Rachel: Our Civil Wedding Ceremony

We jumped, we kissed, and then we fled!

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

After choosing two readings we loved, Eric and I wrote our civil secular wedding ceremony with the help of our officiant (plus some APW inspiration). It ended up being about fifteen minutes long—a bit shorter than we had expected, but perfect for us. Before the wedding, we did our first look, took pictures with our bridal party, and had a joy ride in the most amazing vintage car. We were legally wed by 10:20 AM.

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

Venue: Williamson County Courthouse, Georgetown, TX

Photographer: Katherine O’Brien

OFFICIANT: Spike Gillespie

I had only been in our wedding ceremony space twice before we were married in it. Once a year earlier when we decided to book it, and once at our rehearsal the night before the wedding. I think the fact that I wasn’t terribly familiar with it (or any of the other places we spent most of our wedding weekend) led to some of my pre-wedding anxiety; some days in my head the courtroom looked very nice, but other days it just looked meh and kind of junky. But when I walked in on Friday for the rehearsal, it was even lovelier than I remembered it. The day we toured it was cold and rainy, but the sunlight that was streaming in on Valentine’s Day (and again on the morning of our wedding) added something so special to the historic space. The morning of our wedding was cold and crisp and the morning sunlight streamed into the courtroom through the tall windows and skylights, giving everything in it the most wonderful glow.

Processional: “Wonderwall” by Vitamin String Quartet

The courtroom where we were married had a couple of quirks, both of which we learned of about ten days before the wedding. First, there were no microphones and no sound system where we could plug in an iPod for our ceremony music. Our officiant reassured me that we didn’t need mics for such a small gathering, and I brought some decent speakers I already owned to hook up to the iPod. Then we put my friend Lauren (usher, reader, stage manager, and now DJ) in charge of the music for the day. Then there was the fact that the room didn’t have a center aisle down which we could process (something we knew well in advance), and the doors at the front on either side of the judge’s chair were off-limits for making an entrance (something we didn’t know). So instead of processing through the doors and meeting in the middle as planned, we entered from the side door, creating something of an aisle as we did. Eric’s parents escorted him down the aisle, followed by the bridesmaids and groomsmen, who walked alone rather than in the more traditional pairs. (Hey, we had a short aisle so we figured they could take their time getting to their places!)

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

Right before I entered, Spike said to the guests, “I invite you all to stand,” which is probably a normal thing to do but was something I totally was not expecting; the rustle and swell of energy as everyone stood took me by surprise and was such a lovely and moving moment. I entered with my mom on my right side and my grandma on my left about ninety seconds into the song, right at a crescendo.

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

When I reached Eric, I hugged my grandma and then my mom, as planned. My mom pulled me extra tight, held me for a second longer, and whispered, “I love you,” in my ear, and that was the point at which I started to cry.

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

Eric was already a wreck and so we just stood there through Spike’s entire intro, looking at each other, holding hands, and trying our best to pull it together.

Reading #1: An excerpt from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ­decision that made the state the first to authorize gay marriage

(Read by my friend Jordan.)

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations… Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.”

Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family… Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

Reading #2: The Origins of Love, written by Aristophanes for Plato’s Symposium

(Read by my friend Lauren.)

Humans have never understood the power of Love, for if they had they would surely have built noble temples and altars and offered solemn sacrifices; but this is not done, and most certainly ought to be done, since Love is our best friend, our helper, and the healer of the ills which prevent us from being happy.

To understand the power of Love, we must understand that our original human nature was not like it is now, but different. Human beings each had two sets of arms, two sets of legs, and two faces looking in opposite directions. There were three sexes then: one comprised of two men called the children of the Sun, one made of two women called the children of the Earth, and a third made of a man and a woman, called the children of the Moon. Due to the power and might of these original humans, the Gods began to fear that their reign might be threatened. They sought for a way to end the humans’ insolence without destroying them.

It was at this point that Zeus divided the humans in half. After the division the two parts of each desiring their other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one. So ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of humankind.

Each of us when separated, having one side only, is always looking for our other half. And when one of us meets our other half, we are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other’s sight even for a moment. We pass our whole lives together, desiring that we should be melted into one, to spend our lives as one person instead of two, and so that after our death there will be one departed soul instead of two; this is the very expression of our ancient need. And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called Love.

