General Question

zina's avatar

Resources for progressive commitment ceremonies / weddings / marriages / partnership / etc.

Asked by zina (1636 points ) September 9th, 2007

I’m looking for web, book, organization, or other resources—history and meaning of specific parts of the wedding ceremony, politically progressive analyses of traditional weddings and marriage, alternative ceremony ideas, inclusive wedding models, non-religious wedding models, how to handle weddings between families of very different class/cultural/religious background, lifelong commitment as part of a radical agenda (arguments for/against lefties getting married), arguments for having children/family and alternative family structures, ....... any related information.

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12 Answers

hossman's avatar

Wow. For the purposes of my answer, I will assume you have a specific person in mind for this “whatever” sort of commitment you had in mind. Perhaps, as you seem to have a very broad concept of what you are looking for, you shouldn’t seek the answer in what anyone else has done, but rather consult with this specific person and come up with an arrangement you both desire, then see, if said arrangement includes some sort of legally binding ceremony, whether you can find anyone sufficiently licensed who will perform “whatever” for you.

As to “having children/family and alternative family structures,” as a family law attorney, I have been exposed to a wide spectrum of such arrangements, from arranged and radically fundamentalist religious marriages to polyamorous “multiple marriages.” I have sought out research on traditional families, extended families, split families, blended families, “more than 2 parent” families, “same gender parent” families, “sperm donor parent” arrangements, etc. I have also observed all of these arrangements at work. And after 12 years, thousands of legal proceedings, hundreds of consultations with experts, and volume after volume of research, I have come to the following conclusion:

I make no comment here on the morality, ethics, etc. of any particular arrangement. I make no comment here on the relative satisfaction, happiness, etc. of the adults involved. I make no comment here on whether what I assert is “right” or “wrong” or socially desirable. I fully acknowledge the possibility of success in a wide spectrum of options. But as a wholly pragmatic matter, focusing solely on the total success, emotional, psychological, social and financial, of the entire family, but especially the minor children, the highest probability of healthy and successful lives in our current society lies, in my personal observation and in the most credible research, with children being raised, whenever possible, by one male and one female parent, legally spouses, each heterosexual, who work together in a parenting partnership predicated upon common values, and do not have amorous relationships with anyone other than the other spouse, REGARDLESS of the actual love or passion those parents have for each other. This may be due to many factors, and certainly at least part of that is that this relationship continues in this society to be in many ways the most widely socially accepted and financially efficient. Before the flames start, I’m not making a moral, religious or ethical statement here, this is my own well-studied academic observation. I have certainly observed other arrangements that have been successful (but not with as high frequency of success), except for polyamory, I have never seen a polyamorous “more than two parent” arrangement produce emotionally healthy children, but then again, there aren’t that many of that arrangement out there, so my sample may be skewed.

Since I believe the health and success of children to be more important and deserving of protection than that of the adults, it is my “default” position that the further your own anticipated familial structure deviates from that structure, the more cautious you should be about bringing children into that structure. Further, as courts and experts are most comfortable with the most socially acceptable family structures, if litigation arises, the parent able to provide the most traditional parental environment will frequently have an edge.

That said, without federal legislation clearly defining “marriage” to consist of one male and one female spouse (which I believe would be upheld as constitutional by this Supreme Court, actually, it probably would have been upheld by the Clinton era Court as well) I see no compelling legal basis to bar same-sex marriage. Once we move past the current legal bright-line and permit same-sex marriage, then there is an even weaker legal basis to prohibit “more than 2 spouse” marriage. There are also activists trying to lower or remove age-based limitations, and I suppose eventually someone would make an argument to permit interspecies marriage (although I hope PETA would jump in against that one). Given current trends, I wouldn’t be surprised if the eventual result would be for the term “marriage” to strictly be limited to a religous ceremony, and eliminated as a civil legal concept, replaced by a “civil union.” As our society has changed, we have gradually removed concepts like “dower” and “alienation of affections” and treated civil marriages less as religious covenants and more like contractual partnerships, and perhaps rather than trying to preserve a traditional concept like civil “marriage” we should remove that term altogether from the civil and legal context and make “civil unions” a purely contractual relationship requiring a written, formal agreement before commencement of the relationship. Then instead of the lawyers and courts determining what should happen after the marriage breaks up, we could spend our time negotiating how the civil union should be set up, and litigation would be replaced by negotiation. At least the “spouses” would then enter the relationship with full disclosure of what to expect, somewhat like some of the “prenup” contracts used by some of the wealthy and famous, which even specify the frequency of specific physical acts of intimacy. Sure, it’s not romantic, but at least you’d know what you were getting.

