When my partner and I decided to tie the knot, we knew that a typical wedding just wouldn’t cut it.
We already felt that the institution of marriage was problematic – and as a queer couple, a “traditional” affair didn’t really suit us.
But we still wanted to make this beautiful commitment to one another in community, and many of the legal benefits associated with marriage appealed to us.
So how do two feminist queers put together a wedding that still reflects their values?
This was a question we contemplated pretty seriously for the entirety of our engagement.
A lot of the resources I could find just assumed I was a bride that needed a few suggestions on who to walk me down the aisle and what to do about my last name.
And while these articles are certainly useful for some people, they didn’t even really scratch the surface – because it failed to recognize the more complicated ways that buying into the wedding industry has serious implications.
From the food, to the ceremony, to the institution itself, as feminists, we should be critical of the ways that our actions have an impact.
If you’re looking to plan a wedding and, like us, could do without the patriarchal fanfare and oppressive bullshit, here are some tips on how to plan a wedding that is still socially conscious.
1. Consider a Venue That Does Good for the Community
My partner and I got married at a storefront.
We had to put a balloon on the door so people knew where the wedding was happening because the storefront was so misleading.
A local food justice non-profit frequently rented out their space to folks who wanted to hold meetings, workshops, or other events, so we asked them if we could use the space for a wedding ceremony. And amazingly, they said yes.
Not only did we have a unique and amazing space for our wedding, but our deposit went towards funding a youth education project and helped to sustain a vibrant and important non-profit that gives back to our community.
If you’re looking to have a socially conscious wedding, it definitely starts with location.
A quick Google search can help you find what community spaces exist in your city. Ask around and see if there are any cool organizations that might have a space that you can use.
It might take a little imagination, but you’d be surprised what kind of magic can happen with flowers and some twinkle lights.
And there are some cost-saving benefits here, too!
While a church might charge you thousands of dollars (one that we had our eye on was charging upwards of 3,000 dollars), my partner and I nabbed our wedding space for much less! It made a huge difference, especially for a couple like us that was struggling financially.
If you’re set on having a church wedding, make sure it’s a congregation that welcomes everyone, including LGBTQIA+ folks. Inquire about how they give back to their community, and what your money will be used for. If there’s a particular project that the church is doing that you’re fond of, like a soup kitchen or urban garden, ask if your funds can go specifically toward that project.
Remember that renting these venues cost money, and that your money will be used in some shape or form. Be sure that you’re aware of where your money is going – because it can (and will) make a difference.
2. Ask Guests to Donate to an Org You Love in Lieu of a Gift
Many folks that I know ask for people to make donations rather than giving them a wedding gift. I’m all about this idea!
Creating a donation option for your guests allows you to give back to a cause that you care about – and (bonus!) keeps you from amassing a ridiculous number of crock-pots and toaster ovens.
If you’re afraid that Grandpa Willis won’t be fond of sending a check to Planned Parenthood (for shame!), choose three organizations and allow your guests to decide which one they like the best.
When I’ve attended weddings that have done this, I’m pretty stoked knowing that a non-profit that does amazing work would now be able to continue doing so because of my donation.
3. Consider a Secular Ceremony (Or Reading Passages That Align with Your Values)
I think folks forget that we can make these ceremonies into whatever we want them to be – and that’s an exciting realization! Whatever rules there supposedly are, they are by no means set in stone.
I have a friend whose ceremony was exclusively readings of various poets that she and her sweetheart loved. I have another friend who had a ceremony that consisted of passages from Lord of the Rings and a vow exchange.
We don’t need to follow tradition and can, in fact, start from scratch.
If you have family to please or you’re religious yourself, you can always choose the passages that still resonate with you without offending your feminist sensibilities.
Remember that this is supposed to be your special day – there shouldn’t be anything in the ceremony that makes you or your partner uncomfortable.
You have complete control, so seize it! Make this ceremony a quirky and beautiful reflection of your partnership.
4. Write Your Own Vows
The vows are an awesome opportunity to establish what your values are and commit to staying true to those values in this partnership and beyond.
As a feminist, monogamish queer couple, we found typical vows centering around faith and belonging to each other to be out of line with our reality.
The idea of having ownership of each other didn’t really jive with our ideas of autonomy, and “faithfulness” was odd considering our relationship isn’t exactly closed off.
