The custom of giving the bride away has been criticized recently as archaic, inappropriate, and meaningless. Women are no longer chattels of the father and the husband. No longer does the father provide a dowry in terms of money, goods, or estate that his daughter brings to the marriage as compensation for the fact that she is a female (although some people suggest that the tradition of the bride’s family bearing the brunt of the wedding expense is a persistent remnant of this earlier practice).

A father once said to me at a wedding rehearsal, “I’ll go along with that part in the ceremony, but I really don’t believe I’m doing anything significant by giving my daughter away. She was gone long before today!” In a sense that is true. The change in a parent-child relationship, which comes with maturity, starts long before a wedding day. The choice of a mate is only another symbol of what has been happening for years. Thus, in many churches, new and revised orders for the Service of Marriage either make the giving of the bride optional, or omit it altogether.

After twenty years of conducting marriage ceremonies, most couples I talk with still want their ceremony to include some acknowledgment of family ties. Some of them want something different from the traditional question, yet they agree that even though the original intention is no longer valid, the act still has significance.

The moment is packed with deep emotion. But you ought not solve a problem, nor meet a need, by just removing what is unsatisfactory. Replace it with something else. I suggest that we rename this portion of the marriage service and call it “Reaffirming Family Ties.” I discuss this with every bride and groom. ...

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