My husband’s grandparents were Catholic. That didn’t stop them from getting married two months before my father in law was born, and then lying about the year of their marriage for the rest of their natural lives, because she’d gotten pregnant by accident in a set of circumstances that was never really clearly explained (I mean, some of it we can figure out from a basic knowledge of human biology, but there was a lot that was never divulged). But they claimed Catholicism as their religion, regardless of how loosely they may have adhered to its teachings at various times in their lives. My husband was raised Catholic, which, now that I think of it, I should revise to read “raised” Catholic, because I think the last time he was in church was Easter of 1972. I was not raised Catholic at all, and wasn’t about to convert to Catholicism and go through all that counselling and pre-marriage song and dance just to satisfy his grandparents (bless their hearts). They, however, declared that a wedding not in the church was invalid, and they would not recognize it. “If it’s not in the church, it’s not real,” I believe was their statement at the time.
I didn’t want to break it to them that I didn’t give a shit if they considered it “real” or not. It’s not like I was marrying David Rockefeller’s grandson, and he and Peggy disapproved of our ecclesiastical choice. There wasn’t a huge family fortune at stake here or anything like that. However, my husband was close to his grandparents and didn’t want to upset them. We spent a few weeks discussing options and finally decided that we didn’t want a religious ceremony at all. My husband’s godmother (who is also a cousin—a first cousin once removed, for those playing along at home) is married to a Federal Law judge. We wondered if a non-religious ceremony would satisfy them, or if they were going to scoff at that and insist on the Church.
Because they apparently had an unapologetically blatant double standard, they declared that, “If it was family, it was fine.” We asked the cousin’s husband if he would be willing to do this for us, and he agreed. He told us he needed to do some research, and would get back to us. About two weeks later, he called us and explained what he’d found out.
We were getting married in Virginia, in a county with the slightly dirty-sounding name of Fauquier (pronounced “Faw-KEER,” and if said quickly enough to someone unfamiliar with the name, sounds like something that might or might not be fightin' words). The judge called the Clerk of Courts in Richmond, and found out what Virginia’s policy was (at that time, anyway—I can’t speak to any changes in the last 18 years. This was our experience; your mileage may vary) for the performance of marriage ceremonies.
It's not all red in real life.
There is a body of individuals who are authorized to perform ceremonies carte blanche. This includes the clergy, and members of the judiciary within the state. There is also a group of a fixed number of laypersons who have been granted the right to marry people. Application is made to the state for these positions. Beyond that, it is possible to obtain permission to marry a specific couple on a specific day. This was what he was gunning for. Unfortunately, according to the Clerk of Courts, you had to be a resident of the county in which you were performing the ceremony. Since this man was not a resident of Fauquier county, we were screwed.
Except! Devious fellows, these legal types. If, he said, we got married before the “wedding,” he would put on his robes, stand in front of our guests, read our vows and “marry” us. But we had to be married before the wedding, he said.
We enlisted my future brother in law and his wife in our deceit. The day before our “wedding,” we went to the courthouse in the county in which we lived, bought a license (they didn’t even ask for ID—just typed our names as we dictated them. I like to think they’ve tightened up the restrictions on that since then), and went down the street to a judge’s office where we got married. My brother in law and his wife were witnesses. Given that it was a “civil” ceremony, I expected to have to promise not to bend, mutilate, or spindle or something, but no, they used love, honor, and cherish. Afterwards we went out for lunch, then went to our wedding rehearsal, and rehearsal dinner (which was, of course, really our wedding dinner).
The next day we got up and exchanged rings in front of 150 guests at what is now a spa and hotel (but was then a private house owned by the catering company we chose) in Fauquier county. Our rings have the two dates engraved in them. We celebrate our anniversary on whichever of the two dates is more convenient (some years, of course, neither is particularly, but when it’s Thursday/Friday, or Sunday/Monday, we pick the weekendier of the two days). Until a few years ago (when I started telling this story to anyone who cared—and probably a ton of people who didn’t) only six people knew we were married the day of our wedding—the cousin and her judge husband, my brother and law and his now-ex wife, and my husband and me.
In some ways, I recommend this approach. On the day of our actual wedding, I wasn’t the least bit nervous. I mean, I was already married to him. It was too fucking late, anyway. I was a little nervous on the Friday, but since there were only five of us in the judge’s office, I wasn’t a little nervous about getting married + a lot nervous that I was going to make an ass of myself in front of 150 of my closest friends. I might, on our wedding day, have been a little nervous about tripping over my dress and falling ass over teacup down the flight of stone steps we were standing at the top of. But the nerves of getting married didn’t push the making an ass of myself nerves over the edge (as they might have in other circumstances), and you’ll be relieved to know I managed to get down the steps and back up the aisle without mishap. And we’ve lived (mostly) happily ever after.