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When I was young and imagined myself being married, I didn’t stop to think about the kind of vows my beloved and I would recite. As a rule, people didn’t write their own vows; they relied on the officiant to recite the ceremony and for the couple to reply with simple, “I dos.” Even today I wouldn’t want to write my own vows; it makes me nervous just thinking about it, and I’m a public speaker! But I have three situations where wedding vows were involved, and all of them had a significant impact on me.
The first situation must have been 50 years ago when a family friend who was about my age and Jewish married a Catholic man. Back then, intermarriage was beginning to increase, and since her family was not very religious, I don’t remember there being a big deal made of it. At the ceremony, however, I was surprised and stunned to hear them recite their vows. I didn’t know exactly how they were going to make their vows to each other, given their two religions, but I heard both of them take their vows “in the name of Jesus Christ.” They had a minister perform the ceremony and he had agreed to offer two different sets of vows, but he fell into his usual wedding pattern—and forgot his promise. Oh well. I don’t know how many people heard it or cared, but as a teenager, I was already conflicted due to the mixed marriage and felt chagrined and embarrassed by his error. I’m sure he felt uncomfortable, too.
The next time I was faced with the question of wedding vows was when I was engaged to my current husband, who was raised Catholic but wasn’t practicing. I knew my parents wouldn’t be thrilled with my marrying a gentile, but he was a wonderful man and I wanted to marry him. I had heard nice things about a Conservative Jewish rabbi and thought I would ask him if he would marry us. When I told him our situation, it wasn’t enough for him to politely say “no”; he was outraged that I would even ask him. I guess I was pretty naïve, at least not anticipating that he might say “no;” I didn’t expect him to take it as a personal affront. Naturally, I was once again embarrassed and wondering what to do next.