Most people know Babs De Lay as a realtor and the owner of Urban Utah, an outspoken advocate for women, and a thespian who gives the best and most hilarious performance of “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy” from Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues that Utah has ever seen.
But not as many know about another part of De Lay’s life: performing marriage ceremonies. Since the 1980s she has performed over 500 weddings and funerals for gay couples, lesbian couples, straight couples, and sometimes even feline couples.
Initially, De Lay became a licensed minister in Nevada during the 1980s so she could perform funerals.
“Everyone was dying of AIDS and nobody would bury them,” she says.
And how did she turn from serving at gravesides to serving at the altar?
“People stopped dying.”
Although De Lay still performs funerals (“it’s a different energy,” she explains), these days couples mostly ask her to do marriage ceremonies. While she can perform the traditional, Christian ceremony that many think of when they hear the word “wedding,” De Lay says she is mostly asked to perform a ceremony called a handfasting.
Practiced most often by wiccans and those who identify as pagan or neo-pagan, handfastings are a marriage or betrothal ceremony where the couple’s hands or wrists are bound with cords, either by friends or by the officiate. These ceremonies come from Pre-Christian Northern Europe, and can be used on a couple or on a group for polyamorous weddings. While partners in a handfasting can vow to remain together indefinitely, some forms of the ceremony require that the partners renew their vows regularly.
“The beautiful thing about [these] handfastings and pagan ceremonies is that every year you have to renew the ceremony, or you part as friends,” De Lay explains. “You don’t have to have anyone present; it can be a private ritual or it can be a reaffirmation of vows. I do that. I’m now on my fifth year with a couple. We meet at Burning Man or in Seattle and re-up their vows.”
Although De Lay admires the beauty of the handfasting ceremony, she notes that she can perform other ceremonies for couples and groups.
“Some people want the element of God, Jesus or Buddha in the ceremony, or the powers of the universe, or the beings of the Earth and Sky to be present,” she says. For these, De Lay says she provides the couple with similar ceremonies she has written and lets them take things from there.
“I allow people to write their own vows,” she says. “A lot of people want to write their own poetry or songs. They always want to say something about their partner, so we give them a lot of leeway on that.”
She will also meet with the couple or group before the marriage to help them plan the ceremony, and to assist them with such common questions as finding an inexpensive place to hold the ceremony that will also allow them to bring their own food and beverages.
“It’s kind of a challenge sometimes, to save money on a wedding,” she says.
De Lay also notes that she has co-officiated at ceremonies with LDS bishops, rabbis, Unitarian ministers and other clergy members. She does this typically, she says, when marrying a couple from two religious backgrounds—a Mormon and a pagan, for example.
Whatever the ceremony, De Lay says she gets a lot of requests to marry couples, triads and groups during Burning Man, an annual celebration of art and counterculture in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, named for the torching of a large wooden effigy at the end of the festivities. At these ceremonies, De Lay remarks that people are often naked or dressed in the outlandishly creative costumes Burning Man is famous for.
However, not all of De Lay’s unusual ceremonies take place in the Nevada desert. She has performed ceremonies for cats, ceremonies where dogs served as ring bearers, and ceremonies in the strangest locations imaginable.
“I’ve done one on a platform on a pool where the platform wasn’t put together very well,” she says. “As we hurried the ceremony along we worried we would fall in.”
Whatever the ceremony, whether the couple is straight, gay or a threesome, De Lay says that they all have one thing in common.
“People are nervous,” she notes. “They have family and friends involved and want it to go perfectly without flaws. But usually something will happen. Somebody will faint. The most common thing is the little children that carry the rings lose the rings. We have always found the rings, but it’s usually a panic when you have to stop the ceremony and find the trail the children have left.”
Whether she’s performing a handfasting, officiating next to a rabbi, or marrying a burning man couple who exchange cock rings, De Lay says that she loves every ceremony over which she presides.
“Each one is different, each one is beautiful.”
For more information, contact De Lay at [email protected]