Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Autumn 1995

Nigel Collins, Ceremonies Coordinator of the British Humanist Association, describes a typical gay affirmation ceremony.

A Gay Rite of Passage

by Nigel Collins

A familiar summer Sunday lunch-time scene: a small but lively pub in an English provincial town noted for its conservatism (Cheltenham) clearly doing a good trade.

Men, women and children of all ages, obviously dressed to the nines for the occasion, socialise and mill about expectantly. A young couple, evidently to be the centre of attention, arrive smiling but a little nervous to salutations from family and friends. They take their place centre stage, next to an official-looking person who is being referred to in slightly hushed tones as ‘the celebrant’.

Is this a wedding about to take place, away from the confines of a Register Office, at one of the newly constituted ‘licensed venues’ created by the revised Marriage Act 1994? And is the celebrant the required Superintendent-Registrar hired to confer legal status on the union of a soon-to-be Mr and Mrs?

... Well actually no to both questions. This is a gay pub; and the couple, two men, are about to take part in a Humanist affirmation ceremony which, though dignified and meaningful, and witnessed by all those present, carries no legal status whatsoever at present.

Within the next couple of months, two further such ceremonies, this time for lesbian couples, will also be taking place at the same venue conducted by the same Humanist celebrant – one of a growing number of countrywide celebrants accredited by the British Humanist Association.

Photograph of Gary and Glyn
Gary and Glyn

Gary and Glyn enter to the defiantly gay song from Jerry Herman’s musical La Cage aux Folles, “I am what I am”. The celebrant welcomes the guests and thanks them for coming. He explains that throughout history ceremonies have been used to mark important events in people’s lives, and it is not he, nor the Church, nor the State, that gives validity to this ceremony. Rather it is the solemn declaration by two people witnessed by all present. Something is said about the couple, their shared interests and values, and specially chosen poems are read. Next, Gary and Glyn’s respective mothers come forward to signify and acknowledge the rite of passage from parental support to the mutual support the affirmation ceremony implies. Pledges, written by the couple themselves, and rings are exchanged. Then they, the celebrant and the best man, sign a Certificate of Affirmation. The celebrant offers the couple all good wishes from those present, and from the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association which organised the ceremony, and they leave to applause, congratulations... and the strains of Madonna’s Crazy for You.

The celebration that follows is little different to the usual wedding reception, with a buffet lunch followed by toasts and speeches. What is highly significant, however, is the atmosphere of inclusivity generated by the proceedings. Parents, siblings and other relatives, perhaps initially reluctant to attend and still at various stages of acceptance and (most importantly for future hopes) children as yet unconditioned by thoughtless prejudice, are present at a public gathering where love and affection are openly and naturally displayed between men and women, men and men, and women and women.

After such a happy and all-embracing encounter, some could just go home with a different and more enlightened point of view!

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Created : Sunday, 1998-05-10 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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