use. A rite that is free from silliness, free from stereotypes, free from heterosexism. I hope the church will offer one rite to affirm the love and commitment of the couple to one another and the desire for the support of the community and the assurance of the blessing of God.
The new Episcopal Church liturgy offered for same sex couples is a step in the right direction but perhaps The Episcopal Church could offer something like A New Zealand Prayer Book rite – that offers options and a better theology of marriage. [Editor’s note: Click here to see a rite that the author created to address some of her concerns.]
In memory of Louise Brooks who kept asking me to write this up. - AF