The Statement of Intent

Aside from my hug with my mom, this is the part of the wedding I feel like I’ll never forget.

Eric, do you take Rachel to be your wife? I do.

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

Rachel, do you take Eric to be your husband? I do.

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

I ask of you both:

Do you promise to choose each other every day, to love each other in word and deed? We do.

Do you promise to recognize one another as equals, and support one another in your goals and wishes for the future? We do.

Do you promise to always share your thoughts, and feelings, and concerns with the other, and be open and honest at all times? We do.

Do you promise that come hell or high water, secession or recession, tracker-jackers or zombie apocalypse, federal indictment or tabloid scandal, that you’re in this together, no matter what? We do.

The Vows

I take you as you are, loving who you are now and who you are yet to become.

I promise to listen to you and learn from you,

to support you and accept your support.

I will laugh with you, cry with you, grow with you, and create with you.

I will love you and have faith in your love for me, through all our years and all that life may bring us.

Spike led us through our vows, with us repeating each line after her. I started mine by repeating, “Eric, I take you as you are.” But when it was Eric’s turn, he didn’t say, “Rachel, I take you as you are”…he said, “Zsas, I take you as you are,” because Eric always calls me Zsas, the nickname that my brother gave me when he was a baby and couldn’t pronounce my name. Eric was a little hoarse at this point so I’m not sure if most people even noticed that he didn’t say my real name, but it was one my favorite parts of the ceremony.

Jumping the Broom

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

We end this ceremony with the African-American tradition of jumping of the broom. Slaves in this country were not permitted to marry, so they jumped a broom as a way of ceremonially uniting. Today it represents great joy and at the same time serves as a reminder of the past and the pain of slavery.

As Rachel and Eric jump the broom, they physically and spiritually cross the threshold into the land of matrimony. It marks the beginning of making a home together. It symbolizes the sweeping away of the old and the welcoming of the new; the sweeping away all negative energy, making way for all things that are good to come into your lives. It is also a call of support for the marriage from the entire community of family and friends. The bride and groom will now begin their new life together with a clean sweep!

1, 2, 3… Jump!

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

Civil Wedding Ceremony | A Practical Wedding

We jumped, we kissed, and then we fled… because at that point I genuinely do not think we could have taken any more public emoting.

Recessional: “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by Vitamin String Quartet

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  • Sarah E

    Damn, girl.

  • jashshea

    Oh crap, I started reading the ceremony at my desk and now I’m a puddle. *Soldiering on*

    • Rachel has now gotten me TWICE today. And this is me sans hormones.

  • Laura C

    Holy crap, you’re gorgeous there.

  • Winny the Elephant


  • “Do you promise that come hell or high water, secession or recession, tracker-jackers or zombie apocalypse, federal indictment or tabloid scandal, that you’re in this together, no matter what?”

    This is amazing!

    • Cue the waterworks for me here.

    • Class of 1980

      That’s the vow that made me cry!

      Rachel, you look gorgeous … and Eric … well, you can tell just by looking that he’s a nice guy.

      • Class of 1980

        Also the vintage car matches the window trim on the courthouse!

  • This is just so lovely, I’m in tears at my desk. Thank you so much for sharing and best wishes on your marriage.

  • Heather

    Do you promise that come hell or high water, secession or recession, tracker-jackers or zombie apocalypse, federal indictment or tabloid scandal, that you’re in this together, no matter what? We do.

    Wins all the weddings. All the internet. All the everything.

  • No idea how anyone at your ceremony stayed dry-eyed; I’m a mess at my desk! This is so lovely in so many ways.

  • Sara

    I love love love your dress and the fact that you worked ‘tabloid scandal’ into your ceremony. I was in tears as soon as I read about your hug. Everything is gorgeous.

  • Rachelle

    amazing. Congratulations!!! So beautiful

  • Shotgun Shirley

    I love this! Congrats Rachel!

  • MC

    What a BEAUTIFUL ceremony!!! I love the vows and I love the first reading – definitely bookmarking this post for when we start planning our ceremony. Congratulations!!!