Modern_Classic's avatar

You’re kidding, hossman, aren’t you.

hossman's avatar

Nope. In order to represent clients who have had what could broadly be termed a wide spectrum of “alternative” family arrangements, including clients who have had same-sex family arrangements and “more than 2 parent” polyamorous arrangements (which I am not making any attempt to equate) I have actively sought experts and research that could support an argument that said arrangements were statistically as or more healthy than the “traditional” family. I have found clearly biased experts and research (some of which I’ve had to use as the only available alternative); I have found experts and research that say that SHOULD be true, for a variety of social, political and other agendas; I have found research and experts that on initial review appeared to support that position, but their methodology was fundamentally flawed or biased, but I have yet to find any expert or research that survived vigorous review and cross-examination. I have yet to find any that convinced a judge, including several judges who themselves are engaged in alternative lifestyles. Of course, this is merely looking at the factor of the proposed family structure itself. There are myriad other factors, most importantly, the fitness of the parties, that are more important and persuasive than the nature of the proposed family structure.

I’m guessing that’s the part you referred to when you said “you’re kidding.” If not, let me know. I’m approaching this from as close to a neutral and academic approach as possible. I’ve also heard opposing counsel, and attorneys I’ve heard argue in other cases, and there is a definite paucity of support for the position that, absent other facters, an “alternative” family structure is as statistically likely to be healthy and successful as a “traditional” structure. This does NOT mean that in any particular instance this could not be so, I’m referring to strong, supportable scientific studies of large samples. Anecdotal examples are not sufficient. The few studies that have taken this question on that are credible have been either inconclusive or express that “traditional” structures are statistically more healthy and successful. This inherently places alternative structures at a disadvantage in custody litigation, even in front of judges who themselves are in alternative lifestyles or at least appear unbiased on this issue. Until there are some serious and credible long-term, large sample studies with strong methodology, that will continue. In fact, I would suggest those supporting same-sex marriage would have a stronger case if these studies were completed, as it would abrogate the argument that prohibiting same-sex marriages is outweighed by a compelling state interest in the welfare of children. I find it curious why there isn’t more research done on this issue.

But I could be completely wrong about what you thought I was kidding about. I try to make when I am kidding clear, but sometimes I’m not successful.

zina's avatar

Hossman, your replies are outrageous and insulting. It seems like you didn’t even really read my question, made lots of assumptions about me as the person asking and about the context of the question, and inappropriately went on about your own ideas on what I guess is a vaguely related topic.

I definitely didn’t say anything about “whatever” in my question, nor did I even imply a lack of seriousness. And the reason for the question? – I said nothing of it. What if I were doing standard research? NOTHING implied otherwise. Simply curious about things like the history of the wedding ring, from a contemporary/critical perspective? Would “Where can an engaged couple of male and female democrats intending to have a nuclear family of their own children learn about the history of wedding ceremonies and creative contemporary wedding ideas?” suited your fancy?

I was expecting an answer like, “oh, check out progressivedemocratsformarriage.com, nontraditionalweddings.com, historyofweddings.com, .....” (those are made up, obviously)

Try to keep this site a forum where people can be comfortable to ask questions – especially a straitforward, simple one seeking resources for information.

occ's avatar

Hi Zina, you might want to try checking out http://www.sierraclub.org/greenwedding

the site has lots of info and ideas about ways to make your ceremony eco-friendly, with lots of helpful links. I also know a great organic caterer in the Bay Area called Back to Earth.
I’m not sure about your religious background but I’ve heard there is a great book called The New Jewish Wedding, by a feminist author named Anita Diamont (author of the bestselling novel, The Red Tent). It has a lot of discussion of alternative rituals that feel egalitarian.

