Feminist Marriage Ceremony

Me and my partner both identify as feminists. There are some who would say making the decision to marry is inherently un-feminist but I absolutely refute that. How is deciding to make a public commitment to an equal partnership with the person you love inherently un-feminist? Now, I’m not a Christian, neither is my partner, and we were never going to have a Church wedding as a result. Marriage as an institution is often rejected because of its history in the Church – the idea that a woman was being ‘given away’ from her father’s ownership to that of her new husbands. But the Church has moved on from that, and so has society.

Me and my partner had an Islamic marriage ceremony which is called a Nikah. In Islam marriage is a public and legally binding contract between two parties. It is not akin to a sacrament in Christianity. If anything it is broadly a secular institution even under the banner of Islam. The Qur’an specifies that the contract must have two witnesses, that it is legally binding, that the two parties may make their own agreements within the framework of the contract, and that the husband must pay a dower to the bride. There is no real concept of a marriage ‘ceremony’ and there is no necessity for the contract to be overseen by a religious leader. This means that it is really easy to mould your ceremony to incorporate the Islamic marriage contract and still be a reflection of exactly what you and your partner believe in, the cultures of the two of you, your ideologies and preferences for celebration. Marriage in Islam is a contract between the two parties – what should be an equal contract between two equal parties. I’m not letting off mosques and or/Islamic history off the hook for large disgraceful patriarchal customs by the way because Islamic traditions have been just as sexist as Christian ones, but I’m taking things back to a purely theological/legal perspective based on solely on the Qur’an and if you do that you get the above and nothing else. 

Me and my partner made a conscious effort to make what was already an equal partnership between the two of us into an equal legally binding, public agreement. We have our own tailor made contract that was signed by the lady who ‘lead’ our ceremony for us, as well as two witnesses. We decided to have one witness from either side of the family to keep things balanced and opted for my father and my partner’s grandfather (as his father does not support us at all and was not present at the ceremony). Before you question why it is two males, this is solely because my mother was the witness from my side of the family to the Civil marriage contract so I thought it would be nice to ask my father to be a witness for one of the contracts, and we picked my partner’s grandfather just to mirror the choice of my father as closely as possible. Their gender here is irrelevant. 

Our contract is personalised. We have our own special conditions section that we wrote whatever things we believed where necessary to add to the basic framework. Things like a mutual decision about when to have children in the future, mutual decisions about pets, and how we were going to bring up our children with consideration to our religious identities and backgrounds. We also have a clause that we can update the contract whenever we want if we mutually agree to do so. I feel this framework, although from an Islamic tradition, can easily be adapted for other faith religious marriages as well as secular ones. Whilst the contract is not legally binding, it could be taken into account by courts should things go wrong later down the line, and it serves as something we can keep with all our marriage promises written down on paper for us, and is individual to us as a couple. I think this is a really good way to ensure that all the promises you make in marriage are mirrored and that it is truly an equal partnership.

Other things that we considered with regards to getting married was that we would prefer a woman to conduct our ceremony, which we managed to arrange. I thought this was important because it is very rare for an Islamic ceremony to be conducted by a woman (though there is no reason why this should not be the case) and it was a way to reflect our passion for the inclusion of women in religious spaces and leadership roles. I also decided not to be walked down the aisle or ‘given away’ as is custom here. We toyed with a number of ideas such as coming down the aisle together, or having both of my parents walk me down, or having my mother walk me down as she has been most supportive out of the two of my parents. However at the end of the day I decided that is not what I wanted. I did have a bridal party and so we entered like this: first my maid of honour (who is my best friend) with the two page boys (a young maternal cousin from my side, and a maternal cousin of the same age from my partner’s side), then the two bridesmaids (my younger sister and another close friend of mine), and then me last on my own. I figured that I got myself into this relationship, that the marriage was my own personal choice, that if anything did go wrong it would be me alone deciding what to do about it and whether to exit the marriage. It was especially poignant for me and my partner because we faced much opposition from people including specific resistance from my parents at first with long-term problems from my father in particular. I did not feel that it would be genuine to therefore be walked down the aisle by my parents when I myself had fought against their wishes to be there walking down the aisle to my partner. I also absolutely do not like the idea of being ‘given away’ by somebody (be it my father or another relative like my mother) to my husband. I belong to nobody but myself and think it was therefore important to walk by myself with my own agency to my husband. 

Another way to redress the perceived inequalities inherent in getting married was for me not to take my husband’s surname as my own. That would never have even been considered by me especially as in my father’s culture women actually always keep their own surnames after marriage anyway. However we decided that any children would have a double-barrelled surname because although in my father’s culture women keep their own surnames, the children get their father’s surname alone and I was absolutely not going to have that! I wanted our children’s names to reflect both of us. Therefore the choice for me was: do I keep my surname, or do I double barrel it with my husband’s? At the end I decided to double-barrel because I thought I would prefer to have the same surname as my children. I expected my husband to simply keep his surname as it is, but he made the conscious decision to also double-barrel, to symbolise our total equal relationship within the sphere of the family and so we all have the same name in the future. This has been faced with much surprise by almost everyone we know and some muttered disapproval from his side of the family but he insists it is what he wants and it is not anyone else’s business anyway. Everyone has the autonomy to decide what our name is and everyone else just has to respect that and use the name appropriately. 

Another thing was to have the involvement of a similar number of male and female people in our bridal party. We decided to have groosmen rather than ushers because we felt the title of usher has connotations subordinate to that of the bridesmaid whereas groomsman seems more equal in importance. We had four groomsman, two pageboys, a two bridesmaids, and a maid of honour to match the importance of the bestman. We had the maid of honour do a speech as well as the best man which was important to us. We also had a bridesmaid host a quiz for us, the other bridesmaid do a reading, and a cousin of my partner’s who was not part of the bridal party to also do a reading in order to involve him as well. Our page boys were also our ringbearers. It was important to us to involve as many people close to us as possible to have a vibrant and diverse wedding that really reflected us as a couple. 

We also decided not to have hen or stag parties as we just did not see the point in them as we reject the whole ‘last night of freedom’ idea. We will probably go on a mad, crazy night out in the summer as post-wedding celebration to get everyone together from both sides instead. I didn’t through my bouquet to see which female member of the wedding part was going ‘to get married next’ because I thought that was bullshit and I wanted to keep my nice bouquet undamaged for myself haha. I wore flat shoes because I can’t walk in heels and I wanted to be comfy all day. We named our tables after famous scientists and we ensured that half of those tables were named after female scientists. The favours were keyrings related back to the scientist the table was named after and there was an information card on each table to tell people how the keyrings were relevant and about the work that the scientist in question was famous for. We had a rainbow colour theme to symbolise diversity and equality and as a way to involve both of our favourite colours! I could probably go on. 🙂

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