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More than a Piece of Paper

Commitment ceremonies have great meaning, state-sanctioned or not

By Hannah McCartney · January 25th, 2010 · Special
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If you asked a 9-year-old girl to describe her dream wedding for you, her vision likely wouldn’t involve purple and green Chuck Taylors, two brides sporting slick tuxedo vests or a drag show at the reception.

But spouses Lisa and Adrienne Ray wouldn’t have had it any other way. The duo, who moved to Massachusetts last year, returned to the Cincinnati area last summer to have a commitment ceremony celebrating their recently legalized marriage with friends and family.

There are 31 states in the U.S. with constitutional amendments that explicitly prohibit the legal recognition of same-sex marriages, many of which ban state acknowledgment of any type of same-sex union. Ohio and Kentucky are two of those states.

Internationally, countries continue to approve new bills legally recognizing same-sex unions: Norway, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and all the way to South Africa have sanctioned gay marriage. Even Portugal — one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in the world — recently passed a pro-gay marriage bill that should soon go into effect. Closer to home, there’s been much hullabaloo in the last few months after California legislatures opted not to challenge Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage there.

The desire for state recognition of same-sex unions nationwide has ironically proven to be incredibly divisive. But on June 27, 2009, Lisa and Adrienne Ray ignored the controversy and did just the opposite here: They united formally, permanently, vibrantly, honorably and resolutely.

Although they’d already been “officially” wed on June 12 in Massachusetts, they felt that their marriage hadn’t, in the end, been made bona fide by a piece of paper from a judge.

“We were legally wed, just the two of us,” Lisa says, “but it didn’t seem real without our friends and family there to witness our love and support our marriage.

We consider the wedding ceremony on June 27 to be our official wedding.”

In fact, when they moved to Massachusetts, Lisa and Adrienne were already well into planning the Cincinnati ceremony.

“It was an absolute added bonus that we were moving to one of the states that allows same-sex marriage,” Lisa says. The couple had just relocated to Massachusetts, Adrienne’s childhood home, after Lisa received a job opportunity.

A commitment ceremony can be as much or as little like a traditional, cookie-cutter wedding as the couple would like it to be. Lisa and Adrienne opted to plan the ceremony just like a real wedding, including having an ordained minister present. Instead of bridesmaids and groomsmen, they just had “Wedding Party People.” And those Chuck Taylors and tuxedo vests? No afterthought.

“For a brief moment I contemplated wearing a wedding dress since ‘that’s what women do’ at their weddings,” Lisa says. “In the end, I decided I wouldn’t be being true to myself if I wore a dress.”

The couple’s wedding song, “Lucky” by Jason Mraz, helped set an appropriately jovial tone marking their return to the Cincinnati area: “Lucky I’m in love with my best friend/ Lucky to have been where I have been/ Lucky to be coming home again…”

Despite sluggish legal progress and poor voter reception to pro same-sex marriage bills in the U.S., options for couples desiring commitment ceremonies are expanding, and there’s an ample amount of clergy happy to perform the ceremonies. For Cincinnati-based Ordained Interfaith Minister Deborah Hall Bradley, the process in approving a couple for a ceremony remains constant, regardless of gender.

“I use the same guidelines with same-sex couples as I would with heterosexual couples,” she says. “I determine the couple’s level of commitment to each other and I want to be sure that it’s the right time for them to deepen their relationship by affirming their love publicly. I see commitment ceremonies the same way as I see marriages. They both help deepen a couple’s commitment with celebration and public acknowledgement of that commitment.”

Adrienne couldn’t agree more: “For me to stand in front of my entire family and make an unbreakable vow to Lisa is the most binding and important part of getting married. To skip sharing my vows in front of all of our loved ones would be tragic. That’s what separates a wedding from a big party. That’s what you take home with you. That’s what you remember 20 years down the road.” �



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