Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Civil Marriage

(Disclaimer: I don't know the specifics of Jon and Stephanie's marriage, beyond that they were legally married in a courthouse in May and had a celebratory reception in Pittsburgh last weekend. I'm only going to speak in generalities here, and it'll be your job to NOT assume that everything I say applies to their situation.)

Here's a scenario. Let's say you've found your soulmate, and you both want to get married. Congratulations! But for one reason or another - for example, health insurance or tax purposes - you don't want to go through the months-long process of planning a wedding. (Don't forget the disclaimer...) So, you decide to do as many do and get legally married as quickly as possible, at a courthouse or in a place like Las Vegas.

I don't see anything wrong with the "civil marriage" approach, when there's a good reason for it. But this approach does raise a couple of issues. For one, you miss out on an official wedding. Do you have a "fake wedding" instead, with flowers, bridemaids, a full-scale reception, and everything else - that is just like a real wedding in every way except from the legal standpoint? And, for the religiously minded, does the civil marriage approach "count" as a true marriage in the eyes of the Christian church?

First, about the "fake wedding" approach. There are two reasons why I favor it. For one, weddings are a great excuse to get friends and family together. Many friends and family, I only get to see at weddings. (Or funerals, but those aren't as fun.) And, it was kind of neat to have, for example, my Penn State friends and my aunts and uncles in the same place at the same time. That was kind of neat. If not for our wedding, surely that would have never happened, ever. But it's not just that. Getting married is also a great way to get lots of gifts! And, some people - mostly women - start thinking and/or planning their wedding at a very young age, and you won't get to see that dream through with a courthouse wedding. So if you do the courthouse or Vegas route, you're missing out on a tremendous opportunity. Unless, of course, you do a "fake wedding".

But is a civil marriage legit in God's eyes? Does the actual marriage have to happen in a church in order to "count"? First off, here's another disclaimer: I am hardly a religion expert, and when it comes to church, I am currently a "CEO" (Christmas and Easter Only). All I really have to go on is the sermon that the Episcopalian priest gave during Sunday morning's "blessing of the civil marriage" (I'll get to that). As far as the Episcopalians are concerned, a civil marriage is considered a legit Christian marriage if both bride and groom have been baptised in a Christian denomination church, and if the required intent is there - "until death do us part", etc. Las Vegas intoxicated drive-through weddings, for example, are not considered legit Christian marriages, but Jon and Stephanie's marriage - along with many other civil marriages - are considered legit Christian marriages. Which is good, because it would have been kind of a bummer if the topic of the sermon was why their marriage wasn't legit.

Now, that's just how the Episcopal Church feels. Certainly, the Episcopalians are a tad more progressive than, say, the Catholics. Shoot, Episcopalian priests are even allowed to wed homosexuals! (Not that you care, but I am a strong supporter of gay marriage, and of LGBT rights in general. It's one of the few political issues I don't consider myself a "moderate".)

I don't know this for sure, but I have a feeling that the Catholic Church disagrees with the Episcopal Church on this one. Heck, I don't even think my marriage is officially recognized by the Catholic Church, considering that I married a Lutheran in a Presbyterian Church. Then again, the Catholic Church and I haven't always seen eye-to-eye on everything over the years... I guess what I'm saying is, Amber and I do not plan on raising our future children Catholic. We'll go with a more moderate Christian denomination, possibly Episcopalian, possibly something else. ... Woah! I got way off topic there. Let's get back to weddings.

I'll never forget my wedding day. But would have it been the same if Amber and I were already legally married prior to September 27, 2008? Would it had been as memorable? Maybe, maybe not. I think it would have taken a little bit away from it. A real wedding is definitely preferable to a fake wedding. But if you have reason to get that marriage certificate ASAP, then a fake wedding is better than nothing, and it's the best you can do given the circumstances.


Now, part two. Everything in part two does apply specifically to the Jon and Stephanie fake wedding last weekend.

So, this wasn't a "fake wedding", really. Sunday morning, during a regular Episcopalian church service, the priest took a few minutes to perform a "blessing of a civil marriage". That basically meant doing the standard wedding vows, plus other priest-y bless-this-marriage stuff. Apparently, this specific sort of thing is actually quite rare, and it was the first in this particular church's history. Obviously, this wasn't a real wedding, or even a fake wedding, because here are Jon and Stephanie chatting it up beforehand:

(Yes, it's blurry. That's what happens when you try to take live-action shots with a camera phone.)

And, here's a pic from the blessing itself:

The wedding reception was later that day - much later, in fact - at the PPG Aquarium:

James (my brother) and Amy's wedding reception was at the same venue eight years ago, and I remembered it well. Even the dance floor was in the same place, if I remember correctly. James and Amy claim to have been the first couple to have their wedding reception held on site at the aquarium. It seems it's caught on!

And, of course, we brought Mo the Cow Puppet with us. He makes for a great conversation piece, which for me is good, since I think my conversation skills have deteoriated significantly since I left college.

The reception was completely informal. No announcements of any kind, no formal dances, no best man toasts, no wedding cake (! - but there was cake after the church service that morning). Jon said he just wanted it to be a party. I guess getting the full wedding day experience wasn't a priority for them. Fine with me! It was kind of weird having seven hours of time to kill between the morning church service and the evening reception, though. We all changed clothes in between, in fact.

So, there you have it. I don't know of any other impending marriages between now and October 2011, so that might be it for a while. Who's next? Anyone?


J. Petters said...

Hey Chris, enjoyed reading this! I'd comment more if I wasn't so so sleep deprived :) Well, I agree it was nice Rev. Shouckar didn't blast our choice, ha.

Great seeing you and Amber up there, and great that we got a Mo picture to boot!

Spartangoogle said...

In our parish financial statement last year, it included mention of a grand total of 3 (!) weddings held at Resurrection for the entire year. Apparently your views of the Catholic Church and weddings are not yours alone. Is that lightning I hear striking?

Jeff said...

This is the part of your wedding day you'll never forget, right?

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