Jere's the problem with England's civil partnership ceremonies ( CPC ) : the government won't allow participants to refer to God, sex, or marriage during the ceremony, but it's perfectly okay to use the word 'ephemeral.'
'Can't I read a poem with smaller words?,' I asked my British friends Jayne and Jude last week as I miserably rehearsed the Auden poem they expected me to recite at their CPC. The poem is packed with the type of multi-syllabic, British-owned words designed to make Americans feel like they're speaking a foreign language. When Jayne and Jude first asked me to come to England to witness their union, I was hoping they'd allow me to recite a naughty limerick at the ceremony, but instead they chose Auden and all his difficult ideas about love and commitment.
At least, I think was a love poem. I read it dozens of times and still didn't know what the hell he was getting at.
I suspect the poem was payback for the months of grief I'd given Jude and Jayne about the ceremony. When they announced their intention to get hitched, they stressed that they wanted a small, unsentimental ceremony with just me and one other friend as witnesses. 'We're only doing it for the pension benefits,' Jude barked.
'There will be no tears! No quivering lips!'
'OK, but I get to sing 'Oh, Promise Me' at the wedding, right?' I said. 'And even though you've been together for 25 years, I think you should both wear white. All brides, even the sluttiest, deserve to wear white on their wedding day.'
'I'm wearing a brown suit. And stop calling it a wedding. It's not a wedding. It's a CPC!,' Jude exclaimed. Jayne, who is much less practical and far more romantic than Jude, pretended to go along with Jude's plan to keep the service emotion-free. But as soon as Jayne started fretting about what music to play at the ceremony, I knew Jude was in for a rude awakening.
Before long, a fancy room was rented at the registrar's office in the elegant town of York. The guest list expanded to include Jude's parents, who had kicked her out of the house a quarter of a century before when they discovered she was sleeping with Jayne. And Jayne dragged Jude out to buy new shoes.
'I'll bet you 100 pounds that you will weep during the wedding,' I wagered Jude as we walked to the registrar's office.
'I will not cry,' she said. 'And stop calling it a wedding!'
'Well, just in case, I'll ask the video operator to keep the camera trained on you so we don't miss a single tear.'
Jude didn't cry during the service, but she did smirk when I tripped over the word 'pedantic' during the reading of Auden. ( Note: I pronounced 'ephemeral' perfectly. ) Jayne, however, choked up momentarily while reciting her CPC vows, which were surprisingly touching considering they were penned by a bureaucrat whose mission was to craft a passionless statement that would not threaten married folk.
At dinner following the ceremony, I attempted to grab the check from Jude's father. Before I could, Jude's mother placed her hand on mine. 'It's a father's duty to pay for his daughter's wedding,' she said. This from a woman who had refused to speak to her daughter for several years after learning she was a lesbian.
I glanced across the table at Jude. She was biting her lip, which seemed on the verge of quivering.
'So, I guess it's okay for your mother to call it a wedding,' I said after Jude regained her composure.
'Shut up,' Jude said.
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