Also, for what it’s worth, my hippie parents who never had a ceremony (but got their papers at city hall) decided to wear wedding necklaces instead of rings because they thought it was a better symbol of commitment than a public symbol that can seem posessive (i.e. they wear the necklaces under their shirts so it is a personal reminder of their commitment).

zina's avatar

Thanks!! That’s a GREAT site (hadn’t even occurred to me to look for it), with lots of ideas—many of which we’d already thought of, but loads more that will be really useful! Back to Earth looks scrumptious, and makes me want to look at different food options…. I’m not of Jewish background, but The New Jewish Wedding looks really interesting—and looking it up led to some other interesting and relevant books. So thanks again for your ideas!

I hope others have ideas to share!

hossman's avatar

Zina, since you were so upset, and chose to vent publicly here rather than through a private comment, I will respond in the same manner.

I have reviewed my post myself, and with other frequent posters here. We have only found one thing deserving an apology. I digressed considerably from your original topic, thus my response did not provide what you were looking for. However, this website is neither designed nor intended to be short answer information, if posters simply wanted a link to a website, they could do a google search itself. So I do apologize that late at night, I did ramble beyond the scope of your topic into another topic that came to mind reading your response. I do find the first paragraph of my response to be neither offensive and a helpful suggestion in direct response to your question. Perhaps I was misled by your unclear use of the word “alternative” and took it to mean something else.

I used the word “whatever” for lack of a specific term, since your own post lacked specificity in the information it was seeking. It was not intended to be callous, I treat marriage very seriously. In addition, my family could tell you I despise the use of “whatever” in the flippant manner to which you refer. My response, even the less relevant portions, was entirely serious.

Nothing in my post is either outrageous or insulting. I have no idea why you would find it so. I made no personal judgments. I made no assumptions about you. I could have, as a hypothetical example, made value judgments regarding your suggestion regarding the role of marriage or nonmarriage as a political statement, but declined to do so.

I suppose I was hoping somebody could point me to some research that would be helpful in comparative analysis of the relative success regarding child development in alternative family structures as opposed to the traditional nuclear family, but instead you chose to be offended. My entire post was carefully worded to avoid offense. Yet, rather than answering my sincere question, you chose to be offended. I can’t help but think that says more about you than me, but you will probably choose to be offended by that statement as well.

Really, if we are going to seriously consider the wide spectrum of committed relationships in our society, we need to be able to do it without taking offense. I cannot apoloize if you were insulted. That is your feeling and your choice. I find nothing in my post intended to offend. If you were simply seeking information regarding the “history of the wedding ring,” then I suggest you put that in your post.

You ask: Would “Where can an engaged couple of male and female democrats intending to have a nuclear family of their own children learn about the history of wedding ceremonies and creative contemporary wedding ideas?” suited your fancy?

YES. If you don’t want surprises about what answers you receive, then perhaps you should tailor your question more carefully. I would have provided an entirely different answer to that question.

You say: “Try to keep this site a forum where people can be comfortable to ask questions – especially a straitforward, simple one seeking resources for information.”

My initial, emotional response would be to say I don’t need any lectures from you regarding my exercise of free speech, but then I realize I have criticized Poser for advocating that minors “bang some tail” (odd, I don’t recall you posting offended at that) and chris for outright shilling for Ron Paul’s campaign, so I suppose I can’t criticize you for your comments. I do try to make this site comfortable for people of ALL viewpoints, not just the ones you or I agree with, zina. That inherently includes discussion you might not agree with. Perhaps if you wish simple references to links you might try asking a simple, straightforward question. I think if you are fair with yourself and me, if you reread your original post, you will admit it is not phrased in a simple, straightforward manner, and although, again, I digressed, I think you can see how I misunderstood some of what you were looking for.

