For some so-called nonconventional pairings, scripting the ceremony is much more complicated than planning the party. Here's how to keep it special and true to yourselves without shocking your grandmothers.
The Interfaith Couple
To begin, you'll have to decide on your officiant. Hiring an interfaith minister for a ceremony on neutral ground (park, catering hall) is by far the least complicated option. But if you feel strongly about including religion, find a rabbi and a priest to co-officiate. Be flexible with the date: Rabbis won't marry anyone during the Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) or on holy days (including but not limited to a seven-week blackout in April/May and three weeks in July/August). Once you choose your officiants, outline your religious needs. Generally, it's wise to remove crosses, and forgo references to Jesus in favor of God from the Old Testament. Include translations of any Hebrew passages. Let the priest preside over the exchange of vows and the rabbi over the rings, as they're critical parts of their respective ceremonies. Incorporate universal rituals like lighting the unity candle, and don't omit those that people are particularly attached to, like the breaking of the glass. Purchase your ketubah with both English and Hebrew text, and ask to sign it separately, so that your fiancÚ doesn't see you before the ceremony (that's just a Christian superstition, by the way). If you're marrying in a house of worship, follow its customs. In a synagogue, it's a good idea for men to wear yarmulkes. In a church, prepare to kneel. When it's time to walk down the aisle (with Dad: Christian-style; or Mom and Dad: Jewish-style), forget Wagner's "Here Comes the Bride"-he was a fierce anti-Semite. And don't be insulted if the Jewish congregants are slow to stand; it's customary to stay seated.
The Same-Sex Couple
You're madly in love, you've been faithful for years, and you believe in the institution of marriage. So get married. First ask yourselves: Will this be a quickie Domestic Partnership at City Hall or do you want the real deal, with all the bells and whistles? Solicit advice from an attorney (try Lambda Legal; 212-809-8585) before you decide. If it's the latter (legal) you want, apply for a marriage license in Massachusetts and remind your officiant (the state accepts one-day Internet ordinations!) to obtain a Certificate of Authorization beforehand. When you return to New York, you'll enjoy all the rights and protections of marriage. But beware: If you tie the knot in Canada, and ever want to divorce, you'll have to live there for a year first. If you want to have a local, spiritual (but not legal) union, many interfaith ministers, Reform rabbis, and celebrants will marry you (try gayweddings.com for a list of officiants, gay-friendly ceremony sites, and vendors). At the ceremony, removing gender-specific lingo is easy enough. And there are no hard-and-fast rules for who walks down the aisle with whom (some walk together, some walk with both parents or Dad). Just make sure your musicians have their cues right, and they know who is Groom One and who is Groom Two.
The Bilingual, Multicultural Couple
If you haven't already, the moment you get engaged, consider becoming fluent in your fiancÚ's mother tongue and familiarizing yourself with as many of his or her native customs as possible. This way, when it comes time to marry, you won't be surprised by rituals that could seem peculiar to the uninitiated. For example, Buddhist parents may determine their child's date of marriage by horoscope. Throughout a Muslim ceremony, sometimes the bride and groom can look at each other only through a mirror's reflection. In a Middle Eastern wedding, a pack of women surround the couple and click their tongues to a boisterous high-pitched wail. Parse the rituals of your respective cultures, looking for common themes. Circling, a Jewish ritual, blends well with the Seven Steps in Hinduism. Handfasting is used in myriad cultures. In a Chinese wedding, a display of fireworks are set off at the end of a ceremony to ward off evil spirits-and who doesn't love fireworks? When developing the script, avoid talking about God if one of you prays to Allah and the other to Ganesh. Or try to be pluralistic, fully embracing both religions if they're not so mutually exclusive. But before choosing your officiant, beware of any cultural restrictions-an interfaith minister may be all-encompassing but will your marriage be valid in your country of origin? And in a bilingual ceremony, translate some passages in the program, or hire an interpreter, but don't feel obligated to reiterate everything; it'll be interminable!
The Fractured-Family Couple
Though tempted, you decided not to elope. Even having a private ceremony somewhere far, far away from your dysfunctional family felt like a betrayal. Longstanding problems don't automatically resolve themselves overnight, but sometimes formal rites of passage can foster forgiveness. Should this not be true for your family, start by soliciting peacemaking suggestions from your officiant and default to universal etiquette. If you loathe Dad, ask a sibling to walk you down the aisle. If you have two-plus Dads, divvy up the roles: one can walk you down the aisle; another can give a reading; and still another can have the first dance. It's normal to split up divorced parents in the pews; your custodial parent should sit up front, the other should sit in the third pew with his/her new spouse. If you're going to have a receiving line, separate Mom and Dad (if divorced), even if they're on good terms. Otherwise, guests may assume they're married. Keep in mind throughout, wisest is the old tactic of encouraging good behavior by positive reinforcement: The more you include your parents, stepparents, step- and half-siblings, the less they're going to blow it (hopefully). Allowing them to stand with you, and presenting them with flowers and a genuine note of gratitude, can do wonders for their delicate egos and, thus, your sanity.
From the Fall 2005 New York Wedding Guide