Only two men have ever seriously asked me to marry them, and I said yes to both. One was my husband, John, 23 years ago, which led us to say “I do” on a Malibu cliff overlooking the ocean. The other was my beloved friend Mott from college — about two months ago.
Mott wasn’t asking me to be his bride; he was asking me to officiate his wedding to his bride. So I got myself ordained on the interwebs as legit damned clergy — and last weekend I married them. On a Malibu cliff, as luck would have it, overlooking the ocean.
An officiant — also known as a solemnizer (yeesh), celebrant
(… better), and vow master (now we’re talkin’) — has to sign the marriage certificate, give a charming little nuptial speech, keep the ceremony rolling along at a perky clip, cue the vows, pronounce the couple hitched, and, importantly, leap out of the photographer’s shot for The Big Kiss. All of those duties suited me just fine.
The mantle that I wore less comfortably — indeed, that I donned reluctantly and shuffled about in self-consciously like an ill-fitting bridesmaid dress in a putrid hue — was the religious part.
Those of you who believe in Hell, tell me: Is there a special place in it for vociferous, non-agnostic atheists who become reverends of the Universal Life Church (I literally typed in my name and address and clicked “Be Ordained”) just so they can spend a Saturday preaching on a mountaintop to a gussied-up throng of nearly 100 Mormons, Jews, and exceedingly hip Gen X-ers?
How could I stand before these families, many of whom were devout members of their churches and synagogues, and pretend to be joining these lovers in holy matrimony — when, for me, the most divine thing about the wedding was the triple-layer chocolate fudge cake? Glory, halle-licious!
But as I began pondering wedlock and what it means to bind your life to someone else’s with a flourish of rings and Spanx and folding chairs, I realized something: While I think religion is absurd … I consider marriage to be sacred.
I’ve been married for fully half of my life, and I can honestly say that the commitment I made and connection I have with my better half is the closest thing I’ve ever known to faith itself. Consider the ways that marriage is like a religion of its own:
For one, there’s the science: Studies show that people who actively engage in religious activities live longer. The same is true for married people.
Like religion, marriage encourages and even demands our best behavior. And to really be considered nailing it, you need to devote focused time to it every week.
But also, a good marriage is a merciful sense of certainty in a tumultuous world — the thing you turn to in times of worry. And fear. And sorrow. Like a spiritual practice, it’s a source of comfort. It’s the definition of home. It’s the safe space you return to, certain that you’re loved and understood and valued beyond measure, no matter what the world outside may seem to feel about you on a given day.
That, to me, is faith. A whole-souled trust in something greater than ourselves alone. I have faith in this pledge that people make to one another in front of god or mother nature or the ghost of David Bowie or whatever it is you worship.
Take it from me, the irreverent reverend who’s now spied this thing from both sides of the altar: It doesn’t matter if your solemnizer is a sermonizer or your vow master an imposter. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a cliff or in a chapel or under a chuppah.
All that matters is whether you believe in marriage.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Broad Assumptions.