A same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland and a steampunk wedding in England: Rian and Owen’s humanist ceremony

A same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland and a steampunk wedding in England: Rian and Owen’s humanist ceremony

With Rian studying in England, and his boyfriend Owen living in Northern Ireland, their relationship started out as a long distance one. They had to wait until Rian graduated before he could move to Northern Ireland and they could be together. 

When the couple decided to get married, it was important to them to have their commitment recognised and celebrated in both England and Northern Ireland. But sadly this meant more waiting. 

“We got engaged in Amsterdam in 2015, before it was legal for us to marry in Northern Ireland,” explains Rian. “It was legal in England, so we could have got married there, but it would feel wrong to come home after the wedding and for our marriage not to be recognised where we live. So we got engaged and hoped the law would catch up. We were engaged for five years.”

Campaigning for same-sex marriage

Rian and Owen didn’t just wait for change to happen, they actively campaigned for it.

“We marched together in Pride every year as a way to keep the campaign for same-sex marriage visible,” says Rian. “We were ecstatic when the law finally changed in Northern Ireland, and immensely grateful to all the tireless campaigners who made it possible. We could now share our love in the way that other couples could.”

The waiting was over. Rian and Owen were so quick to register their intent to marry that they ended up making history as the first same-sex couple in Northern Ireland to do so.

“We even received a congratulatory bottle of bubbly from the Northern Ireland Finance Minister,” remembers Rian. A small, legal ceremony, with just two witnesses, took place in Belfast City Hall not long after. Rian and Owen were legally married!

Choosing a personal, humanist ceremony and finding a humanist wedding celebrant

However, they also wanted to celebrate their love with friends and family, in a way which felt personal to them, so they planned a humanist wedding to bring everyone together.

“As a same-sex couple in Northern Ireland we were fortunate to have the support of our family and friends,” says Rian. “We’re both atheist and humanist, so any ceremony in a religious setting wouldn’t have felt right to us. A humanist ceremony gave us the freedom to make it all unique to us. Most of the guests would be from England, so we started looking online for a humanist celebrant there.

“As soon as we spoke to our celebrant Hannah online, we immediately felt she was the right fit for us: bubbly, enthusiastic, warm, and keen to make sure that we had the day we wanted.”

Overcoming the final barriers

But the waiting wasn’t over yet for Owen and Rian. Just weeks before the planned humanist ceremony, the country went into lockdown, and all their plans went on hold for over a year.

Finally, the time came, although not without one more last minute hitch. Due to a problem with their sat nav, Rian and Owen arrived at the ferry port late and nearly missed their ferry to England.

“By the time we got there, the barriers were closed,” recalls Rian. “We said, ‘You have to let us through, we’re getting married!’ They lifted the barriers, and let us board.”

An outdoor steampunk wedding

Rian and Owen’s outdoor wedding took place at The Glade at Rosliston Forestry Centre in Derbyshire. They made their vows in the sunshine, surrounded by friends and family.

Instead of traditional suits, they opted for a steampunk theme. Rian explains:

“We wanted to feel like we were being ourselves – not forcing ourselves to do what was expected – and we both feel uncomfortable wearing suits. The Victorian/steampunk dress theme meant our guests could let their creativity out too. It was optional – we didn’t want anyone to feel pressured – and about half the guests followed the theme too.”

Two families, three rituals

There were three rituals at the heart of the ceremony: a hand-fasting, a sand-blending and a traditional exchange of rings. Each of which showed visibly that, through Owen and Rian’s wedding, two families were being joined together.

“We chose a hand-fasting with two cords for its old roots and because it gave us a permanent symbol to mark our bond together,” says Rian.

“One cord was green and gold: green for nurturing, groundedness, and our shared love of nature; gold for cherishing each other – together a symbol of spring and the foundations of our bond.

“The other cord was red and gold: red for our passion for one another; gold for the endurance of love; together symbolic of autumn and our commitment to supporting one another through life’s changes.”

During the hand-fasting, Owen and Rian recited the same personalised promises that they had made to each other during their civil marriage ceremony in Northern Ireland.

The sand-blending came at the very end of the ceremony. The couple chose to mix layers of red sand, representing Rian’s mix of English and Welsh heritage, with green sand, representing Owen’s Irish heritage. The heart-shaped jar is now proudly displayed on a shelf in Rian’s and Owen’s home in Northern Ireland.

A space for love to come through

The comments from the guests, none of whom had been to a humanist ceremony before, affirmed the couple’s choices.

“One of my cousins said he loved how the wedding was so personal, he could really see the love between us. My stepdad said he’s never been to a ceremony like it – in a positive way!” Rian recalls. “It really reflected why we wanted a humanist ceremony – the uniqueness made a space for the love to come through. It was personal, unique and truly ours.”

Thank you to Rian and Owen for sharing their story with us and to their photographer Thom Walker photograph for the brilliant photographs.

Humanist celebrant Hannah Bryant.

Rian and Owen’s celebrant was the wonderful Hannah Bryant, a trained and fully accredited Humanist Ceremonies Wedding Celebrant. She lives in South Wales with her wife and their dogs. Hannah performs ceremonies across South Wales, but will also travel further afield and abroad!

Find out more about Hannah and see how you can get in touch with her here.

Next steps for wedding planning

If you’re thinking of having a humanist wedding and would like to talk to someone about your ideas, we’ve made it easy for you to find your local celebrant. Use our map to locate celebrants near to you and get in touch to make an introductory appointment.

'My humanist ceremony was the most special day of my life. All my family were blown away. Both my parents said that they'd never been to a wedding that was more personal or heartfelt.'
Madeleine, 34


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