There is a growing trend for interfaith couples to tie the knot. Even Chelsea Clinton (Methodist) and Marc Mezvinsky (Jewish) did it.
Although there can be obstacles encountered when people of mixed faiths set up housekeeping and start families together, many of these marriages do work. Couples are advised to look ahead and plan their futures together.
The Rev. Susanna Macomb, an ordained interfaith minister and author of "Joining Hands and Hearts: Interfaith, Intercultural Wedding Celebrations -- A Practical Guide for Couples," gives each partner a questionnaire before the ceremony to help the couple consider what their future household will look like -- how they will raise their children, what holidays they will celebrate -- and create a blueprint for their lives together.
Many clergy work in teams in order to help the bride and groom incorporate precious aspects of both of their faiths into one ceremony. In Chelsea and Marc's case, they were married under a chuppah (marriage canopy); he wore a tallit (prayer shawl) and yarmulke; special blessings were recited; and the symbolic wine glass (in Jewish culture) was crushed. But a Methodist minister stood beside the rabbi to help officiate, and the couple were married before the end of the Jewish Sabbath; normally such ceremonies do not take place during the Sabbath.
Fran Walfish, a family psychotherapist and author, has counseled many blended and interfaith families. "Different cultural backgrounds and religions seem to be easier to accept when neither one is orthodoxly or devoutly practicing," she says. "It can be extremely complicated in different circumstances."
Parents and extended families may try to prevent a marriage combining their faith and one they do not believe in. It would be best to involve your parents and other family members in your plans and assure them that you are not giving up your religious identity but are instead combining two loving faiths and mutual respect. Remember that the person you are marrying should become the most prominent person in your life and that you should face any family opposition with a united front.
Corie Laraya-Coutts is in an interfaith marriage combining radically different cultures; she is Filipino, and her husband is Scottish. She says, "Couples in blended marriages should always be passionate, respectful and interested in each other's heritage and background. It's our diversity that makes us special. Being in a blended marriage, where people are from different backgrounds, allows people to experience life from another perspective. Embracing a new heritage or socio-economical way of life can actually be very fulfilling and enlightening. It is a great gift that we should all respect and admire."
The descendant of a shaman healer in the Philippines, Laraya-Coutts is the author of a book for young adults, "DJ MacDonald: Book 1: A Tale of a Malipayon Warrior," a story that she hopes will foster tolerance and encourage youngsters to embrace their heritage.
Various clergy and psychologists have offered the following tips for interfaith couples who are considering marriage:
--Talk about your religious differences, and discuss how you can comfortably combine your traditions in your home. Both partners should feel secure in their respective beliefs and not regard each other's religious practices as a threat or an insult.
--Plan how you will raise children ahead of time. There are differing opinions about whether children should be raised in one faith or they should experience both and decide for themselves later.
--Show your children that you respect your spouse's faith, as well as your own.
--Discuss worship arrangements. Even if you do not feel the desire at this time to attend services, there may come a time in your life when you will feel the need.
--Use holidays to celebrate with each other and combine the joys.
Interfaith couples need to be open with each other and share their important religious memories so that each partner can support the other's religious needs. Take the time to learn and understand your partner's faith. Never side with your parents or other family members against your partner in any religion- or tradition-based disagreements.
Interfaith marriages can and do work when couples work together to celebrate their differences and find ways to combine traditions and faiths without compromising their beliefs.