Ask Stacy and Lieva how they met, and the answer, as they patch it together, is much more of an ensemble piece than a romantic duet. Friends, lovers, exes, exes’ lovers, the departed, and the recently born don’t just make cameos—they pick up the melody, harmonize, and keep a steady beat, weaving Stacy and Lieva’s relationship into a big, joyful chorus across time and space. So when Lieva and Stacy decided to get married, they knew that a ritual that reflected them would need to involve their social world. That world stretched from the family in their immediate household, which includes Stacy’s former wife and her toddler, to their families of origin, past partners, local and far-away friends, and the peers and mentors who helped each become the person the other cherishes.
Traditional ceremonies were out. Queer, polyamorous, and not very religious, Lieva and Stacy recognized that their commitment to each other needed a ritual as unique as they were. They wanted to affirm their love; they did not want to make promises that felt untrue to the evolving, open, generous nature of their connection. The answer came from a combination of looking inward and reaching out to people with the wisdom and expertise to help them make the wedding their own.
Their first stop was The Soulful Wedding, where ceremony designer and interfaith chaplain Maureen Cotton helped them approach the wedding ritual as a concrete manifestation of their shared emotional journey. Working with Maureen was a breakthrough for Stacy and Lieva, as they designed a wholly new ceremony that one guest declared “was the most profound wedding I’ve ever been to.”
For most of her life, Lieva had been very clearly on the, “not for me, I don’t believe in marriage like that” plan. Meanwhile, Stacy was clear that two marriages had been plenty and she needn’t ever marry again. Consequently, their wedding planning involved a lot of thinking hard about what a wedding is even for. They thought, talked, read a book, and decided to take a stand for the importance of all the relationships that make up a full life by celebrating not only their own dyadic partnership, but also the varied relationships they have with each of their guests, and the vast array of connections that their guests have with each other. They would use their wedding to push back against the harmful idea that romantic partnerships are the only relationships that matter by working to strengthen the whole network of connections that support them in this life, consciously and explicitly using their wedding to knit their communities more closely together.
Lieva thought this project called for a spreadsheet, and used Kumu to build an interactive network diagram showing all of the connections that existed among the guests. She interviewed guests by phone and email to make sure that her diagramming of their connections reflected their own understanding and labeling of their relationships, describing relationships ranging from “are coming up on their 40th wedding anniversary” to “penpals, like, with stamps and mailboxes and everything” to “one time 15 years ago he made her a dish with beets that she actually liked.”
To begin the process of weaving their communities more closely together, they hosted a pizza picnic the day before the wedding at their nephew’s favorite playground. Some friends got to meet the YouTube musician who, having gotten their family through the first years of the pandemic with twin toddlers, was as famous as Big Bird, in their home at least. A pandemic baby got to meet his progenitor, and Lieva’s Belgian aunties encountered the phrase “Black Boy Joy” for the first time.
The next day, in the pre-ceremony cocktail hour, while newly arriving guests were getting screened for COVID in the parking lot, strangers became friends over a game of Connection Bingo. They then drew lines with dry-erase markers on the window, connecting themselves to the people they’d just met in an interactive analog version of the network diagram (which doubled as a seating chart).
A customized, community-connected approach also informed how they chose their wedding clothes. Through a close friend whose impending baby made it impossible for her to just make a wedding gown for Lieva like she wanted to, Lieva connected with a local photographer whose own bespoke wedding dress carried complex associations from a marriage that had ended. The moment she discovered that this gorgeous custom-for-someone-else gown fit her perfectly, Lieva’s “fatter than I’ve ever been” transformed into “good thing I spent all pandemic baking brownies so I could fill out this incredible dress!”
The three decided together to reclaim the sumptuous lace and silk gown through a transformation process that included spray-painting the hem to give the illusion that Lieva was catching fire. The owner of the now-even-more-fabulous gown photographed Lieva’s getting-ready process, and together the three celebrated their own and each others’ delicious curvaceousness in what became a shared body-positive queer femme radiant glamour ritual healing process for all.
Not having a wedding party in no way prevented a gaggle of loving power femmes from descending on Lieva with mani-pedi appointments, makeup trials, a collaborative Spotify playlist that she still listens to often in her car, and plenty of bagels. Lieva’s sparkly midnight gel pedicure grew out slowly for months after the wedding, a daily reminder on her toes of how deeply she is held by her people.
Stacy, meanwhile, put her own suave chic and sense of humor on display with a dashing blue suit, a sprig of flowers at the lapel in a “butch-onniere,” and jaunty shark socks. (The blues on the socks and the suit allllmost matched. Stacy’s fashion consultants gave her the go-ahead to wear them.) Inside her jacket, photos of her dear ancestors hung close to her heart.
For the ceremony, each guest got a brightly colored flower and took a seat in a perfect circle just outside the Sequoia Lodge. The heart of the ceremony had four parts, each a creative re-imagining of what a wedding could be.
First, Lieva and Stacy, passing the microphone back and forth, told the story of their relationship. Lieva’s opening line: “I met Stacy at her best friend’s funeral.” Like many great love stories, theirs took guests through a wide range of emotions, as love and life and grief and celebration wove the two of them ever closer. Guests experienced the delight, surprise, and humor that come with hearing a love story from two angles: the initial thrill of recognition, the comical assumptions that evaporate with greater knowledge, the growing trust and sense of rightness. As one guest reflected later, “It was so mature an expression of love that it felt like a birth, a wedding, and a funeral in one.”
