Tag Archives: Celebrations Beyond Belief

On Pizza…and Refusal of Services

I’ll admit, I’ve been captivated by the spectacular firestorm that is Indiana this week. I’m endlessly amazed at how religious belief can be used to justify infringing on the rights of others, while at the same time crying bloody murder that any dissent is an infringement of that belief.

I think in analogies. That’s just the way my mind works – So I started wondering how this debate plays out in my own business, which just happens to be performing secular wedding ceremonies. Here’s what I came up with.

In my mind, a “business” should be able to select what it does, but not for whom it provides that service. If the pizza parlor in Indiana was asked (unlikely as it may be, I know, I know) to provide pizza for a “gay wedding” and they refused because the clients were two people of the same gender, that’s discrimination (wrong in my opinion). If they were asked to provide falafel, or shrimp fried rice, they can certainly refuse. If they were being asked to provide pizza for a wedding outside their delivery area, or on a day they aren’t open, pizza that’s kosher (if they don’t do that sort of thing), or if they have reached the capacity of pizza they can produce that week, then it’s fine to say, “Sorry, we can’t help you”.

In all of those cases, the refusal is tied to what they do and how they do it – not who the customer is. In business, it doesn’t matter who the person is. You serve them. Period.

Now as I’ve said, I operate a secular wedding celebrant business. Could I refuse my services to someone of faith? Absolutely not. It’s actually the case that the majority of the people I’ve married aren’t atheists. Most express that they have some supernatural belief, but for one reason or another (usually it’s discomfort with religious organizations, or the fact that their beliefs are different form their spouse or guests), they’ve decided not to put those beliefs on display. When I first meet with a couple, I let them know that I’m a secular celebrant (my certification is from the American Humanist Association, so I don’t have religious authority). I let them know that any ceremony I perform can’t have praying, holy texts or references to god.

Last year I was asked by a couple (in this case a man and a woman) to perform their ceremony. Very early on in the discussions, despite the thorough description of my business up front, the groom told me that they wanted a very short ceremony with “just a few bible verses and a blessing”. I explained to him that I wasn’t able to perform such a ceremony, and the couple found an alternate solution.

So why isn’t that discrimination?

I didn’t turn this couple away because they were religious believers. It turns out both were very devout conservative Christians but they didn’t want to attend the pre-wedding classes their church required in order for them to have a religious ceremony (which begs the question, “How do you choose which rules of your religion you will follow and which ones you’ll discard?” But that’s a discussion for another day). If the couple had been willing to have a secular service, which is what I provide, I’d have been pleased to marry them. My refusal was linked to what I do as a business, for anyone who would like to hire me.

Now, I might turn someone away because I’m unavailable for a particular date, or because they aren’t willing to pay my fee, or because they are looking for a wedding planner to coordinate their whole event (I don’t do that kind of thing) but the key here is that my decision is based on my business and what I do, and that I’ll do it for anyone, regardless of whatever groups to which they may belong.

And besides, I’m a Long Island girl. Pizza from Indiana? Probably just crummy round bread with crappy cheese and flavorless sauce anyway.

Love…and Marriage in the time of Facebook

Last week, some friends of mine got married out of state. I didn’t attend the wedding so I made a point of checking my Facebook feed throughout the day. Both of these friends work in public relations so I knew that photos of their big event were forthcoming. I was excited to see them.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Through the immediacy of social media, I was able to view the moment they became a married couple. I saw the venue, the cake . . . I got to share a little bit of joy from hundreds of miles away, just hours after it happened. When they updated their Facebook status to “married”, I enthusiastically clicked my “like” button to express my congratulations. That’s how we do things in the 21st century, right?

And there on the feed I saw a “life event” announcing their names, the date, and the occasion of their marriage, displayed under an icon of a bride and groom.

But my friends are not a bride and a groom. They’re two grooms, happily married in their home state – something few of us could’ve imagined five years ago. And this is perhaps a small thing – but I really object to that little icon defining marriage as a man and a woman. So much progress has been made – and I believe that social media has been a contributing catalyst. As a wedding celebrant, I’m really aware of wedding vendors who refer specifically to “brides and grooms”. I see so many wedding cards and ephemera that adhere to the “man and woman in a big white dress and veil” narrative – and LOTS of weddings don’t look like that at all.

So, I sent Facebook a message. I pointed out that in many states (37, plus Washington DC and some Missouri counties) and countries around the world (18, and portions of some others) marriage is defined more broadly than strictly male/female. I suggested they should consider a more inclusive icon. Isn’t Facebook more open-minded than, say, Fox News?

I received a polite reply informing me that Facebook receives so many messages, they can’t possibly respond to them all directly. The message assured me that they would consider my concern seriously.

Well I am stubborn and impatient, and it occurred to me that perhaps I could enlist the power of social media to call attention to this one small thing and make it different. So I’d like to ask my similarly minded friends (and friends of friends . . . This is social media after all) to do this:

• On your Facebook page, click the little triangle in the top right-hand corner of your screen. On the drop-down, click “report a problem”.

• In the next window, choose “general feedback”.

• In the next window, under “product” choose “timeline” and leave feedback suggesting that the icon should be changed.

Please encourage your friends far and wide to do the same. Inclusive language and images matter, and platforms like Facebook have the opportunity to make an important statement about what marriage looks like.