Suzanna & Ronald's slightly unorthodox, gender-neutral, public celebration of commitment

February 26 |

Red Square

The offbeat bride: Suzanna, Professor/Sociologist (and OBT member "Suzgrad")

Her offbeat partner: Ronald, Academic/Computer Scientist

Location & date of wedding: The University of Washington campus in Seattle, WA (Sylvan Grove and Mary Gates Hall) — July 18, 2009

What made our wedding offbeat: We've both had reservations about marriage: it's often associated with sexism, it implies that relationships should be permanent even though they often aren't, we were already long-term, and we think marriage should be legal for more people. Still, we wanted to make our commitment official in a public way — but we wanted our wedding to reflect our ideas about marriage, without becoming about them rather than us. So…

What a gorgeous setting, man I love Seattle!

I didn't have my hair Done. Maybe not revolutionary, but it was a statement to myself that this was about celebrating our relationship, not our outfits.

I thought I shouldn't care about my dress — more fluff, right? — so I bought something that was the best I could find, a compromise. But… I did care. Eventually, I let myself look for a gown that really was me, whatever the color or style. I'm so glad I did!

Tell us about your ceremony: Our officiant was a good friend who does relationships well, and supported our desire for a gender-neutral ceremony (she'd marry her girlfriend if she could). We never said "husband" or "wife," but we chose not to preach. Some friends mentioned it; our traditional relatives didn't.

We walked up the aisle together. Being given away doesn't make any sense in my life, and being in a committed relationship is a project Ron and I are in together.

RingsWe wrote our own vows — still amazingly controversial! This isn't about owning each other, so I gave my ring to Ron to put on my finger, and vice versa. We got the idea from a ring exchange posted on the OBT under "Ceremony and Ritual", by OBT member "Zan," thanks.) I modified the ring exchange segment of Zan's ceremony text by putting it into mainstream English parlance.

This is what we did (in context):

[Vows] [2nd Reading] [Officiant] The wedding ring is the outward visible sign of an inward and spiritual bond which unites two loyal hearts in endless love.
Ron, I cannot bind you to Suzanna. Only you can choose to do this. If it is your wish, say so at this time and place your ring in her hand.
[RON] It is my wish. (Places ring in Suzanna's hand)
[Officiant] Suzanna, if it is your wish for Ron to be bound with you, place the ring on his finger. (Places ring on Ron's left ring finger)
Suzanna, I cannot form your bond with Ron. Only you can choose to do this. If it is your wish, say so at this time and place your ring in his hand.
[SUZANNA] It is my wish. (Places ring in Ron's hand)
[FAYE] Ron, if it is your wish for Suzanna to be bound with you, place the ring on her finger. (Places ring on Bride's left ring finger)
[Pronouncement of Marriage]

Our biggest challenge: Long-distance planning with a limited budget. We got married in Seattle (my hometown) and were living in either Indiana or Houston or both. This added work, time, and complexity, and it required letting go of some details and control. For us, it was worth it.

It meant we had to have professionals do things I would have loved to do myself, like the wedding cake, and budget accordingly. Table decorations were simpler because I couldn't scrounge around in local thrift stores. I spent more time communicating with vendors and suppliers because I did more things by email and phone.

To minimize the planning visits, I did a lot of internet and phone research. Then we went to Seattle to meet with photographers, bakers, venues, sites, caterers, etc., that had looked good online. The in-person meetings and visits were REALLY important, and were worth the travel.

Mom-made table runner at the head table.

We didn't have a DJ, because I didn't have the time to meet with people and confirm that we'd be comfortable with them. Music and the style of reception announcements both seem important for shaping the vibe of an event, and I didn't want them to be in uncertain hands. It meant more work and time (making playlists ourselves) and more help from friends (making announcements), but we were happy with the outcome.

Finally, given our inclusive goals for the wedding, I thought a LOT about the wording on the invitations.

