My partner and I recently tied the knot. We had a lovely commitment ceremony on the beach that lasted all of 20 minutes, then we celebrated with a bonfire while we watched the sun go down. It was a decidedly Pagan affair, and the universe couldn’t have provided a more beautiful day.

Most couples – gay or straight – spend an average of $17,000 on their weddings, and most of them go into debt to do it. We planned our commitment ceremony and reception for under $2000. Doing our wedding on such a tight budget was a challenge, but we both agreed that going into debt for a party was not in line with our core values. However, stepping outside the box of conspicuous consumption and all the trappings of a “white wedding” was met with mixed reviews by our family and friends. Here’s what I learned from the experience.

First of all, we consciously did not call our commitment ceremony a wedding. The term comes with a lot of cultural baggage. I’m all for people getting married if they want to, but I don’t believe in the idea of marriage. It has historically been an arrangement that hasn’t benefited women – for centuries we were viewed as chattel and the wedding itself was just a transfer of property from one man to another. I am not a piece of property. I am all for commitments, however. My partner and I made a commitment to one another in April, and we made some pretty serious promises to one another in front of 4 witnesses. To me, this is what it is all about – the words you say are more important than where you say it or what you wear. We have no piece of paper that documents our relationship or grants us any sort of recognition from the state. I’m a Wiccan and my partner is an atheist, so we also don’t have the sanction of any sort of church. But I don’t think that makes our commitment to each other any less valid.

Our family and friends did not know how to react when we told them that we didn’t want gifts. “But we have to get you a present! You’re getting married!” I appreciated the sentiment, but it was more helpful to have people bring a side dish to help us stick to our budget than it was to receive new sheets or some candlesticks I’ll never use. We asked people to donate to queer youth programs if they really wanted to give us a gift. However, I didn’t turn down the Kitchenaid mixer from my mother-in-law, and my partner didn’t say no to a Wii. His mom insisted that she wanted to spend the same amount of money on us that she spent on his brother and sister when they got married. I think that it’s sweet that my mother-in-law wanted to have a very visible sign that she valued our relationship as equally as Shannon’s straight siblings. I’m keeping the Kitchenaid, but it really wasn’t necessary. My relationship with Shannon isn’t worth less because we spent less money to celebrate our commitment. Our family and friends don’t support us less because we asked them not to bring a gift. Money doesn’t equal love.

Our “reception” was small – just a potluck picnic in the park for 20 people. We had more food than we could ever eat in one sitting, and the Arizona weather was pleasantly cool that day. Our parents, grandparents, and a few close friends joined us in the park, and I think everyone had a good time. I know I did. We didn’t have a DJ, no one made a toast, and nobody shoved cake in anyone else’s face. But it was exactly the kind of party we wanted to have.

My partner and I are still navigating our relationship. We lived together before our commitment ceremony, so things really don’t feel like they’ve changed that much. I still do the laundry, and Shannon still takes out the trash. We both work in the garden and play video games together. And our idea of a hot date is a homemade pizza and a Netflix DVD.

The biggest change is linguistic. My partner is trans, and when we were dating it was really easy to clue new people into his preferred gender pronouns by introducing him as my boifriend. Now I don’t know which word to use. We prefer partner, but it’s gender neutral. I’ve introduced Shannon as my husband twice because I wanted to make sure that people knew which pronouns to use. But I am nobody’s wife. I still consider myself a lesbian, even though I sleep with a transguy every night. I fought too hard to claim that label, and I’m not about ready to give it up. I guess we’ll figure out the murky waters of linguistics as we go along. For now, partner works just fine for me. And if I unravel the lesbian piece of that puzzle, I’ll let you know.

For those of you who have had “nontraditional” weddings or commitment celebrations, what was your experience like? How did your family and friends react? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Photo credit: Hart Dasteel Photography