So, instead, we wrote vows that reflected what we were really about. Our vows emphasized self-care, holding one another in compassion, affirming one another’s identities and freedom, unlearning oppression, and sticking by each other through and through.
And guess what. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
I’ve been to weddings where the vows were incredibly silly, fun, and light-hearted; similarly, I’ve been to weddings where the vows were heartfelt letters that took time, care, and consideration. In both scenarios, the love that these folks had for one another was very clear.
What is important to you in your relationship? What is unique about your partnership? The vows are a great time to explore these questions.
5. Support Businesses That Reflect Your Values
The food, the flowers, the rings, the clothes – when you’re planning a wedding, there are a lot of investments being made.
Take the food, for example.
If you are pro-woman (uh, hopefully you are), why not consider a woman-owned catering company? If you are pro-LGBTQIA+, have you made sure it’s a company that doesn’t discriminate against queer folks?
Can you think of any local businesses that align with your values?
Food can be a major investment for a wedding, so be sure it’s an investment you’re proud to make.
Ask other locals if they know of businesses in the community that are worth supporting. Sometimes you can find the most fantastic people through the grapevine.
Be mindful that every dollar you spend can make a difference. Investing in exploitative businesses just so you can celebrate with your boo seems sort of lousy, no?
You’re making an impact with your investment. Make sure it’s a good one.
6. Don’t Appropriate the Cultural Traditions of Others
If you or your partner aren’t Hindu, for example, there’s literally no justifiable reason to have a Hindu-themed ceremony.
This is a little – no, big something we like to call cultural appropriation, and it’s definitely not socially conscious.
Appropriation is problematic in that it is stealing from another culture without understanding the deep and important cultural meanings behind what you’re “emulating.”
It takes traditions that are cherished and specific to other cultures, and suggests that they belong to you, despite not having the life experiences, heritage, and connection to these traditions.
Further, it could be insulting to guests who do belong to that culture, whether you realize it or not; you could be making a mockery of traditions that are personally important to them.
So just don’t do it. Plain and simple.
7. Maybe Keep the State Out of the Picture?
I don’t mean to be a bummer here, but marriage as an institution is still a problematic one.
For one, it still validates and idealizes a very particular kind of normative relationship, upholding a lot of sexist ideas about women’s worth and purpose in our culture.
The idea of “marriage equality” is still a bit of a misnomer as well. State-sanctioned marriage still excludes poly folks and other arrangements that have more than two people involved. It “prices out” folks with disabilities, ultimately penalizing disabled people for getting married. Marriage also can be financially inaccessible for working class folks, too.
More generally, the idea that we need a contract to legitimize our relationships is kind of weird.
If you’re still looking to make a commitment, but you don’t want to participate in the institution, there are still options for you! You can plan a commitment ceremony, which is basically all the pizzazz of a wedding without the state involved; you could also have a private vow exchange with your sweetheart.
Maybe the socially conscious thing to do is to not invest in an industry that is problematic on so many fronts. Ultimately, you get to decide. Marriage is a personal choice, and no one can tell you what is best for your particular circumstances.
My partner and I opted for a commitment ceremony, and are currently in the process of deciding what legal benefits we need and how we can go about getting them. For citizenship reasons (I am eligible for dual citizenship and would like my partner to be as well), we may go ahead and sign the papers.
But regardless, we know that our commitment is real, valid, and beautiful regardless of whether or not it becomes recognized by the state.
And whether or not you do the paperwork, your commitment is as valid as you make it.
When you’re feminist and socially conscious, planning a wedding can be a very complicated ordeal. That’s often because the institution of marriage itself is not exactly designed to be inclusive of folks who do not fit the normative mold.
That’s not to say we can’t reclaim it, however, and make it into something super badass!
We have the ability to make our weddings a reflection of our values and, further, take it as an opportunity to reflect on what’s really important in a partnership.
So why not shake it up?
Hopefully this article gave you some ideas on how to take this archaic tradition and put your own spin on it.
At the end of the day, a wedding is the solidifying of a partnership and a commitment. That leaves a lot of room for experimentation, no?
So who’s to say it can’t be radical or feminist?
With or without the state, in a church or in a backyard, I hope it’s a blast. Happy planning!
Sam Dylan Finch a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He is queer writer, activist, and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to his work at Everyday Feminism, he is also the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his hella queer and very awesome blog. You can learn more about him here and read his articles here. Follow him on Twitter @samdylanfinch.