A sure sign of getting old is when people ask you to be a ninong at their wedding, instead of being a ninong at their kid’s baptismal ceremony.
I attended a wedding ceremony this afternoon where my friend requested me to be the ninong. Unlike other ceremonies I have attended in the past, this was a first for me because it was to be a civil wedding held at a court of law, rather than a church. So I was at the venue a bit early, a bit excited and curious to observe how court weddings go.
The court was near the Ecoland Bus Terminal. Images of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash and the Wonder Twins went through my head as I read the words “Hall of Justice” emblazoned on the building (For those too young to remember, the Hall of Justice was the headquarters of the Superfriends – a cartoon show that was popular a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when I was a child).
The inside of the Hall, however, looked like a warehouse for old paper. Huge stacks of documents in folders lined the walls and corners of the place, a lot of them dusty and yellowed with age. I made my way to the back where the stairs to the second floor were. I had to wait a bit since I arrived during lunch break and the courts were closed. Most of the offices had their lights out. I walked around and peered through the glass doors and could see dark shapes sprawled on the court benches — employees taking their noontime siesta.
I hung out at the second-floor balcony waiting for the courts to open and the soon-to-weds to arrive. When they did, there were short introductions around and we waited for a few more minutes until the judge came out. She was about to begin the ceremony but noticed that the marriage form had the bride and groom interchanged. So she had the clerk correct the documents and we waited again for a while.
The clerk then came over and had the couple check the information he typed. Finally, everything was in order and we could begin. The judge said something along the lines of, “We know this is a civil wedding but let’s begin this ceremony with a prayer and know that you are committing yourselves to each other and to God in this Christian union.” Obviously the judge was using some kind of a standard script that she utilized again and again for these things. The vows were interspersed with “I promise to build a Christian home” and things like that.
I could only wince at the irony of those words.
I would liked to have stopped the judge mid-sentence but I was afraid of disrupting the ceremony and getting thrown out of court, or worse, jeopardizing my friend’s wedding. After all, there were huge signs all around that if your cellphone rang, you could be cited for contempt — what more if you interrupted the judge?
The irony of it was twofold. First, we have a very clear clause on the separation of church and state in our constitution, which the judge ought to have known. She had no business injecting Christian overtones in a ceremony that the couple had decided would be conducted in a secular setting. Even if those were her personal values, she should have used neutral and religion-free language to conduct the ceremony or at least did the couple the courtesy of asking if they were indeed Christians.
Which brings me to the second level of irony — neither the groom nor the bride was a Christian. The groom was sort of an atheist/agnostic and the bride was Muslim. I could hear the hesitation in their voices as they were forced to repeat sentences that became meaningless because of the insertion of religious phrases they did not even adhere to.
They expressed their frustration after the ceremony, outside the courtroom, but the damage had been done. And until our government realizes that their offices are not the proper places for crucifixes or other religious icons, and that mandatory prayer should be abolished, the battle for a truly secular government goes on.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.