If my post was provocative, well, anyone who’s been reading me knows I sometimes like to do that, but it is not intended to belittle or offend. I very carefully avoid offensive language or posts. Zina, you also have made an assumption. I sought information to be helpful regarding asserting the views of my clients, not myself. Inherent in the nature of being a lawyer is subverting your own positions in order to be an advocate for others. My clients have a constitutional right to a zealous advocate, and unless what they are seeking is unlawful or unethical, I do my utmost to do so. If what they wish is not unlawful or unethical but so distasteful to me personally I cannot be a zealous advocate, I tell them to seek other counsel. You also know nothing about me or my own positions. Please don’t mistake advocacy for personal belief. My post, as wandering as it was, was a sincere attempt to obtain new information I have been unable to find on my own, much as my prior thread seeking information for a presentation regarding the decision-making between abortion and adoption. The only reason I can see for your offense is your sensitivity to what you thought was an assertion of a viewpoint, not an academic request for information. Or perhaps you suffer from what Berke Breathed referred to in an old “Bloom County” cartoon as “offensensitivity.” If you still find offense, I suggest you paste into a private comment to me excerpts you find offensive, tell me in a calm manner what you find offensive, and I will either clarify any miscommunication between us, or if there is something upon further reflection I find offensive, I will apologize.

And I apologize if I ramble here.

maggiesmom1's avatar

Zina – I don’t see what was so outrageous or insulting in Hossman’s initial response. While it was a bit rambling (and he addressed that), he passed no judgment, made no assumptions and certainly said nothing that indicated any personal moral feelings on the matter. He simply talked about his inability to find research that supported the more non-traditional “unions” and family units that are popping up. I think it is possible that you are being overly sensitive because he shared information (not even opinion) that might be different from what you believe??
The problem, I think, was that your initial question was really, really vague. I was completely unsure of what exactly you were looking for and I actually thought that Hossman’s initial advice of ”Perhaps, as you seem to have a very broad concept of what you are looking for, you shouldn’t seek the answer in what anyone else has done, but rather consult with this specific person and come up with an arrangement you both desire, then see, if said arrangement includes some sort of legally binding ceremony, whether you can find anyone sufficiently licensed who will perform “whatever” for you. was quite good. If you’re wishing to construct something radically non-traditional, what difference does it make what other resources have to say? If you & you partner want to stand naked outside under a waterfall & rhythmically chant feminist poetry and ancient Shaman blessings, then just do it. If that’s meaningful to you, then that’s what you should do.
I think you really should save such strong language as “outrageous” and “insulting” for when people actually are being those things. While the information Hossman shared with you may not have been to your liking, I do not think they fall under either of those categories.
If you’re just looking for links for research purposes, I think that’s what Google is for. If you’re looking for something specific, you should ask a more specific question. I honestly had no idea what you were asking because your initial question was so nebulous.

Pietro's avatar

It IS important to consult people with more experience with constructing non-traditional commitment ceremonies instead of just consulting your partner because extending your vision of the realm of the possible is greatly aided by people with different backgrounds. For instance, I am from Kansas and have no experience having any other kind of sex than certain kinds of heterosexual sex with European American women. As I have been attracted to men from Mexico, I think that it would be reasonable to ask someone who has had different kinds of sex what kinds of sex have they had – things that I wouldn’t have thought of like sado-masochism could potentially open my eyes and provide me the opportunity to experiment and expand my life in a positive or negative way. Zina’s question was not really vague for the same reason. Perhaps Zina could have been pointed towards resources on anything but a heterosexual monogamous commitment instead of given a lecture on why anything but heterosexual monogamy leads to insufficiently nurtured children and extensive legal battles whether it was your opinion or not. “Alternative” is not vague considering the overwhelming norm of the nuclear family. Anything else could have been suggested. The point of asking a question that could potentially expand one’s view of the possible does not need to be very specific. Zina is obviously not a lawyer who deals with alternative relationships. And the “whatever” really was unnecessary. I am not hypersensitive, nor do I think Zina is, and before reading Zina’s response I thought it was inappropriate also. Also, insulting her for being hypersensitive doesn’t actually solve the problem even if you did take offense to her comments. Nonetheless, your experience with clients is unique and valuable, but it probably would have been more helpful to answer the question than present a seemingly objective argument which was reasonably interpreted as picking a side – one that seemed like an attempt to dissuade Zina from even inquiring about alternative relationships. I know that to present the objective facts in a court of law may also seem disinterested, but the presentation of those facts is obviously subjective, constructed for a purpose. If you could provide the references to your academic studies of marriage/alternative commitments I would greatly appreciate it as I too am interested to know what you know.