  • Sara

    Crying at work! It’s worth it :) This was all just so beautiful and perfect! Congratulations!!

  • TeaforTwo

    Well, that’s me crying at work.

    Standing up when the bride enters is one of my favourite parts of any wedding, and it was hugely moving for me at my own, as well. So much of getting married requires getting used to having people pour out their love for you, and for me it all seemed to culminate with that rustle and swell of energy – I found it really humbling, and it was when I started to cry for the first time. (And then, um, kept going through whole ceremony.)

    • Emily

      That part really struck me too – I’m engaged and the other day I was thinking that I would prefer people stay seated, so it’s not noisy and so everyone can see (I’m short, so I worry about these things). But after reading this I’m a total convert. That sounds like such a powerful moment. They can stand on their tiptoes if they have to :)

  • scw

    “My mom pulled me extra tight, held me for a second longer, and whispered, ‘I love you,’ in my ear, and that was the point at which I started to cry.”

    Also the point at which I started to cry!

    • Deving

      Yep, this is when I started losing it too.
      Rachel, I’m going to be using your ceremony as inspiration for my own civil ceremony because that was amazing.

  • This is just beautiful!!!! I’m so happy for y’all.

  • TeaforTwo

    I also want to add this: I love love love that you’ve included the text of your wedding ceremony in this graduate post. I read somewhere and then kept repeating that a wedding ceremony is about the fact that certain words matter, and I love reading the words that you chose to bind you together.

  • Emily

    This whole thing is just. so. good. Thank you for sharing your readings and vows, very inspiring. Also, wasn’t familiar with VSO but tonight I’m gonna be diving into all 1,184 videos to try to find me some wedding music.
    Congratulations Rachel!! You and your wedding were beautiful.

  • Guest

    So beautiful!! Congratulations to you both! Rachel, you look absolutely beautiful! And I notice the name change!…again congrats!! :)

  • Emily Ardoin

    This is HOLY COW beautiful and amazing and earnest. I love the readings, especially the one from Aristotle. Wow. Thank you for sharing your personal day with us.

  • Crayfish Kate

    Oh the tears! Just beautiful. I don’t even know what else to say, except you all look gorgeous & your Jessica Simpson heels are perfect ;-)

  • Awww! I was not prepared to tear up! But I did and thank you so much for sharing! I love it!!! Congratulations!

  • Katelyn

    Who started chopping onions at my desk???? I’m almost SOBBING at how happy this post makes me. Yayyyyy Rachel!!!

  • Jessica


  • Kayjayoh


  • Laura

    YAAAYYYYYYY!!!!! Oh and YES to the Massachusetts Supreme Court reading – I think it’s rightly a fave over here at APW :) Congratulations!!!!

  • Alison O

    Chic gown: $200.*
    Vintage joy ride: $180.
    Flowers: $300.
    All the love: Priceless.
    Jumping the broom in those heels? Badass.

    *fake figures

    • MC

      TRUTH. If i did that, I would mostly definitely break my ankle.

  • Lisa

    Holy cow, that portrait of you. And your dress! And your perfect shoes! And so much beautiful emotion! I can’t even.

  • macrain

    Welp, I’m feeling all the feelings Rachel! You look gorgeous. I’ve been dying to see that dress you’ve been talking about! Just beautiful. (Also, those bridesmaids capes on your blog are the BUSINESS).
    I have yet to start working on our ceremony- thank you for including those details. I just love that your mom and your grandmother walked with you. I haven’t asked her yet but I’m strongly leaning towards having my mom walk me down the aisle. This is good inspiraysh!

  • AG

    You look gorgeous, and the ceremony sounds lovely. And I love your first reading so much I may have to add it to my ceremony!

  • michelle

    Rachel, I loved your story but can you tell me where you got your dress (and please say its on the internet!)??

  • JSwen

    Beautiful! Congrats!

  • dorian gray

    Wondering who did your florals – I’m getting married in about 60 days just around the corner and am still out a florist.

  • JDrives

    I’m covered in goosebumps!! I just love this simple and gorgeous celebration. Can’t get over the awesome Hunger Games reference and the moving inclusion of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court excerpt (cue tearing up at my desk aka “ALLERGIES” thankyouvermuch nosy coworkers).