Beautiful

My favorite moment: Our vows. At some point we decided to leave our vows a surprise for each other, and we barely talked about them at all.

Then, at the ceremony, they were almost exactly the same, in structure and content. We had both decided to spend time talking about what our relationship with the other person meant to us as people, and how and why it exceeded our past hopes. And then we both went on to talk about our vows in terms of what marrying the other person meant to us. I went first. As Ron read his vows and kept saying the same things I had, sometimes even using the same words, it was clear that we are very much on the same wavelength.

That we wrote essentially the same things was very, very cool. Just as much, I love that we both used that central moment to talk about who we were and what this relationship meant in our individual lives, along with how we felt about the other person and what commitments we were making. People have said more about our vows than everything else combined (and apparently my bridesmaids were all bawling behind me).

As a side note, Ron provided inadvertent comic relief when he started by saying that really, he hadn't cheated (by peaking at my vows on my computer, of course, which we'd joked about once). People said they understood what he meant… once he started reading what he'd written.

ComputerMy offbeat advice: Find vendors who support your desire to follow your own vision. Our photographer loved my dress' color and my fiance's long dreads, and he took advantage of both to make some great pictures. Our caterers fully supported a vegan menu, and the chef made great food that everyone loved — including meat-and-potato family members.

Don't be afraid of doing your own bouquets and boutonnieres. The web has lots of information about ways to make them. Two bridesmaids and I made four bouquets in an hour on Friday, we made nine boutonnieres/corsages on Saturday in half an hour, and people asked about the florist.

DIY invitations, programs, namecards, etc., are doable (I used Adobe Illustrator and Word), and it saves lots of money.

Have an after party! We ended the wedding at 9pm, for parents of young children and older family members, but we made sure people knew we'd keep on going in our hotel suite. It was a fun, super-positive dress-up party without the pressure of Weddingness.

We weren't originally going to have bridesmaids and groomsmen — what do they do except stand there? — but I'm glad we did. They actually were very helpful, especially during the last-minute craziness of the wedding week. Even more, they were good friends who stood with us as we bared a bit of our souls and confirmed our commitment at the ceremony, and who reminded us that the wedding was about the two of us—throwing a successful party for our friends was great, but peripheral.

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/28070848@N04/sets/72157622905545249/show

  1. Wow, this sounds like a beautiful ceremony, and the ring exchange made me tear up! I wish you both every happiness.

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  2. Just like sunshine and breath of fresh air- I relate with much of what you wrote. So beautiful and warm- best wishes!

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  3. So beautiful…all of it! Congratulations and wishes for a continued long and happy life together! xD

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  4. Lovely ceremony! You look so happy and I think it is wonderful that you chose what you wanted to share and had others who shared your vision.

    Many happy years!

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  5. I totally agree with the brilliant idea of a genderless ceremony. I had refused to get married to my lovely man, despite having gone through buying a house together, having a son together and enduring 5 years of him asking (he had to put up with 5 years of flat refusals, poor man!). I adore him and want no one else, but I have a hang up with the idea of being owned.
    I finally gave in after he explained how important it was to him to mark me out as not just another "girl friend" but the only other person he wanted to be with. I'm wearing the engagement ring now, but always do and always will refer to him as my partner.
    This post has given me some big ideas for the wording of our Humanist ceremony.
    The red dress is amazing and you both are pure dead gorgeous, by the way!

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  6. I love how pure and simple your wedding was. It cut through all the superficial junk that can surround a wedding. Instead you focused on what's real..your love. I LOVE your dress and the pictures are stunning.

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  7. I love the photo of you in your robe and your partner laughing. That, more then anything else, made me tear up. :-)

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  8. I love this wedding and this is not meant to be snarky at all – just an observation – It's interesting that even in a gender-neutral wedding it sounds like the female partner still did most of the planning!

