To recognize our active and distinguished humanist celebrants, HNN is starting a new series profiling ceremonies conducted by humanist celebrants throughout the United States. Army Captain Ryan Jean talks about the marriage he recently presided over and his ongoing efforts for recognition as a humanist leader.
On a recent Saturday evening, August 10, 2013, Nichole, an Active-Duty Army Sergeant, married her childhood crush, Austin, in a cozy ceremony held at the Community Center on Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. This ceremony was unlike any other wedding the fort had ever seen, however, because in doing so they became the first openly-humanist couple to be married there.
The couple, who grew up as neighbors in a small Northern Arizona town, met again by chance years after they both had left and rekindled a relationship that had remained dormant but never forgotten. Raised amidst the backdrop of Fundamentalist Mormon ideology, they ultimately rejected both the lifestyle and the beliefs. In doing so, they both now struggle to maintain connections with a family often far away in not only geography but also in practices and ideology. It is a testament to their ability to walk that tightrope and embrace the best aspects of humanism that most in the wedding audience and the entire wedding party were members of their family.
I presided over the ceremony both in my capacity as an endorsed Humanist Celebrant of the Humanist Society and as an Army Officer. While I never expected to perform weddings when I sought the mantle of leadership, weddings such as this are an expression of my ongoing desire to positively represent and support the humanist community and the fellow Soldiers of the Army I hold so dear. I was one of the original candidates for Lay Leadership, to present Humanist personnel in cooperation with the Army Chaplaincy. My application has essentially been dismissed by Chaplains and other Army Officials of all ranks, and it is disappointing that the senior leadership seems unable to come to terms with their moral abandonment of a growing fraction of the troops.
Now, two years on, my application packet is still “pending,” and the full groups of atheists and humanists at Fort Meade also remain without official recognition. Unlike the facilitated and easy support for many religious denominations, atheists and humanists have gotten no assistance, and are often lucky if we are met with indifference instead of hostility. That doesn’t apply to weddings, however, as the request by a service member to use government facilities for a wedding is not questioned as to religion unless the request is also to use one of the chapels on post (of which there are at least three). Because I am neither a Chaplain nor approved as a Lay Leader, I had to request special approval from both the Chaplain’s office and the legal office to honor the couple’s request that I perform the ceremony in uniform. Fortunately the request was granted and I am hopeful that the act may bode well for future requests for recognition.
It was an honor to officiate their wedding, and to represent humanists in a positive light, especially as it was visible to a larger part of the Army community. I even had the distinction of performing an honorary enlistment and promotion for the Soldier’s civilian spouse, welcoming him to what Soldiers affectionately call the Army Family. I hope that this wedding can serve to clearly show that humanists are not a threat to the Chaplaincy, and only want inclusion at the table for the things those with other beliefs take for granted. Of course, as long as this couple—and any other couple I have the honor of joining in marriage—is happy, I’ll be happy.
Capt. Ryan Jean is a Humanist Celebrant and lives in Bowie, Maryland. He is available as a speaker and for humanist ceremonies of every kind in the greater Maryland/DC area, and gives priority to past and present military members. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-351-7931.
This article was first published by Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF). The article can be found here.