Second, to give guests an embodied experience of how love adds sweetness to life, the chocolatiers in Lieva’s family passed out bitter and sweet handmade chocolates, the sweet chocolate in the shape of a heart. Attendees savored first the bitter and then the sweet while their beloved officiant read the only reading: an excerpt from a blog post highlighting the contrast between popular stories about love as flashy and turbulent and the lived experience of love’s quiet ability to sustain us. The officiant invited guests to meditate, as they tasted the sweet chocolate heart, on the relationships in their lives that sustained them. They then connected guests to the earth and to the web of associations forming around Stacy and Lieva’s marriage, including those with ancestors, beloved people who had passed.
3. Flower Ceremony
Next came a radical moment in the ritual: Stacy and Lieva introduced their community.
“When life happens, we all are the people who will need to collaborate in supporting our beloveds. Please consider this a formal introduction.” Then the officiant invited each wedding guest by name, together with others who shared a similar connection to Lieva and Stacy, to stand before them, flowers in hand. Lieva and Stacy named and described their beloved community members and the links that bound them, showering them with love and gratitude: families of origin, friends from each circle of their lives, beloved exes, future loves yet unknown (“not able to be here with us today due to logistical and temporal realities, but we know they are also essential to our journey, holding and being held by us in irreplaceable ways”), in-laws (their people’s people), the officiant, their pandemic pod, the kids in their lives (represented by the few present who hadn’t yet tired of ceremony and run off to the venue’s nearby playground), and their closest-in queer chosen family.
After each acknowledgment, guests contributed their flowers to a central bouquet, which grew into a bright, beautiful, colorful, chaotic representation of Lieva and Stacy’s assembled community.
There were no vows. Instead, the flower ceremony continued when the officiant called the penultimate name: Stacy
Lieva shared a tender portrait of her love for Stacy: the ways she’d already transformed in their not-quite-five-years together, her delight in Stacy’s nerdiness, the impact on her of Stacy’s deep commitment to peace and freedom. She concluded, “I can’t tell you, today, what it means to marry you. I need to marry you in order to find out. What I can tell you, as a tiny human tripping ever forward into unknown tomorrows, is that I feel stronger and steadier, more courageous, more grounded, and more at peace with you by my side. I love you.”
Finally, the person whose flower would complete the bouquet: Lieva
Stacy testified that, having been married twice before, she did not expect a love like the one she shares with Lieva. She shared what she loves most about Lieva, how Lieva’s experience of disability helps transform her own, and how deeply she’s committed to loving and nurturing Lieva’s inner child. She brought tears to the eyes of the assembled guests with her loving, knowing invocation of the facets of Lieva’s character she treasures.
In the glow of their love—for one another and from their community—Stacy and Lieva received wedding rings from their preschooler nephew (who, admittedly, was most interested in getting control of the microphone). They affirmed their desire to marry: “Yup!” Then, while Lieva and Stacy exchanged rings in silence, their officiant invited everyone “to feel or imagine the power of their connection to shape all of our lives, as one strong thread helping to weave these communities together.”
They sealed their union, to massive cheering, with a passionate kiss. The YouTube kids’ musician led all assembled in a rousing recessional rendition of Raffi’s “The More We Get Together” while guests followed each member of the couple in a winding receiving line that doubled on itself so that everyone could greet everyone else. True to form, Lieva’s side stayed mathematically precise while Stacy’s devolved into leisurely hug-ful chaos.
After a group photo, Stacy and Lieva retreated for a moment together (and some much needed sustenance!) before returning to their reception for brief toasts and a community first dance: the Cupid Shuffle, with tutorials for dancers of all abilities.
After a long night of dancing (and then recounting the events of the day to a beloved friend whose delayed plane to the wedding landed just as the party ended) Lieva and Stacy got a message from a guest awed by the power of this participatory community ritual: “What you all modeled I hope sets a new standard for how one can die, how one can get married, how one can celebrate birth, how one can be in community on a regular basis.”
Some weeks later, Lieva was sharing that a friend of hers said that after the wedding he just lay down on his bed and wept because he’d never felt so deeply welcomed, included, and celebrated. The friend she was sharing with responded, “Well, yeah, me too. I think a lot of people did exactly that after your wedding. It was quite powerful.”
A witch in attendance said the ritual “redefined (for me) the spell that a wedding casts.”
A family member said the next day that the wedding had been really amazing, and when asked why, responded simply, “well… you really love each other.” She could see it. Their love was palpable.
Written by Meredith Reiches & Lieva Whitbeck
Photography by Lydia Daniller (mostly, also Joey Kotfica, Ali Torres, & Tracy Reed)
4 thoughts on “When “We Do” Holds More Than Two: Centering Community in a Marriage Ritual”
The photo of me is fine, I’m not private about that or my name, no worries. Thanks for sending this – I’ll save it. Beautiful memories. Hope your honeymoon was as fabulous as you had imagined.
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It was! Thank you so much for celebrating with us!
Nice to see all those beautiful pictures and life the happy moments again.
Very proud of Lieva and Stacy. Proud to have been whiteness and part of this very special commitment! Love you lots and your wonderful friends!
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Thank you Tante Els!