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Who in Our Society Should Perform Marriage Ceremonies?

Up until the cultural revolution of the 1960’s, the majority of marriage ceremonies in this country were performed by clergy-persons. In the last forty years, more and more people have left the churches. Some people still turn to the clergy to perform their life rituals, even though they haven't set foot in a church for many, many years, and may disagree with many of the church's teachings. I personally believe we are in serious need of secular officials whose specific role is to perform marriage rituals.

Currently people who do not choose to be married in a church/synagogue are left with the option of having their marriages legitimated by secular officials such as judges, council-people, etc. This doesn’t seem particularly appropriate. It seems incongruous to their general role. What I think we need to see happen is the creation of "Licensed Public Marriage Officiates", whose sole role would be to conduct marriage ceremonies. The State could provide meeting places of various sizes where marriage ceremonies would be conducted, which couples could rent for a reasonable fee. Couples could also have the option of having the officiate come to a private setting of their choice, for an additional fee.

I envision the role of the marriage officiate as low key and simple. Thus, I propose that to become a marriage officiate would not require a college degree, but rather a simple civil service test, and perhaps a sixweek training course. It would not be designed to be a position of authority, prestige, etc. The focus of this position would be more as a certified public witness to the ceremony. The officiate would also serve in an information giving capacity.

It would not be the role of the officiate to recite proscriptions of how marital partners should behave (except in real basic ways), or to somehow bless, sanctify, or give approval to the union. Rather, the role would be to act as a public witness to the fact that two consenting adults were choosing to exercise their right to form a marital partnership.

This is how I would envision a marriage officiate's role in conducting a marriage ceremony:

  1. Ask each party if they choose to marry the other. This would accomplish proof of "consenting adults."

  2. Ask the couple to announce the agreements they have made as to how their finances will be structured in their marriage, i.e. whether they intend to totally communalize their resources or not. This would basically be a brief overview of their pre-nuptial agreement.

  3. Ask each person to declare that they understand and are satisfied with the pre-nuptial agreement they have signed. This would establish that the contract was not made under duress.
  4. Outline the legal rights of marriage in terms of making medical decisions and funeral arrangements on one another's behalf.

  5. Invite the couple or wedding participants to speak about their love for one another, aspirations for their future life together, etc. This would be an opportunity for poetic expression, songs, etc. The only stipulations would be that this part of the ceremony could not contain anything which would invalidate or contradict the legal marriage contract they drafted.

  6. Ask two witnesses to step forth to endorse the sincerity and positive intention of the couple towards one another. I have never understood the purpose of having people "stand up" in a wedding as has traditionally been practiced in our society. If someone is going to participate in your wedding, it seems to me they should do something besides stand mutely on the altar in a poofy pink dress! Likewise, traditionally in our society, the two required witnesses in a wedding do not participate in any way other than to sign their name. I would give a more active role to the witnesses and wedding party. This is not to say that the witnesses should have to unequivocally endorse the union and guarantee its success. The role of the witnesses would simply be to say that they know the couple well enough to say that they believe they have positive intentions towards one another and are sincerely committed to building a positive, healthy relationship to the best of their abilities. If desired, the witnesses could read poems or add some personal reflections, but the only legal requirement would be for them to attest to the sincerity and positive intentions of the couple.

  7. Pronounce the couple legally married.

The above framework is what I have used in the ceremonies presented is this chapter.

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