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

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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):

[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.


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.

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Comments on Suzanna & Ronald’s slightly unorthodox, gender-neutral, public celebration of commitment

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

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

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. I love the photo of you in your robe and your partner laughing. That, more then anything else, made me tear up. 🙂

  7. 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!

    • 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. (:

  8. 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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