Marry Your Baby Daddy Day: Activist marries unwed parents
Maryann Reid holds mass weddings for black couples who have children.
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Along with fictionalizing it, she decided to put her plan into action. So she sat down and dashed off an e-mail to the New York Daily News, announcing a contest for unmarried black couples. Two days later an article ran, and she was inundated with hundreds of responses: grandmothers trying to hitch up a grown grandchild on the sly, women looking for advice on getting their men to tie the knot, children e-mailing in the hope of marrying off parents.Skip to next paragraph
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Reid and a volunteer wedding planner chose 10 couples from the New York area, following an interview process that included home visits in which they looked for evidence of a strong family life: orderly homes with personal space for the children, family photos on the wall, warm interactions between family members.
Reid has an unusual set of criteria for choosing her couples: They must have a proven track record of stability (some relationships go back 15 years) and they must already have children and live together. In short, they must have all the attributes of a good marriage, sans vows.
Oh, and they've got to look good, too: Photogeneity, she says, is important because they're poster children for marriage. "They are role models and I choose them to inspire people," she says. "My wedding includes all classes of people, from the guys making sandwiches ... to the teachers who just bought their first home," she says. "I don't want it to somehow seem 'ghetto.' "
"It sounds good to me," David Popenoe, codirector of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, says of Reid's project. "The interesting thing about all the studies we have is that people who are married tend to be healthier, more productive and happier."
But Reid's project hasn't escaped criticism.
"We know that when people live together before marrying they're twice as likely to get divorced when they do marry," she says, citing numerous studies. "I think we should be careful about tacitly encouraging cohabitation."
And while the Rev. J. Lee Hill Jr., the Baptist minister who performed the 2007 Marry Your Baby Daddy Day wedding at Riverside Church in Manhattan, says he doesn't condone cohabitation before marriage either, he is supportive of Reid's project. "My hope and dream is that [these couples] will continue to stay in their relationship, and that this will be an encouragement for them to live their lives more in sync with biblical injunctions," he says.
For her part, Reid is pragmatic. "If you have children," she says, "you should be living together to raise the child. That's the first sign to me that a couple has made a commitment." So far, all 20 of Reid's couples remain married.
It's different down to the smallest things," says professional rapper Shawn Lindsey of his 2007 marriage to Patrice Roper, the mother of his 12- and 1-year-old daughters. "Like filling out applications or writing out a card, Mr. and Mrs," he says, smiling. "It's pretty cool."
The new Mrs. Lindsey says that she didn't expect much to change in their relationship after 13 years together, but that life just feels different now: "I feel complete."
The couple had tossed around the idea of getting married, even making two trips over the years to City Hall, where they were discouraged by long lines.
"You know, you get stuck in your ways," says Mr. Lindsey, shrugging. "It's like being complacent."
"Now he's stopping everybody in the street saying 'Did you know we got married?'" laughs Mrs. Lindsey.
Reid says there will be more weddings to come. One of them, she hopes, will be her own. In an effort to summon a husband, Reid has already bought him a maroon La-Z-Boy.
"For now," she says, "I'm sitting in it."