In a 107-year-old home with gardens of herbs and vegetables, happily clucking chickens and honeybee hives, lives one of the happiest un-wedded couples in Ypsilanti. Kristen Cuhran and Natalie Holbrook celebrated their everlasting love on Feb. 15 with an un-wedding ceremony under a gazebo at Riverside Park, followed by a party at a local brewery.
“I liked the idea of the un-birthday from ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Instead of one big day being portrayed as this moment in time that is the ‘most important day of your life,’ we decided to call it an un-wedding in hopes of drawing attention to the reality that our love is a 365-day-a-year love,” said Cuhran, who came up with the idea with her partner due to the fact that they cannot be legally married under federal law. “We celebrate the depth of our connection and commitment every day and we do not need an institution that we have been excluded from telling us anything else.”
However, Cuhran admitted, a little bit of politics did come into play. “At the same time, we wanted to be political and draw attention to the unfairness of the fact that there are certain rights attached to this archaic tradition called marriage,” she said.
“There is something deeply profound about proclaiming out loud among ‘chosen family’ and ‘family of origin’ the desire we have to always be together, to carry one another through hard times and to celebrate together during the good times,” she said. “For me personally, I now feel a sense of completion or finality. And it feels good.”
The women met in 1999 while attending Eastern Michigan University. “I was doing my graduate work and she was an undergrad,” Cuhran recalled. “We had a class together, Women in Film. We just talked a little bit in that class.”
But during the next semester, they had another class together, and the ball just kept rolling. “The first thing we did together was go to ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ – quite an intense experience for a first date. However, at that point it really wasn’t a date because I didn’t know if she was into women! I just asked her to go see it with me because I thought she was totally cool.”
Now, even after 10 years of commitment to each other, the women are not allowed to legally marry in their home state. Some gay and lesbian couples choose to leave the state to marry in one of the five U.S. states that has legalized the practice, while others jaunt over to Canada for a weekend. Some hold commitment ceremonies, while others have weddings that look much like more traditional celebrations, minus the government-recognized certificate.
Cuhran and Holbrook chose to do it their own way.
And they differed in more ways than just the legality of their relationship, too. “We wrote our own vows, which were quite long and very personal. They could never be used by any other couple on the planet because they came from those sacred parts of each of us,” Cuhran explained. “We weren’t pronounced married. We did a ritual by the river with loved ones looking on – we had people read parts of poems and statements. We asked folks to join in a song together – “When I’m Gone” by Phil Ochs. It was beautiful, and as much as the ceremony could sound cheesy or ‘new-agey’ – it really wasn’t. I suppose it was nature based.”
The women laid items out on a table and talked about how those items represented aspects of their lives and their relationship. “This is a bit of honey from our backyard bees. It signifies the mystery that the work of bees represents to both us and the mystery of our love and the mystery of our life together,” Holbrook read at the ceremony. “It signifies our desire to step gently on this planet and leave her better than we found her. It signifies our reaching for something bigger than sustainability. We want regeneration, more life: life rooted in ancient and folk traditions, good life.”
“Until we are legally able to get married in the United States we will only truly have un-wedding ceremonies,” Cuhran added. She suggested that others look at the Beyond Marriage document at http://www.beyondmarriage.org. She and Holbrook liked the ideas so much they included excerpts in their un-wedding program.
When asked if the couple would consider getting a state-recognized marriage if it became legal, Cuhran was unsure. “I would say yes, Natalie would probably say no. However, I am pregnant right now so if Obama legalizes gay marriage before second-parent adoption passes then I am sure we would get married so our children are protected,” she said.
For now, the women follow the news to determine what rights they may or may not have, and take comfort in the vows they have made to each other, and to the family they are starting together.