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!
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