WHEN I TELL people that a few weeks ago I married my daughter, they look at me sort of funny.
When I clarify that what I mean is that I officiated at my daughter’s wedding ceremony -- and, to make it legal, was ordained over the Internet -- they look at me as if I’m some kind of nut.
When I explain that as an O.C.P. (Official Clergy Person) in the Church of Spiritual Humanism I am presumed to believe in the scientific method but that belief in God is optional, they purse their lips, nod their heads and narrow their eyes. And when I drop the detail that my new title is patriarch -- it could have been vicar (but Vicar Victor seemed a bit much) or father or rabbi, even -- they roll their eyes toward the ceiling or heaven, if you believe in such a thing. Nevertheless, I can tell you that should you ever have the opportunity to perform wedding rites for a loved one, there is nothing quite like it.
So here, as a public service for those blessed with an offspring or friend who wants you to marry them, is the story behind the story.
My daughter, Miri, and son-in-law-to-be, David, asked me to marry them on the lawn of a summer home we built in Hillsdale, N.Y., many years ago. This presented a dilemma. According to the laws of the state of New York, the only people entitled to marry other people are judges, clergy and such.
I am none of those. But Hillsdale is just 15 minutes from the state line, and in neighboring Massachusetts, it is possible for laymen to be appointed for a day to conduct wedding ceremonies, so I proposed a Massachusetts wedding. But no. Having finally decided to marry, and having settled when and how, David, a novelist, and Miri, a documentary filmmaker, didn’t want to compromise on where.
Then I heard about the Church of Spiritual Humanism and went straight to Google. On the church’s website, www.spiritualhumanism.org, it took me all of one minute to fill out the appropriate form and become ordained.
Although it cost me nothing to become ordained, I could purchase one of three clergy packs -- basic ($14.95), advanced ($39.95) or deluxe ($89.95) -- to facilitate my new duties. Not wishing to stint, I signed up for the deluxe package and shortly received a big box containing, among other goodies, a wallet-sized plastic clergy ID card, a booklet detailing the customs and practices of spiritual humanism, the second edition of “The Officiant’s Manual,” various blank nondenominational wedding and other certificates, a list of the laws governing marriage in all 50 states, and last, but far from least, an embossed, yellow clergy parking placard for my car’s windshield.
I also received a note informing me that as an official officiant I was entitled to preside at weddings, funerals and something called a handfasting (don’t ask) but was not, repeat not, permitted to perform circumcisions, animal sacrifices or exorcisms.
As the wedding date approached, I began to wonder: Would the courts recognize my new status? Would my daughter’s marriage be legal? I asked my brother-in-law, a lawyer, to check out the case law in New York, and it turned out that in the 1972 case Ravenal vs. Ravenal the court annulled a marriage ceremony performed by a minister who had obtained his credentials (as a minister in something called the Universal Life Church) via mail order.
What to do?
Came the big day, the bride and groom proceeded down the aisle we had constructed of folding chairs on the lawn and stood under a canopy a friend had built using four spruces as the base. And I got to say, among other things, two sentences I never thought I would.
First, echoing virtually every movie wedding I had ever seen: “If anyone knows why these two should not be joined in holy matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.” Then, hearing no objections: “And now, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the fact that you asked me to marry you, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Finally, with the somewhat reluctant permission of the bride and groom, I added: “Because this is my first wedding, I have taken out some secular insurance and brought along the town justice of Hillsdale. And he, by virtue of the authority vested in him by the state of New York, will also pronounce you husband and wife.”
He did, they broke the glass, and as the bride’s brother, Bruno, strummed the Woody Guthrie riff “I’m sticking to the union” on his guitar, I watched the couple disappear down the aisle. It should happen to you.