Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

When a Wedding Isn"t a Legal Marriage

Wedding ministers receive all kinds of strange requests. One night I received a call from a gentleman clearly in distress.
"Reverend Peluso? I'm wondering if you can help me with a sensitive problem."
"Why don"t you tell me about it," I said.
"On the basis of my attorney's projections last year, I scheduled a wedding, expecting my divorce decree to have been finalized last month."
"Sounds like that didn"t happen."
" I don"t know what I'm going to do. We've put thousands down on the reception hall and caterer, the wedding is supposed to be in two weeks, and...."
"Nonrefundable deposits. Got it."
"Our parents are old, I don"t want to break their hearts...but when I explained the situation to the minister we engaged several months ago, he said he wouldn"t do the wedding."
"I'm sorry to hear that. How is your fiance reacting to all this?"
"Of course, she's disappointed, but she's been just very understanding."
What my "gentleman-in -distress" needed was a "wedding" ceremony that would let everyone celebrate their commitment, and when his divorce decree came through, he and his fiance would legally tie the knot at city hall.
"I will have to speak to your fiance alone. Would you please have her call me?"
There were a couple of problems to overcome in order for me to agree to do this ceremony, the first was to make sure the fiance wasn"t being deceived, pressured or coerced into accepting a phony marriage. I needed to be sure my gentleman-in-distress wasn"t a manipulator.
That proved not to be the case. His "bride" fully understood that the ceremony I would perform was not a legal marriage and that I could not pronounce them husband and wife without a license.
In several traditions, the lines between the sacred and the legal are more preserved and transparent than in our modern Western marriage commemorations. In these traditions, two separate steps may be involved: one: the signing of a contract; the other, the sacred ceremony. In America, the state issues the license, but the ceremony is performed separately. The clergyperson, having registered with the city or state, then verifies that the marriage has been performed by submitting the documents. In this case, I would not be stating that "by the power vested in my by the State of New York, I pronounce you..." nor would there be any documents.
When I was sure that this bride and groom understood the full legal implications, I then did some counseling with them both on how to protect themselves until they could legalize their union. I told them that before I'd do the wedding I'd want them to agree to go immediately and name each other as beneficiary in all their bank accounts and financial documents, and to name each other as coowners, or to "will" to each other all other properties. I was delighted to learn that they had already done this. What they hadn"t yet done was given each other durable power of attorney and health care proxy. These latter two items are essential in order for either to act on the other's behalf in an emergency.
The couple's agreement to do these things for each other, convinced me that their relationship and intentions were for real. Under those conditions, I agreed to do a spiritual ceremony. Instead of pronouncing them married, I pronounced them "loving and committed life-partners." And their aged parents, nor anyone else, seemed to notice anything amiss as I transitioned my couple directly into the kiss.
There are any number of reasons why a couple may wish to have the sacred part of a "wedding" performed without legalizing the union. Seniors may be afraid to lose their social security. Other people do not recognize the right of civil authority over what they feel is a private matter. And, of course, we have gay and lesbian couples, who, as of this writing, are unable to legally marry in this and many other states.
We humans are moved to recognize life milestones in the form of ritual. When we meet someone with whom we wish to share our lives, we want to celebrate our love with each other, with friends, family and community.
It is a privilege to be here for couples and assist in whatever way I can, to the extent the law allows.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Scenes from Recent Weddings

Alas! Photos and video are always delayed. But here are a few from recent weddings...a destination, beach wedding (photo by The Bleu Studio)
and an Anglo-Islamic wedding. This Uk bride of Bengali heritage is pictured here in her reception gown--an eye-popping red silk sari embroidered in gold thread. Two beautiful brides, two fabulous weddings...and an honor to create and officiate two ceremonies that just couldn't have been more different.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Interviewing Wedding Officiants NOW!

They live in Scotland, but like many of my international couples, they wanted to marry in New York. New York has become an exciting meeting point for families dispersed across the globe. Until recently, all the preparatory contact and work for the ceremony has been through email, sometimes a phone call. Not for my Skype couple. We had the traditional interview--audio and video--over the internet through Skype. This is technology in service of LOVE. Enjoy the photo of my Skype couple. Oh, yes...that's me in the middle.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wedding Highlights for August 09

Among the weddings I performed this month included one for a NY1 news producer at The Water's Edge a lovely, lavish setting with a view of Manhattan from the East River. The venue provides its own ferry to E. 23rd Street. Another wedding was for a Muslim couple from the UK in a most unusual venue 632 Hudson Street, a town house, with unique decor, ideally suited for a small wedding. The couple flew in about 35 people from the UK. The couple had their Nikka (Islamic religious ceremony) a year before. The groom's family is Christian. The ceremony I created was mostly civil but a Sufi poem was included. The bride (of Bengali heritage) wore an elegant beaded (pearl) white gown (Western style) but a traditional red sari with gold trim for the reception. The sari...magnificent!!! The wedding was skillfully coordinated by Miche Griffin of Griffin Events. Miche was a pleasure to work with.
Another wedding also won a special place in my heart--that of videographer William Beebe and his bride Ajeia. Performing a wedding for a colleague is a great joy and particular honor. William is one of the best wedding videographers in NYC and one of the nicest people in this city. Enjoy this photo of William and Ajeia. And congratulations to all my August couples!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Join Me At Facebook and...

Blog readers are invited to join my Facebook circle of friends.
Go to: and search for Rev. R. M. Peluso.
Send me a message or invitation to become a friend.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Challenging Interfaith Weddings.

I've done 'em all--Chinese Buddhist-Jewish, Moslem-Baptist, Celtic-Retro, Yoga weddings, and in Spanish and French, as well as English. The more challenging, the better I enjoy creating ceremonies to touch the heart of every participant. But special challenges sometimes come up when parents do not support their son's or daughter's decision to marry out of their faith. While the wedding couple had given me a heads-up, I was caught a little by surprise when, a few minutes after my arrival, the father of the groom sat me down to express his discontent. The gentleman was educated in his faith pre-Vatican II, and mostly needed to vent. He was half-way there in his heart, wanting to accept his new daughter-- he just needed to know that his sentiments were being respected. We talked about his values, their values, the values both faiths held in common. And he was surprised that I would take about Jesus under a chuppah and that I would ask the Catholics to say a prayer in Hebrew, that Jesus would probably have said over wine. A little later, the old gentleman caught me by the elbow. With tears in his eyes, he said, "Thank you. I would never have believed it possible."
I have often said, that if at least one parent doesn't come to me with tears of gratitude, I wouldn't consider that I'd done my job properly. So, I was delighted to know that my words struck the right chord. Because the future of a couple, of an entire family can ride on an auspcious beginning, the good will, respect and inclusion of all the family members, skillful communication, care and compassion are essential ingredients in greating a wedding worth remembering.