How to do a nonsexist wedding
Ideas for an egalitarian wedding
I am a college professor, not a minister, priest, or rabbi, nor am I licensed to do weddings, but twice former students of mine have asked me to do their weddings because they wanted a nonsexist one. We had to figure things out on our own. This page is for those who want ideas about how to do an egalitarian wedding.
Do not address your invitations as Mr. and Mrs. Corey Shenk, but as Karen and Corey Shenk or as Corey and Karen Shenk or as Mr. Corey Shenk and Mrs. (or Ms.) Karen Shenk or as Ms. Karen Shenk and Mr. Corey Shenk.*
The wedding party
Those who stand with the bride need not all be women, and those who stand with the groom need not all be men. A brother of the bride can be a bridesman, and a sister of the groom can be a groomswoman.
Do not have the bride be given away by her father or by her father and mother unless the groom is also to be given away in the same way. Instead, do one of the following:
(a) The bride and groom process to the front at the same time in separate aisles, each accompanied by both parents. The officiant says, "Who presents Christina to be married to Joseph?" and Christina's parents answer together, "We do." The officiant says, "Who presents Joseph to be married to Christina?" and Joseph's parents answer together, "We do." Then the parents seat themselves, and the bride and groom stand together.
OR: The officiant says, "Who welcomes this woman to their family?" and the parents of the man say together, "We do." The officiant says, "Who welcomes this man to their family?" and the parents of the woman say together, "We do." Then the parents of the man welcome the woman by giving her a hug and a kiss, and the parents of the woman welcome the man by giving him a hug and a kiss. The parents seat themselves.
OR: The officiant says, "Who provides this woman and this man to be married?" The parents answer together: "We do." The parents seat themselves, and the bride and groom stand together.
Note: If the procession cannot be done in separate aisles, it can be done in the same aisle, with one group immediately following the other.
(b) The bride and groom process to the front together without parents, either together in the same aisle or in separate aisles, meeting in the front.
If the bride is to be given away, do not have her accompanied to the front just by her father. Instead, have both parents accompany the bride to the front, the bride in the middle, carrying flowers (or holding the arms of each parent while someone follows the group carrying the bride's flowers). When the officiant asks, "Who gives this woman to be married?" both parents say, "We do," at the same time.
OR: Have the bride walk to the front with her father, then joined by her mother at the front. (This is a compromise in case the father insists on walking the bride to the front, or in case the mother does not want to walk with the bride to the front.)
Note: Do not simply have the father of the bride say, "Her mother and I." The mother should speak for herself.
If a unity candle is to be used, have both parents light the candles, not just the mothers.* For those couples who want to symbolize both unity and independence, keep the side candles lit after lighting the large, middle candle.
If selections from the Bible are to be read, use a translation that uses inclusive language. These include the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Today's New International Version (TNIV), which is no longer in print, and The Inclusive Bible. Translations that do not use inclusive language include the King James Bible (KJB), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), and the old New International Version (NIV).
To ensure that the readers use an inclusive language translation, ask them to use one. If the readers do not know which translations use inclusive language or do not own a Bible that does, type a copy of the reading selection and have the readers use that during the ceremony.
If the officiant intends to use an official wedding form, such as is contained in The Book of Common Prayer and other denominational books, ask to see it. If it contains exclusive language, ask that it be changed (or change it yourself), or ask that an inclusive language form be followed. You can find some online or in books.
Make the vows the same. Do not have "obey" or "submit" in the bride's vows without also having it in the groom's vows. Or eliminate "obey" and "submit" from both vows. Check the language of the official wedding form that is to be used. Or write your own vows.
Ask the officiant not to say, "Bryan, you may now kiss your wife." Rather, have the officiant say, "Mary and Bryan, you may now kiss," or "Mary and Bryan, Bryan and Mary, you may now seal your vows with a kiss."
Ask the officiant not to say, "It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Diehn." Rather, have the officiant say, "It gives me great pleasure to introduce Christina and Joseph, newly married," or, "It gives me great pleasure to introduce Christina and Joseph, wife and husband."
Tell the minister, priest, or rabbi who is to do your wedding about your preferences. Be sure you can trust the officiant not to make unintentional or intentional sexist statements, in the prayer, in the talk, or other parts of the ceremony. If the officiant is not willing to follow your preferences, you may have to choose a different one, get married at a different location, or compromise.
You do not need to have an officiant who can legally marry you. You can have anyone you like and trust do it, and you can get legally married at a Justice of the Peace the day before the wedding or the week after the wedding. Be sure to contact a Justice of the Peace well ahead of time so as to find out times and requirements.
Do not have yourself introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Corey Shenk, but as Karen Shenk and Corey Shenk or as Karen and Corey Shenk or (if the original names are retained) as Mary Flowe and Bryan Arneson. Contact the person who is to introduce you ahead of time; write a note of your preference and give it to that person. Remind the person again just prior to the introduction.
It may be that you will have to compromise in your preferences due either to your parents' wishes or the officiant's wishes. Compromise is not always bad—you get some of what you want and others get some of what they want. Sometimes keeping the peace is more important than principle, though sometimes principle is important even if it disrupts the peace. You will have to decide which is more important in your circumstance. If you are able to do any of these nonsexist practices in your wedding, you will have done something significant, even if you are not able to do them all.
Symbols matter. They say something important. We remember them years later. They affect our lives. The same is true of words used in significant ceremonies.
* Thanks to Karen Zemlicka Shenk for this idea.
Thanks to Christina Gale Garrison Diehn and Joseph Diehn, and Mary Flowe and Bryan Arneson, who asked me to marry them.