Pietro's avatar

One other thing to mention is that Google cannot easily answer this question. Try it without keywords that one would already know if one knew about alternative commitments or ceremonies. Zina’s question is completely appropriate for Fluther. And even if you could look it up on Google, this is still a better way to ask a question because it can be more personalized, there can be back and forth discussion so that other people can help you hone your question and your therefore give you some keywords to punch into a search engine.

hossman's avatar

I didn’t say zina’s question was inappropriate. I apologized for rambling off topic. I still don’t think zina’s question was clear, and zina herself acknowledged it could have been more concise by rephrasing it herself. Zina has done nothing to offend me, and I am not offended. If you believe one use of the word “whatever” is offensive, then you probably are hypersensitive. Yes, saying “whatever” may have been unnecessary, I am a flawed human, and if my best efforts to be inoffensive and concise have resulted in an unnecessary word, then I apologize, but will hold you to the same standard. For instance, Pietro, in the post above, you started with “One other thing” rather than the more concise and effective “Another thing,” thus you used an unnecessary word. I choose not to be offended. “Whatever,” as I said before, was used by me in the manner of using the word “etcetera,” not in the Valspeak sense of “what you said is not important to me.” If you find “whatever” offensive, it is because you chose that usage, not me.

Pietro, you also confuse me. You spend all this time expressing your pique that I gave information other than you believe zina intended, yet then you discuss the value of fluther being the ability to get answers that “expand one’s view of the possible.” Perhaps if you and zina would be more specific, I could ensure I could be more helpful. You are the one assuming my post was “an attempt to dissuade Zina” or “seemingly objective [but] obviously subjective.” Nowhere in my original post did I give my opinion. Interestingly, no one has even made an attempt to assist me in my request for credible research regarding alternative/traditional family structures, but rather have spent there time being offended I asked the question. Perhaps these extreme responses are intended to keep ME from inquiring about alternative relationships. I really don’t see how you are tying in zina’s request to your particular alternative sexual question, please remember that zina prefers you not make assumptions about her or the context of her question, even when those are the result of a fairly reasonable reading of her question. As to that issue, if you are going to suggest I should accept zina’s “reasonable interpret[ation] as picking a side” (which I do not believe is a reasonable interpretation of my answer, but a wildly broad assumption on your part, and if that is indeed what she was thinking, on her part, but I choose not to be offended by the assumption) then I suggest as a matter of intellectual fairness and honesty, you should give me the same leeway to have made a “reasonable interpretation” of zina’s post.

And if we’re going to start labeling everyone we disagree with as “inappropriate,” I’ve got a lot more posts to send. I return to my prior statement. If you found me offensive, quote the offensive portion verbatim, then state concisely in what manner it is offensive, so I may either learn the error of my ways, or explain and clarify. And if zina is really that upset with me, she is always welcome to leave me a private comment, I will ask some people I trust not to protect my feelings with “white lies” if I was offensive, and if I was, I will apologize.

Pietro, I’d love to provide you with references to my materials regarding the studies on the results of children raised in alternative/traditional family structures (and sexuality is only a small part of my use of “alternative” here, it includes divorce, unwed, absent parent, etc.), but it is voluminous, and I would probably be accused of being off topic or offensive again. I suggest you google search, but a few good studies that are fairly accessible to laymen not psychologists (like me) are:
http://www.spc.uchicago.edu/prc/pdfs/ginthe02.pdf
http://family.jrank.org/pages/413/Divorce.html
http://www.richardaltschuler.com/html/glmfintro.html
http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/other/lawreview/familystructure.html
http://www.olin.wustl.edu/faculty/pollak/Amer%20Family%20Final%2007.pdf

sarahc's avatar

I recently found the Alternatives to Marriage Project, http://www.unmarried.org/ and have found it to be a really useful resource. My partner and I bought their book, “Unmarried to Each Other” and are finding it to be a great tool for us to have discussions about how we want to legally (or not) structure our commitment to each other.

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