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Introduction to Non Religious Wedding Ceremonies

You may be puzzled as you open this chapter to see that there are thirty pages of discussion about the institution of marriage leading up to the actual ceremonies, including some questioning about whether or not legal marriage should even exist. Perhaps you are a young person planning to get married and were just looking for some creative and poetic wedding vows, and are wondering "Why do I need to read all this 'heavy' background information and history about marriage?" It seems that young people today, in general, do not take issue with the institution of marriage the way people did back in the 1960’s, 1970's and 1980's. I would recommend to any person considering getting married that you invest an hour wading through this information. I think you will discover that there are some important lessons to be gleaned from those decades when marriage was attacked and rejected, and eventually re-examined and reshaped. It was not just hippy rebelliousness; there were legitimate reasons why marriage came under such scrutiny for a couple of decades. I am therefore trying to preserve the history of those decades. So let me start this chapter with some background information about how attitudes towards marriage have changed during my lifetime and share how my views of marriage have evolved over several decades. You may well find that this information has more relevance to your present day life than you would have thought. NOTE: If you are a gay or lesbian couple, some of this information will not be relevant to you, but a good portion of it will be.1

When I was a young girl (early 1960’s), marriage was pretty much a given. The standard life plan for a girl was to meet a nice boy and get married and have babies. By the time I reached young adulthood in the late sixties, the hippie movement, sexual revolution, and women’s liberation movement were in full swing, and marriage was taking a real nose dive in popularity. Marriage was not very popular with the sixties generation for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most obvious reason for this was that the sixties generation suffered a very serious loss of faith in governmental authority. The Vietnam war, the shootings at Kent State University, the Watergate scandal, and disagreements about the legalization of marijuana left many of my generation with little respect or trust for the government. Many people who came of age in the sixties or seventies would not even think of looking to the government to sanctify their lover relationships.

Another change that occurred during the cultural revolution of the 60’s and 70’s that affected peoples' views about marriage was that many people began drifting away from Christianity. People began exploring alternative religions and philosophies. Unlike Christianity, this new spirituality did not operate from the premise that God had handed down a decree that life long marriage was the only spiritually correct life style. These religions were based on the premise that people were free to explore a variety of lifestyles without jeopardizing their spiritual salvation. The Baby Boomer Generation were also more likely to announce themselves to be agnostics or atheists with no ties to any church or religious doctrine that required marriage. Marriage began to be viewed as a human-made custom, the value of which was to be determined strictly by its own merits. As we baby boomers looked around at the questionable quality of many of the marriages of our parents' generation, it certainly left many of us seriously wondering whether the bad points of marriage outweighed the good!

The women's liberation movement also contributed to marriage’s decline in popularity. Feminism began freeing women from marrying for economic survival. A substantial number of liberated women (and men) began to question whether the institution of marriage had any relevance in a society where men and women existed as economically self-sufficient individuals. The availability of reliable birth control also made people question the need for marriage: "Did marriage make any sense when children were not involved?" So, for a variety of reasons, by the late sixties, people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds were creating long-term love relationships without the formal structure of marriage.

However, during the 1980's, marriage began increasing in popularity. I, at that time, still belonged to the "Don't invite the government into your bedroom" camp and was very dismayed to see marriage becoming more popular. I remember watching in total bewilderment as many of my acquaintances, and even some of my closest friends (who for years had vehemently disagreed with the idea of marriage as much as I had), decided to get married. I did not understand why so many "anti-establishment" baby boomers were suddenly flocking to the altar. The first edition of this book, written in 1987, took an anti-legal marriage stance.

During the 1990's, I decided I wanted to figure out why legal marriage was continuing to become more popular. I therefore began interviewing couples and engaging in lively debate about the pros and cons of legal marriage. These heated, but fascinating, discussions led me to reconsider a lot of my premises. Slowly, but surely I got converted to the idea of salvaging the institution of marriage. However, the only way I was able to come to view marriage as something worth salvaging, was to actually go back to "square one" and ask "Are there any valid reasons for governmentally regulated marriage?" and then build my own unbiased, thoroughly researched rationale for marriage. This chapter is the result of that examination process. This chapter discusses:

1) Why the institution of legal marriage makes sense.
2) How marriage needs to be reformed and updated.
3) How to decide when marriage is the appropriate
4) Some sample marriage rituals appropriate for the
    21st century.

1. Since gay/lesbian couples have been seeking governmental sanctioned marriage, the discussion about whether the government should regulate marriage may seem irrelevant. But I believe gay/lesbian couples will soon discover there can be negative aspects to governmental regulation of marriage that they (like many heterosexual couples) may want to avoid. Likewise, I hope gay/lesbian couples, in their excitement about their freedom to marry, will not trap themselves with "till death do us part" marriage vows for reasons explained herein.

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