    • Violet

      I know, wow. I never cry/tear up while reading (other than Flowers for Algernon, I think?), but my throat got tight reading Mass Sup Ct.

  • Elisabeth S.

    Rachel, that picture of you and your mom! So lovely. The whole thing is lovely, actually. So wonderful to see it after all these months.

  • Grace

    Woah! What an incredible ceremony, I LOVE that symposium reading! My boyfriend does Philosophy and read it to me a couple of years ago. It’s beautiful.

    Also – how absolutely fabulous does Rachel look?!!! A-mazing. Congratulations!!

  • Liz

    Gorgeous! Mazal tov!

  • Winny the Elephant

    Hey Rachel! Now that you’ve shared pics of your gorgeous dresses with the world, would you consider sharing the brand and number of the pattern you used? I’m thinking of making it into a kick ass MOB dress for my mom.

  • SM

    Beautiful ceremony! I had the exact same Massachusetts Supreme Court reading for my ceremony.

  • C.

    Those readings made me get super teary! I think I may need to snag one, or both, for my own ceremony- they’re so perfect! <3

  • Violet

    Oh Rachel, this is so lovely. I especially love the shot after you’ve kissed, where your arms are up and Eric’s face is all, “I am one LUCKY dude!” Congratulations to you and your families!

  • I love the jumping the broom for a wedding! Also I’m digging the female officiant.

  • Valerie Day

    I really love your ceremony. The nods to the social justice of marriage equity are so appreciated! So happy for you guys. Questions about the photo of what looks like a marriage certificate, what is that and where did you get it? This may have been a photo on your own cite. Beautiful! Also my partner is wearing pants for our wedding and finding female body flattering mens wear is indeed quite the chore. Mens wear (for men or women) is really not as easy as I thought.

  • Caitlin_DD

    Oh tears! What a great selection of readings, especially the Aristophanes (always been one of my favorites). You look gorgeous and so happy!

  • Alyssa M

    You. look. stunning. And I love Eric’s purple shoelaces! I’ll have to show my FMIL in law that picture of you coming through the door with your mom in pants. She wants to wear pants but is nervous.

    Also, I love that second reading… I need to show it to my partner, see what he thinks, maybe we’ll copy you. I’d heard about the two heads/four legs thing before, but never actually read the exact quote. I love that it includes the “three sexes” part. :)

  • i can’t take it. i can’t even deal with this there are too many feelings!! ahhhh this was so hard for me to get through cause of the tears. wow. wow. congrats on, like, everything!!!

  • Emily

    I love all of this! Especially the jumping the broom at the courthouse. Somehow the two together feels very you. Cheers, lady!

  • Congrats!! I am tearing up so badly reading this. Also–great shoes :)

  • Aj

    Rachel, I’ve been tuning in daily for each piece of your wedding story. As I approach Saturday, it’s been calming to see how wonderful a day you had and how everything came together so beautifully (how could it not when you’re surrounded so clearly by love?). I’ve been so excited for you reading these, teary-eyed at the sweet moments (your mom hugging you tight!!!) and, on a selfish level, even more excited but less nervous.

    Uh, Eric’s purple shoe laces? Perfect!

  • Alden

    Reading this made ME cry! What a beautiful and sentimental ceremony. I absolutely love your vows and that you included a reading of The Origins of Love – I plan to use it in my wedding as well!

  • jonquil

    Your wedding looks absoultely lovely – simple and heartfelt.

    And there is such a universality to wedding traditions – jumping the broom is also a Scottish tradition, supposedly the person who jumps the highest will wear the trousers in the marriage! It also represents the same things as the African- American tradition (though obviously with less slavery involved). I hope to incorporate it into our ceremony this year,

    well done for jumping so high in those shoes!

  • Daniella

    waterworks!!! I effing love everything about this!!

  • Brianna K

    It makes me so happy that you used “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” as your recessional. We were going to do that (except the original version by The Darkness).

  • DavidJennifer

    I literally cried when I read how your mom pulled you closer and whispered “I Love You”. It is really a very touching moment for any girl. The way it is written and presented is worth praise.

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