Freethought wedding of Joan and Steve

FFRF Treasurer and State Rep. Steve Salemson and Joan Wallace were married on Aug. 19 in Freethought Hall, FFRF’s office in Madison, Wis., in a romantic, nonreligious ceremony. FFRF Co-President Dan Barker was the officiant at the service, held in the Charlie Brooks Auditorium. Here is the transcript of the ceremony:


Joan’s niece, Rose Wallace-Smith, will perform “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” by W.B. Yeats, accompanied by her parents, Joan’s sister Donna Wallace on the fiddle and brother-in-law Curt Smith on the guitar.


A marriage and a wedding are two separate things. A marriage is a personal, private thing. A wedding is a public event, an announcement to the world. Joan and Steve have invited you to this wedding because they value each one of you and want you to witness their love and to celebrate with them as they join their lives together. Their lives are intertwined in the fabric of many other lives, and they cherish that fabric.


An invocation is when we ask the help of someone outside of ourselves. Today, we are going to ask you, the family and friends of Joan and Steve, to give your support, approval, and love, as well as your intelligence, experience, and good will to this new marriage.

Now, Joan’s sister Carol Wallace will perform the song “Gracias a la Vida,” by Violeta Parra, accompanied by Curt Smith on the guitar.

I [Dan Barker] belong to a tribe of Native Americans, the Lenni Lenape. Part of the tradition of my ancestors is to view life as a cycle, as a series of repeating seasons rather than a straight line of history. In the book of Ecclesiastes, we find these words:

“To everything thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted . . . A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

So, now Joan and Steve would like to perform for you a lovely Israeli couple dance, “Dodi li.”

Where does the cycle start? At what point do we say, “This is the beginning”?

Today is that beginning.


Joan, will you have Steve to be your wedded husband, to share your life with him, and do you pledge that you will love, honor, and care for him in tenderness and affection through all the varying experiences of your lives?

Joan: I will.

Steve, will you have Joan to be your wedded wife, to share your life with her, and do you pledge that you will love, honor, and care for her in tenderness and affection through all the varying experiences of your lives?

Steve: I will.

Unity candle

Carl Sagan said, “We are all star stuff.” And, in a very real sense, we are all little stars, each one burning and reburning the energy from the sun, radiating the energy of life in our own way. Today, Joan and Steve are shining for each other. True love embraces the differences between two burning stars — allowing each to contribute to the warmth and light that the fire of family life radiates — but it also amplifies the spark, creating a flame that is brighter and stronger than when the two were separate.

Now, will the ringbearers, Zoe Alice Salemson and Connor Patrick Knuffke, please join us.


Joan: Steve, with this ring, I pledge my love.

Steve: Joan, with this ring, I pledge my love.


Now that Joan and Steve have publicly pledged their love to each other before this community of witnesses, I hereby pronounce, by the authority vested in me and in accordance with the laws of the state of Wisconsin, that they are husband and wife.

Joan and Steve, you may now have your first kiss as a married couple.

Now Joan and Steve would like everyone to take hands in a circle and join them a simple Balkan line dance representing the connections that bind us all together.


I want to close with these words by “The Great Agnostic,” Robert G. Ingersoll:

“Love is the only bow on Life’s dark cloud. It is the morning and the evening star. It shines upon the babe, and sheds its radiance on the quiet tomb. It is the mother of art, inspirer of poet, patriot and philosopher.

“It is the air and light of every heart — builder of every home, kindler of every fire on every hearth. It was the first to dream of immortality. It fills the world with melody — for music is the voice of love.

“Love is the magician, the enchanter, that changes worthless things to Joy, and makes royal kings and queens of common clay. It is the perfume of that wondrous flower, the heart, and without that sacred passion, that divine swoon, we are less than beasts; but with it, Earth is heaven, and we are gods.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation