Being part of three weddings in three weeks focuses you on the meaning of marriage. Somehow, “a culturally sanctioned union [or legal contract] between spouses that establishes certain rights and obligations between the people, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws" doesn’t begin to describe what I have witnessed. All three events had much in common, and each lay recognizably within the traditional ceremonies I have attended all my life. But I was struck by the uniqueness of each wedding and how it reflected each couple’s character and aspirations. And that, it seems to me, represents a profound change in how we view the institution itself. Each wedding was outdoors, in a beautiful and carefully chosen place. The vow was a personal statement, a conversation rather than a ritual. God was often optional, and the word “obey” was never uttered.
These are not incidental changes. To me they reflect a belief in marriage as a personal journey, rather than a communal duty or religious rite. Words that are carefully chosen make you think hard about what they mean, about what you are promising to each other. Marriage is a path you have chosen, often after a long courtship, and you have chosen it with care.
The role of the community is no longer to define the legal or cultural arrangements of marriage. Instead, the community is the ceremony itself, in which we have all come together to support two people on the journey they have chosen.