Over the last decade and a half, as the battle for marriage equality built toward the ultimate victory that came on June 26, 2015, we heard a lot of talk about “traditional marriage” — mainly about how we, as lesbians and gay men were going to destroy “traditional marriage.”
But it’s been almost a year now since the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, and the sky hasn’t fallen. Bigamy hasn’t been legalized, and neither has either incest or interspecies marriage.
And “traditional marriage” still stands. It just stands for everyone now, instead of only a select heterosexual few.
The truth is, though, that while traditional marriage stands firm, many wedding traditions are changing, for opposite-sex couples as well as same-sex couples. And that is perfectly OK. Perhaps the old wedding traditions don’t fit this new age of marriage, but there’s no rule saying we can’t create new ones.
Traditionally, a wedding has signified a new beginning, a time when two people come together to create a new life as a couple, as a new family. But for many of us in the LGBT community, especially over the last year, a wedding is simply putting a legal knot in ties that have bound us together as couples, as families, for many years.
So wedding traditions, many of them rooted in superstition, have little or no meaning for same-sex couples. For example:
• Rice is often thrown at a newly-married couple, symbolizing fertility. That’s not usually an issue for same-sex couples.
• Brides wear white to symbolize their purity, a tradition started in the Western World by Queen Victoria in 1840 (it was a Japanese tradition long before then). Again, not an issue with same-sex couples, many of whom have been in committed relationships for years before having the chance to make it legal.
• The tradition of the bride wearing a veil started in ancient Greece and Rome, where the veil was believed to shield her from evil spirits. Well, considering the level of anti-LGBT animosity out there in the world, maybe we should keep this tradition, and have the brides and bridegrooms — and the attendants, and the officiants, and the guests — wear veils.
Of course, back in the days when brides and bridegrooms didn’t know each other and likely had never seen each other until joined in arranged marriages, veils were used to keep the bridegroom from seeing the bride’s face until the vows were exchanged and the marriage a done deal. Considering that same-sex couples often have been waking up to each other’s faces for years by the time they marry, that’s a useless tradition.
• It is tradition in Denmark for brides and bridegrooms to cross-dress to confuse the evil spirits. I think we’ve got that one covered.
• And again with the “warding off evil spirits” efforts, perhaps we should trade the modern tradition of wedding flowers for the older tradition of using strong-smelling herbs, like thyme and garlic, in hopes that the smell would scare away the bad spirits.
• Some African-American weddings include a “jumping the broom” ceremony, dating back to the days of slavery, when the African-American slaves were not allowed to legally marry. Back then, the sticks were placed on the ground for the newlywed couple to step over, symbolically stepping into their new home together. Today, “jumping the broom” symbolizes sweeping away the old, and welcoming in the new. This sounds like a tradition the LGBT community could appreciate.
• A Jewish wedding traditionally ends with the groom stomping on a glass. With same-sex weddings, that tradition continues, however both grooms or both brides usually break glasses. And that tradition has carried over to some opposite-sex weddings as well, with both bride and groom breaking a glass.
• The wording on the ketuba, the Jewish wedding certificate, has changed dramatically as well. While the rabbi certifies that the bride is a virgin on an Orthodox certificate, a more egalitarian certificate for two grooms or two brides expresses the couple’s love and respect for each other. That’s a practice that has also been adopted by many opposite-sex couples.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2016.