Love Looks Like This: How One Couple Focused Their Wedding on Social Justice

love looks like this reniqua

 Cristina Cianci

Brides is committed to guiding ALL couples through not only their wedding planning journey, but through relationship milestones and ups and downs. Every love story is beautiful, has its own distinct history, and its own trials—there's no relationship that looks the same. To celebrate that uniqueness, we're asking couples to open up about their love story, for our latest column, "Love Looks Like This." Below, Reniqua Allen-Lamphere tells her story. 

It all started, like so many things, I would learn, when it comes to weddings, with Paris. Neither Peter, my fiance, nor I, had ever thought about planning a wedding before, nonetheless one with a theme, so when we read that we needed some sort of unifying idea, Paris seemed like the natural choice. We had just gotten engaged on top of the Eiffel Tower, had been indulging in crepe after crepe after our European jaunt, and had one of the most ridiculous and hilarious nights of our lives in Montmartre. We weren’t exactly Francophiles, but were high off our month-long adventure abroad. So we started planning. I looked at Eiffel Tower-themed wedding cakes and started searching for a personal crepe maker for our happy hour. We looked at lavish venues with beautiful flower gardens and lush landscapes that reminded us of romantic walks by the Seine. But soon realized that the saccharine sweet love fest that we were planning just didn’t feel like us—two nerdy, politics-loving, slightly quirky New Yorkers. Immediately, Paris was scrapped. 

A few weeks later, when we came across our perfect venue on the Hudson River, overlooking the New York City skyline, we once again thought we had the perfect theme: New York City. It made sense. It was our home, the city of our dreams, and obviously the best place in the world. Once again, I began to look at cakes with the city skyline, tasted every single Black and White cookie on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and planned for both Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z’s classic songs about New York to be played at our reception. 

Like Paris, however, our enthusiasm for the idea soon faded. It felt like someone else’s idea of a wedding, rather than our own. So we scrapped that idea, and decided that we were going to have our wedding themed around something that reflected who we were as a couple. We did not share any cutesy hobbies or a love for Star Wars (Peter loves it, I’ve never seen it). We didn’t have the same fashion sensibility (I have a million pairs of Chuck Taylors, he has none). Even our pop culture references were out of sync.

In our mind, this meant having a wedding that reflected the weight of the times, our deep belief in equality and justice for all people, and a way for people to make a difference

It soon occurred to us that the thing we both loved the most was politics and social justice. It was the thing we engaged with all the time whether it was talking excitedly about a new politician, fighting in a heated argument about which political party was best for change, debating about Marxism or on a date night glued to the television watching the latest debate. It was often one of the first things we talked about in the morning, and late at night as we fell asleep. Our careers both reflected it (I write and produce media around race and social justice, he’s a teacher and activist) and certainly our romance has too. Our first date, at some Midtown bar, was filled with banter over how preposterous the political chances of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were (our second was to see the Big Short, about the financial crisis of 2008).

Immediately, we knew it was perfect. A social justice-themed wedding. In our mind, this meant having a wedding that reflected the weight of the times, our deep belief in equality and justice for all people, and a way for people to make a difference. At the same time however, we didn’t want to be preachy assholes. 

We knew how divided much of the country was and how tired many people were of politics. While most (not all) of our guests probably would consider themselves liberals or lefties, it was also important to us that everyone felt included. We knew we’d have to walk some kind of delicate balance, but still had no idea how to do it, so we called in for some reinforcements and got a wedding planner

Our wedding planner was great. I’d highly recommend her, but it turns out, she did not seem to exactly know how to pull off a social justice-themed wedding either, though she did give us some useful places to start. She suggested things like we name our tables after activists, have socially justice oriented trivia cards, and have pin the tail on the social justice organization (an idea I still don’t get). It was a good start, and in the end, Peter and I incorporated her ideas with a few of our own. First, we signed up one of my best friends who is an environmental and social justice activist to be our officiant. She helped make sure that every detail in our ceremony, from a land acknowledgment to our vows, were in line with our vision of justice and equality. We then created postcards so people could write their congresspeople or sign petitions about three issues we cared about and had short trivia quizzes at each activist-themed table about politics and Black history. We also added some fantastic non-profits to our registry

table of petitions
Photo by Elvira Kalviste 

Somewhere along the way, we worried maybe this would be too much. Though it felt genuine, I wondered if this was some kind of faux performative wokeness. Or simply whether it was just too much politics. We were balancing it with plenty of other fun wedding activities—a polaroid guestbook, caricature artists, and a cotton candy machine, but having fun was also a priority, and we did not want people to feel pressure to be political. In this moment of doubt Peter posted a message on Facebook asking what folks thought about a social justice-themed wedding. One person was adamant that a wedding was not the place for activism and made it clear he did not like the idea. The person was not even invited to our wedding, but I worried about his criticism for weeks. 

Our parents and friends seemed equally confused about the idea and without a model, it was hard to tell if we were doing things right or wrong. At some point, as we were writing out questions for the trivia and printing out postcards, I realized it did not matter. Peter and I were having fun. We were putting together a wedding in a way that was special to us, and while it still was a fairly traditional event, it was uniquely us. So I pushed my worries aside and continued on. 

table sign
Photo by Elvira Kalviste 
table sign
Photo by Elvira Kalviste 

When we walked into the venue a few hours before the ceremony, a waiter came up to us and told us how important it was to them that we named a table after the transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson. Immediately all of my concerns went away. I knew we did the right thing, and had one of the best nights of my life. 

I am glad we followed our instincts and tried in some miniscule way to contribute to these tough conversations.

In the end, we think our theme worked. People ate, danced, saw how in love me and my now husband were, and got a glimpse into the family (and world) we want to help build together as a couple. I’m sure everyone did not agree with our choice of a theme, and to this day we laugh at how only six people at our nearly 200 person event signed the hundreds of postcards we put out for people to write to their congresspeople (shout out to those fabulous few). Yet we’re both proud of our effort, even if the results were not quite perfect. And we did raise some money for some amazing social justice organizations.

Given the state of the world these past few months, where protests about racial justice have made issues about race, justice and Black life a global issue, I am glad we followed our instincts and tried in some minuscule way to contribute to these tough conversations. Paris or New York would have been great themes for a wedding, but just not for us. In the end, I think a theme should be about what matters to the couple. Peter agrees and nearly a year later believes our social justice theme was a success. “It did what a theme should do, it provided some unity to some choices we made about the wedding. But as a social justice mobilizing tool, no, it did not work,” he said with a laugh. 

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