Ask Surly Amy: Wedding Bells

Dear Surly Amy,

My fiance and I both come from religious parents. We’ve been clear with them that our wedding ceremony will not be a religious one. We recently asked my cousin’s boyfriend to officiate for us, but he declined citing that he “didn’t want to be disrespectful to anyone’s faith.”

I had an extremely emotional reaction to this, as it feels like he’s calling us disrespectful by simply being our non-religious selves. We weren’t asking for any sort of denouncing, just a simple absence of prayers, hymns, etc.

This person has done ceremonies of mixed faiths (Catholic/Jewish for example), which to me seems WAY more disrespectful if anybody standing up there actually believed what they claimed to.

Am I over-reacting? Should I say something to this person about how angry these comments made me? Should we talk to our parents about how other people fear their reaction and are taking sides?

– Respectfully Secular

Dear Respectfully Secular,

This can be a very difficult situation to deal with. Emotions run high at and around weddings but one thing that you should try to keep in mind is, it’s your wedding. This is a ceremony uniting you and your fiancé. It is the day that the two of you will want to remember for many years to come. You should do what you want for each other, not what other people want for themselves.

I went through a similar situation when I was getting married and I simply put out a kind but firm message to everyone invited that there would be no religion in my wedding. I actually told this to people. I said that if you wanted to celebrate the joy and the happiness of the joining of two people very much in love on this very special day, then you were welcome to come, but you had to leave your dogma at he door. (Actual dogs were welcome.) If people wanted to look at the event as though we were getting married, “in the eyes of the Lord” that was their business, but in actuality we were celebrating our love in the eyes of our friends and family and making a public commitment to love each other until the end. No religion needed. I found a friend who could legally marry us and with her help, we wrote our own vows. But just like you, the first person I asked to marry us, said no. I got over it rather quickly by finding someone even better and more fun to have there!

It is really up to you if you feel you need to tell any of the guests or family members that it is a religious free ceremony ahead of time. For me it was important to put the message prior to our wedding. But perhaps in your case, telling people would cause more of a rift. Instead, planning a beautiful, religious-free service without bringing it up to the guests may be what’s best for you.

Weddings are wonderful, joyous events and for the most part you can easily find people who want to be a part of that celebration.

Perhaps, if you show your cousin that there is nothing in your vows meant to offend he will realize it is not such a big deal, but I would still recommend finding someone to stand up with you that you are confident will stick to your religious-free ceremony and won’t be passing judgement. Your wedding day can be stressful as it is, so if you need to, find someone else. Ask a friend or other family member to get ordained in a non denominational church online. Or have a ceremony with an unordained friend officiating and then go to your local city hall after to make it legal. There are alternatives. If your cousin doesn’t want to be part of the happiness and share your love, find someone who will.

Best wishes to you and your fiancé!

Surly Amy

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. I would be hurt if I was Respectfully Secular as well; simply being yourself and wanting your wedding to encompass that isn’t offensive. Atheists are not offensive by simply existing, and that is the subtext I would get here, unfortunately.

    Secular weddings are certainly not the norm, although I’ve found they can be much more fun! The nicest one I’ve ever seen was my uncle’s wedding, which took place during a river rafting trip. They invited closest family and friends along, and asked a nice (lesbian) couple to marry then on a bank partway through. It was beautiful (although casual) as well as a blast for everyone involved.

    I would say not be discouraged and find a way to make your event fit the two of you.

  2. My wife & I dealt with similar issues through a simple credo – no friends as vendors! We hired a local pastor and mercilessly edited his ceremony so that it was short and free of God. He complained a bit, but we found the actual ceremony to be the exact length and tone we wanted, without any fuss.

  3. Last summer, my then-roommates got married. They’d been together for a long time and I couldn’t be happier for them then or now. While the husband is religious to some degree (that whole, “I am pretty sure there’s probably a God, but you will NEVER find me in church” type), the wife is not. They wanted to have their wedding their way.

    What they chose to do was go to a commissioner of oaths the day of the wedding and get legally married with as little pomp and bluster as possible, and then retire to the ceremony. Remember, these do not have to be the same thing. Their legal marriage was important to them, but the celebration of their marriage was equally important and different.

    I was the minister for the celebration, and it was held much like a regular wedding in a pub that they love spending time in. The crowd were not aware that they had been legally married for a few hours and it didn’t matter. What mattered was the friends and family sharing in what was their special moment the way they wanted.

    I do know, however, that the groom’s grandmother was highly offended about things. She called his mother to express that she couldn’t go, and was surprised the mom was going to attend a marriage without God. The mother, who I believe is religious, simply said that it wasn’t her day, it was her son and her new daughter’s day, and what she wanted was irrelevant. All that mattered was the simple choice: Do you go to your son’s wedding even if it isn’t going to be the event you had imagined? The answer was an obvious “yes, of course”.

    And when the ceremony was done and the speeches were speeched, the bride and groom’s favorite local bands hit the stage. It was the perfect wedding for them.

  4. Just have a Justice of the Peace officiate. It’s easy and cheap. I have been to multiple weddings that were secular and judges do a very good job of leaving God out of it, if you tell them too

  5. Ha! My cousin runs the Universal Life Church Monastery, I got ordained but never got my license, I’ll have to get after him about that.

    But yeah, if I get married it will definitely be officiated by a friend and be non-religious, I may even take your tack and be explicit.

  6. I got married in a place that was 350 km away from the nearest registry office or secular officiant, so we at first thought we’d get married in the 350 km distant registry office and then zip back by car to have the wedding party. But my grandparents said they wouldn’t come if we did it that way, and we caved, since we are more of the apatheistic persuasion, and had a priest who promised to keep the ceremony short.
    I think our wedding was lovely, and not tainted by the doddering old priest mixing up his lines at all.

  7. I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing to let that cousin’s boyfriend know just how offended you felt yourself to be turned down simply for not wanting a religious wedding.
    Then proceed to find someone who isn’t afraid to have religious family members shoving their sensitive toes under his/her feet where they don’t belong in the first place, and have the ceremony you want.
    Tell anyone who’s offended that attendance isn’t mandatory.

    1. I agree. It’s a good idea to educate people when you can, and letting this man know that what he said was hurtful and your mere existence is not “disrespectful” to anyone else might do him some good.

  8. I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing to let that cousin’s boyfriend know just how offended you felt yourself to be turned down simply for not wanting a religious wedding.
    Then proceed to find someone who isn’t afraid to have religious family members shoving their sensitive toes under his/her feet where they don’t belong in the first place, and have the ceremony you want.
    Tell anyone who’s offended that attendance isn’t mandatory.
    (This may show up twice, but I’m getting a server error so I’m submitting it again)

  9. Respectfully Secular might check with a Unitarian Univeralist church to find a secular minister. I attended a UU on-and-off for a few years, the head minister was a humanist.


    “Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…”


  10. A slight rephrase on Amy:

    “Weddings are wonderful, joyous events that can make you want to kill everyone you know for causing additional stress.”

  11. This is one thing I love about Colorado. No one is needed to officiate a wedding. I know four couples who got married recently. One couple married themselves by signing the wedding certificate at their kitchen table, one did the same in their car in front of the courthouse, one couple who are Wiccans had a made-up ceremony based on a traditional Japanese ceremony and had their best friend play the role of “minister,” and one couple had the groom’s sister stand behind a podium and recite some poetry and give a short speech before they said their vows and signed the marriage certificate.

  12. Amy, It is amazing to me how you can keep coming up with these thoughtful and wonderful bits of advice, you are spot on every time, in my opinion.

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