On June 30, 2018, I got married!! The love of my life had proposed to me only four and a half months earlier, and without a hired wedding planner, I was deeply involved in every step of the preparation. This exciting and exhausting process was all the more rewarding because the wedding was aligned with our identity as an interracial and egalitarian couple.
My ethnic background is white and East Indian, and while growing up in the United States and Canada, my closest extended family members have been on my Indian side. My husband is white, and much of his family is rooted in the South in the United States. We wanted to include Indian and Southern touches in our wedding to honor these important aspects of ourselves and our families. We also have a relationship of equality and mutuality, in which neither of us is defined in our roles or abilities by our genders. It was important to us—and to me especially, as a woman and as someone who thinks deeply about gender equality in both my professional and my personal life—that our wedding reflect our egalitarianism.
We didn’t have a lot of models to go off of as we were crafting this bicultural, egalitarian wedding, but we are very happy with how it turned out! I want to share several things we chose for our wedding as helpful inspiration for those who may be involved in planning an egalitarian wedding in the future. Please know that I do not share any of these elements as the only “right” way to go, but simply as what worked best for us and our families!
When my now-husband proposed to me on Valentine’s Day, he pulled out not only an engagement ring for me, but also an engagement ring for him! While he had been planning his proposal and sharing it with our close family members, my mom reminded him that it had always been my dream for my fiancé to have an engagement ring too. If I was going to wear a ring to show that I was engaged, I wanted my fiancé to do the same. He and his mom picked out his ring together, which he wore on his right hand to distinguish it from a wedding band. This special touch made our engagement so moving to me!
We had two wedding showers, one in my hometown and one in his. A couple days after the shower in my hometown, my two local bridesmaids, my sister, my mom, and I all had a mini-mehndi party! It was my first time having mehndi (also called henna) done, and it was a very special time of bonding and celebration with Indian friends and family.
Names and Invitations
As we prepared to send out our invitations, I realized that how we addressed our guests would be very important! Traditionally, wedding invitations are addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe.” First, I decided not to address women by their husbands’ names. Second, I chose that I would not include “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Ms.”, or any other honorific in the address, because I did not want to assume whether a given woman preferred “Mrs.”, “Ms.”, or “Miss”, and I did not want to make any of my non-binary friends uncomfortable. Finally, if applicable, I listed wives’ names before their husbands’ names so as not to reinforce the idea that a man is the “head of the household.” So, instead of “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe,” our guests received invitations addressed to “Jane and John Doe.”
The other issue on the topic of names is the last name that my husband and I chose. We ultimately chose for my husband to take my last name! I knew that it was not my preference to take his last name, because I wanted to make a choice that reflected the conviction that women do not always have to take their husbands’ last names. We thought briefly about doing a “name smash” or coming up with a brand new last name, but we didn’t think up anything that we liked. We didn’t want to keep our own separate last names, because we wanted our last names to reflect our new united life together. We came down to deciding between hyphenating and him taking my last name. I told him that I would love for him to take my last name, but I was comfortable with either decision and wanted him to have the final call on whichever he preferred for his own last name (after all, one of the two options would mean a name change for only him). Following some reflection, he decided that he wanted to take my last name.
We told our families and friends about our decision a few weeks before the wedding, so that they wouldn’t be surprised on the day of. There were both positive and negative responses, of course, but I was delighted by the fact that the majority of responses that we heard were not only positive, but overwhelmingly so! An extraordinary number of people have expressed joy at our decision, inspiration from our convictions, and amazement at my husband’s self-confidence and strong identity in Christ, so much so that he can change his name and go against masculine stereotypes while remaining secure in his sense of self. My hope is that in the future, people who marry one another will be able to choose their last names freely and without pressure from others, but instead fitting their own unique circumstances.
At our wedding rehearsal, I unveiled a big surprise for my grandparents… I wore a sari! A year and a half earlier, my grandmother had given me and my sister some of her old saris and sari blouses and had dressed us in them, draping us beautifully with perfect pleats and folds. So, a little while before the rehearsal started, my grandparents came into my dressing room and sat down with their eyes closed. I stepped forward to them with a folded white and gold sari in my hands, and when they opened their eyes, I asked, “Nani Ji (grandmother), will you help me put on this sari?” It was a sari that my grandfather had bought from India many years earlier and had given to my grandmother. They were both very delighted and shocked and exclaimed, “I can’t believe it!” It was such a special moment to have my grandmother skillfully pleat and fold my sari—to my bridesmaids’ amazement at her expertise!—and then hug me close and look at me with pride.
There were so many changes that we made to our ceremony that I can’t possibly list them all here (although please contact me if you want to see the text of it for reference!), but the principle throughout was the same: that whatever we do be done without regard for gender. Both of us were walked down the aisle by both of our parents, and both of us were given away by both of our parents. Our guests stood for the whole processional instead of rising only for me. The obligations in our declarations of intent and our prayers of blessing were the same, rather than being gendered.
The two of us also took turns going first: my husband came down the aisle first and said his vows first, and I read Scripture first and was given away first. We had told our officiants about our commitment to gender equality, and any texts that they wrote themselves were in honor and celebration of that equality. Our bridesmaids and groomsmen walked independently, rather than being “coupled” with each other. We did not have men acting as ushers, guiding anyone to their seats. I stood on the right side rather than on the traditional left. In the big things and the little things, this sacred moment was infused with elements that reminded us that in Christ gender poses no barrier or restriction!
One of the most exciting parts of our reception was the food! Our caterer worked with us to create a menu of both Indian dishes and Southern dishes, and our desserts were both cake and gulab jamun (YUM!).
We also invited both of each of our parents to speak at our reception. Our dads gave the welcome and the blessing before we ate, and our moms gave beautiful Scripture reflections near the end of the night. We danced with both of each of our parents after our first dance, first, each of us slow dancing with our moms, and then both of us doing the electric slide with both of our dads!
We did away with both the bouquet toss and the garter toss, so as not to communicate that our single friends and family should aspire to marriage.
The game that we did instead was the “shoe game,” in which we as a couple, used our shoes to answer light-hearted questions about our relationship (my mom and sister helped create the questions so that none of them found their humor in gendered stereotypes). We had both slow and fast songs during the dancing, the highlight of which was my dad and my grandfather dancing around each other in a way I had never seen before! It seemed like Indian dancing, and one of my aunts leaned over to whisper to me, “Your Nana Ji (grandfather) danced like this at your mom’s wedding!” What a special way to come full circle!
Haley Gabrielle graduated from Yale Divinity School in spring 2018 with a Master of Arts in Religion, with a concentration in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She will commence a PhD program in Religion with a focus on the New Testament at Emory University in the fall of 2018. Haley is a non-denominational charismatic Christian and an ally.