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    • This is Suzanna: You are right! I did do most of the planning. This is something we were both very aware of, actually. It was occasionally frustrating for me, and that made him sad, and we talked through it a few times. Really, it had to do with our relative individual strengths. (Translation: Ron does not have a lot of experience planning things ahead of time, and I'm pretty good at it.) He knows he owes me. (:

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  9. So inspirational! I love some of your idea's and may try to find places for them in my wedding. I love the fact that you two talked about being individuals. I also never even THOUGHT to make my own bouquets but I'm going to seriously consider it now, because yours were beautiful!

    CONGATS!

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  10. So inspirational! I love some of your idea's and may try to find places for them in my wedding. I love the fact that you two talked about being individuals. I also never even THOUGHT to make my own bouquets but I'm going to seriously consider it now, because yours were beautiful!

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  11. Wow. Can you tell me how you did your birdcage veil? From the photos it looks like your "helper" put the netting on your head and then attached it with a fabric/feather clip. Is this true? If so, it seems a lot simpler than all the birdcage veils I've seen for sale. Did you just buy the netting at a fabric place?
    Btw, amazing wedding and beautiful dress. I had decided in the past week that I'm definitely having a red dress. Thanks for the show of solidarity!

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    • Thanks so much!

      Warning: I used a very home-made process, I'm sure a professional would be able to do it better. I bought some netting at a local fabric store, stuck it on my head using bobby pins until it looked good, then took it off and hand-stitched it into the shape the bobby pins were holding it in. I used strong thread that was the same color as the netting, but didn't worried more about getting it secure than keeping the sewing (if you can call it that) pretty. The feather clip did a great job of hiding the messy stitches!

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      • I'm looking to everything as low cost as possible. Places want at least $50 for a birdcage veil! I think I'll delegate this to my ubercrafty daughter, she's 21 and I'd love for her to make it for me. Thanks and blessings to you and Ronald!

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  12. LOVE your dress. Wowza! And you can always wear it again :)

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  13. I love love love that ring ceremony. How special, and very clever. You're a pretty spunky couple, too!

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  14. I think I am going to lift that ring-exchange wording for my June wedding, as I'm trying to look for things my family hasn't seen or heard before. I especially like the part about "I cannot bind you to each other, only you can do that." How very true.

    One question though, why is the "audience" sitting so far away from the wedding party?

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    • I can answer this question because I went to the UW and know that corner of campus. It's hard to see from the photo, but there's actually a little rise between the guests and the wedding party. See the steps on the right hand side of the photo? Essentially, the space is built with a little grassy "stage," and all the chairs wouldn't fit up there with the wedding party.

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    • We'd thought about the distance thing as well. We considered orienting the wedding a different way in the grove, but we just had to use the columns. The distance didn't seem as far at the ceremony as we thought it would. Also, it was very important for us that people be able to hear, so we made sure to have a good setup with microphones and speakers. (We've both been to too many beautiful outdoor weddings where we couldn't hear a thing, even in the front.)

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  15. Ooh.. let me be more serious and amend that, just to make sure I'm not leaving the wrong impression. We're very aware of the tasks we've divvied up, based on our skills, preferences and other demands, and we work to make sure that over time we're both doing our fair share. Being in charge of wedding planning was one of those things–a big thing, but a defined task that ended. Dirty dishes and laundry, now, are both things that I will always be good at producing and will always hate dealing with, and I expect I'll get to be happy that he's taking care of them for a long time to come..

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  16. I think it was the 21st picture in from the start, but it just made me smile, you both look so happy and Ron's smile is contagious!! Congrats on your marriage and a beautiful wedding!! (and this is random, but you look a bit like Amy Adams who I think is gorgeous so I had to tell you lol)

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  17. These are lovely!!!….and i have to say the photo of you on your computer with a glass of wine is classic! Even on a her wedding day, women multi-task and take control of the situation. It charmed the heck out me.

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  18. Oooh, that's such a gorgeous location! I went to the UW and always thought it'd be lovely to have a wedding there.

