By Tom Schicker and Kirsten Isgro
Having lived and loved through all of the ups and downs typical of most nine-year relationships, my partner and I decided that our lives together were worthy of a great celebration. A wedding ceremony however, seemed to us inappropriate to communicate what we felt was special about our relationship. Nationally, we perceived an obsession over heterosexual marriage: Ostensibly, marriage forms the bedrock of healthy society, and in its absence, it causes all social ills. Repelled by those views, we felt that by not marrying, our continuing life together could serve as one of a million counter-examples to the barrage of pro-marriage nonsense. Besides this, traditional marriage, with its implied messages of transformation — that our previously lonely and substandard lives were to be somehow recast as holy and meaningful — seemed to provide an adolescent and trivializing attitude about the long-lasting and dynamic life we have been forging together these nine-plus years. This all being said, we still wanted to have a party!
Our plans for our late August party began in January of 2004. We wanted our party to be held in the Lake Champlain Islands, a place special to us for many reasons. Our dear friends, and former Vermont neighbors, agreed to hold the party at their home. We planned the event as an afternoon lakeside cocktail/tea party for 50-75 of our friends and family. Along with drinks, we’d provide yummy food prepared both by local caterers and ourselves. We would interrupt the party only for a short opportunity for us to speak about the importance and joy of our relationship and for others to offer appreciations. Prior to the party, we put together an extensive webpage with an explanation of why a commitment ceremony instead of a wedding. We also encouraged our guests to make donations to the Unmarried Equality and MassEquality instead of giving us gifts; we felt it important to support these organizations.
The party was fantastic! The weather on Lake Champlain was perfect for summer cocktails: warm and humid, but far from oppressive. Under our canopy were tables of food and shady seating for guests. We had made CDs of smooth and groovy lounge music to provide a nice acoustic background. A friend had made a framed “Statement of Support” modeled loosely on a Jewish wedding ketubah that was signed by all our attending friends and relatives. We had ample delicious food and drink and from a logistical point we were very pleased with the party.
Guests started arriving around 1 p.m. and by 3 p.m. we called together everyone for our public statement, the only moment to provide a hint of drama for the day! Together with a friend we had selected to serve as an ad-hoc “master of ceremonies” we attempted to get everyone to congregate in one area to hear the presentations. Without explicit instructions, it was compelling to see people automatically start setting their folding chairs in little rows all facing one direction — in front of an invisible “altar” that we had not intended to have! As the power of the familiar was guiding people to fashion a church, and our awareness grew that we should have had an alternative geometry agreed upon, we quickly recovered and got folks to sit in a circle around the yard.
Our emcee explained to all what we were going to do, Tom welcomed the guests and offered a short word of explanation for the ceremony. Together we made a statement reflecting the evolution of our love and the growth we have experienced in our lives together, and then we welcomed comments from guests. We then turned the music back on and continued the party until 5 p.m. or so, by which time we, and most of the remaining guests, were in the lake enjoying a cooling swim!
We were so happy with our party, and we felt gratified that we had proudly celebrated something so dear to us: ourselves within a larger fabulous community! We strove to create a celebration that felt true to us, was light in spirit, and was comprehensible to those who might not immediately understand why we weren’t marrying in the traditional way. As the seating confusion for the ceremony demonstrated somewhat metaphorically, we felt a persistent tension between what we wanted to express and how others, in their attempts to make sense of our celebration, often relied upon notions from traditional marriage that we hoped to counter. In the context of a fun party, we are unsure how well we communicated why we chose the ceremony we did, but we at least tried to share a vision of how folks can honor the complexity and uniqueness of human relationship and have a damn good time doing it.
Tom Schicker is an avid believer in mathematical reality and tutors at Smith College. Kirsten Isgro is a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst and a former UE Board member. They both like to spend time outside hiking, biking and snowshoeing in New England, especially Vermont which, besides being a major maple syrup producer, has one of the highest rates of cohabitation in the country.
Congratulations to Tom and Kirsten on what sounds like a wonderful ceremony and celebration! Many partners holding commitment ceremonies or weddings encourage their guests to give donations to UE in their honor, a wonderful way to celebrate their own relationship while supporting fairness for those who cannot or choose not to marry. For information about how to do so, see our Frequently Asked Questions About Commitment Ceremonies.