anatomy of an altar [wedding day, installment two]

This weekend, I read Bishop Gene Robinson's new book God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage (Knopf, 2012). In it, he tackles many of the common objections to marriage equality for same-sex partners -- including many of the objections that are borne of religious belief.

Drawing on his experience officiating at weddings of both other-sex and same-sex couples, Robinson observes that many same-sex couples come to their marriage rites with a heightened sense of intentionality -- perhaps because we are asked to do what anthropologists call "cultural work" to justify what we are about to do. Unlike hetero couples who are, in many contexts, assumed to be moving toward marriage "naturally," same-sex couples have to argue -- culturally, religiously, legally -- for the ability to do so. And this struggle translates into a particularly deliberative culture of marriage planning.

I don't know if this generalization is fair (I know plenty of other-sex couples who approach their wedding plans with great thoughtfulness about the ritual and what it means for their lives), but it's true that although our marriage ceremony was spare we did put planning into what was important for us to bring with us into the space, and how we wanted to symbolize our commitment to one another. In addition to the vows, the wedding rings, the legal certificate, the tattoos, and the readings by friends, we carefully assembled an altar for the table that would bring together the various threads of our individual and shared lives we wanted to evoke.

We gathered together:

1) An altar cloth once woven by my mother, in a pattern she constructed mathematically to represent the music of one of my favorite Pentecost hymns.

2) A pure beeswax candle which we did not end up lighting due to wind (and forgetting the matches!), but we chose beeswax because it's such a lovely scent and because bees are awesome.

3) Two clay cat statues from a set of three I gave Hanna as a St. Nicholas Day gift several Christmases ago. These, obviously, were for Geraldine and Teazle who could not be there as part of our family to celebrate the day.

4) An eternal knot -- the symbol our marriage tattoos were inspired by -- which hangs in our bedroom.

5) A soapstone statue of a couple embracing which I found a few years ago at our local Ten Thousand Villages store; I like the Kisii soapstone groupings because they are generally not gender-typed. Perhaps if we'd had a wedding cake, this statue could have been our cake topper!

6) The painting by my sister-in-law Renee which I received as a wedding favor when she and my brother celebrated their marriage in Michigan last summer. This painting stood in for my extended family who are scattered across the country, and for my Michigan roots.

7) A rosewood letter opener carved by my friend Joseph and given to me as a gift many years ago. A gardener and rose breeder, Joseph would have been my pick for best man if, you know, I'd had that sort of wedding.

8) A necklace made by my friend Rachel, who would have been my maid of honor (if: see above).

9) Hanna chose two statues of the Buddha: the first one she ever bought -- back when she first started practicing -- and the one which my mother gave her last year.

10) As a symbol of the self she is bringing to our marriage, Hanna included a small painted TARDIS medallion her father once made for her, which we found up in Maine this past summer when we were cleaning out her things from storage. Doctor Who was Hanna's ur-fandom (along with Star Wars) and as a British show also ties her to her father's Yorkshire roots.

11) Two origami cranes folded and left with Hanna by her former roommate Diana represented Diana and her fiance Collin who would have been Hanna's best man and maid of honor (if: see above).

And Tzurit, the manager of Tatte, brought us two vases full of amazingly fragrant stocks to round out our gathering-space.

On the table in the background, you can also see the portfolio in which is the signing document Hanna and I drew up, which contains our vows in written form and our signatures. Following the verbal exchange of vows, we asked all of our witnesses to sign the document -- and in the months to come we'll be sending it around the country to be signed by those who were unable to be present on the day. Once all 23 signatures have been added, we plan to frame the document (like the good archivists we are, we made sure the paper was acid-free and the signing pen archivally-sound!)


  1. Thank you for this post, Anna! I've loved all your posts about the wedding, from planning to honeymoon to this post. I agree that any couple, other-sex or same-sex, can make meaningful and thoughtful wedding rituals and celebrations. *hugs*

    1. And if any couple, of any persuasion, can make their ceremony meaningful I know you and Collin can! *hugs*

  2. I loved seeing this. I have been to so many weddings where they had some symbolic type ceremony, but I like hearing the explanation and symbolism for everything, and how you both chose all these items. I think if I ever got married, I would like it to have this great personal significance and not just following some beaten-path ritual that isn't personally fulfilling.

  3. Beautiful. As someone who married other-sex yet felt conflicted about the cultural meanings which came with that, I know for us too, setting up the right context and atmosphere (symbols and signals) was very important.