    Also, I totally recognized the hotel you were doing your prep in. Love that place!

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  19. I'll keep checking in over the next couple of days, but wow, this positive response is so nice!

    The ceremony was.. great, and the way we did the ring exchange was definitely part of what made it meaningful. Frankly, I can't read through it without getting a little emotional. I didn't know I was that kind of person!

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  20. wow, what an inspirational, thoughtful and beautiful wedding. you brought tears to my eyes. congrats and much happiness to the two of you.

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  21. Second KLee's comment about Amy Adams.
    You are so adorable!
    On another note- I wish I could not have my hair done and have it turn out right! Your wedding was beautiful and you look so happy!

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  22. You two are just so lovely together!
    I had written out some ring exchanging vows similar to yours, but had not given thought to the gender-less-ness of it, I think that I'll get rid of the "husband" and "wife" terms and stick with partner…Yes! I DO like that better!

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  23. This is beautiful and your honesty in your write-up and comments is a rare and precious thing. Thank you for sharing and congratulations to you both! What a charming and conscious wedding :)

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  24. You both look so stunning and relaxed – it's wonderful. Congratulations and thank you so much for sharing your story… I am early in my planning and so very inspired!

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  25. I loved your dress, my fiance and i have two children together so i dont really want to wear traditional 'virgin white' i have 2 kids, the facade has been busted! And i really like the idea of walking down the aisle together, if my youngest son (4 weeks old) can walk by then i was going to have my boys give me away, though i've always thought being given away was a silly idea, congratulations on the beautiful ceremony

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  26. This is so great! And you look beautiful in your photos. My partner and I are preparing for our wedding in August, and we're changing a lot to make it more gender neural and less ownershipy. I was wondering what your officiant said when pronouncing you as married? I really don't want to use husband and wife, so I'm wondering what others have done to replace it?

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    • Hi,
      She pronounced us united in marriage. ("By the power vested in me by… I now pronounce you, Suzanna and Ron, united in marriage.") It seemed so obvious once she came up with it!

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  27. It is really nice to read these comments. Thank you so much! I have to admit, though, that I've decided the best thing about having my wedding featured here is that it has given me an excuse to think about it, which makes me smile and makes me want to go smile at my husband.. and that's something I will always be happy about.

    Someone said we looked relaxed at the wedding. We were, most of the time, and even when we weren’t we were still having a great time. But that's not because everything went right! Off-hand, I can think of several things that didn't go as planned.. and it was still okay. In some cases I reminded myself that it wasn't actually important (only one type of candle made it onto the reception tables), in other cases I/Ron asked someone else to deal with it and trusted that it would happen (the wine still wasn't there 20 minutes before the ceremony–my brother told me later that the wine store had forgotten about us), and in some cases there wasn't anything we could do so we didn't worry about it (my parents-in-law very discretely hated their food at the rehearsal dinner, which was sad because they were the only ones who didn't love it and they were the ones paying).

    By the way? The offbeatbride website community was really good preparation for being able to deal with that kind of stuff. This was a place where I could care about the details of putting on a wedding without being made to feel horribly shallow, and at the same time it was a place where I never forgot that what really mattered for our wedding was our relationship and our friends, not which music we had for our recessional (which I just plain forgot to put on the iPod.. oops!).

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  28. beautiful wedding, refreshing way to look at everything! best wishes and congratulations!

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  29. The most beautiful wedding I have ever seen! You can see how happy the two of you are. I love it that you did it all on your own terms. Very inspiring. Love the ring exchange too- I have to admit I copied and pasted it for my wedding in October. Best wishes to the both of you.

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  30. Excellent wedding!! I am planning a vegan wedding in Seattle and am wondering who did your cake? Thanks!

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  31. I have to admit this is one of my favorite weddings on offbeatbride. So beautiful and inspiring. I hope someday to have such a beautiful, personal event like this. I might have to use some of your ideas as well, they're just so wonderful!

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