Slips of the Lip, Inclusion, and Extremist Codespeak

by © Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant
Originally published in The Celebrant, Issue 5, September 2020, pp 26-27
Republished 28/11/2022 with the permission of the Editor.
Categories: | Published Article |  Inclusive Weddings |
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                      definition of EXTREMISTAs celebrants we tell stories and we listen to stories. We seek them out. Through their stories and our interactions with them, see people in all of their beauty, and a deal of their ugliness. And we can learn a lot from that ugliness.

Allow me to tell you a story.

Phone rings. The man on the other end asks about getting married. In Australia we celebrants solemnize legal marriages, so I asked the routine questions and gave him a quick outline of the legal requirements and. And that’s where the slip of the lip comes into the story.

One of the non-negotiable requirements for a legal marriage ceremony is that the celebrant must recite a passage from the Marriage Act that includes the legal definition of marriage. At the end of 2017 that definition was changed from “the union of a man and a woman” to “the union of two people”. I have said and written the new definition hundreds of times, each time with a frisson of joy. But for reasons I will never be able to explain, on this occasion “man and a woman” came out of my mouth.

I immediately backtracked, apologized for the slip, and explained the change. I was surprised when he responded that he believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman because my values are hung out all over my website and socials like bunting at a coronation, so they are no secret.

Although the conversation continued for some time, I felt a subtle change. So I asked why he was not getting married in church. Turned out his church won’t marry divorced people. Despite the conversation being protracted and cordial, by the time the call ended I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t hear from him again.

Sounds like a pretty routine conversation, doesn’t it? Later that day, when recounting the experience to my son, who is somewhat expert in the history and ways of extremist groups, things took a very interesting turn, and I received a masterclass in extremist speak.

Apparently slips of the lip are a mechanism for recognition in those circles, a verbal equivalent of Masonic handshake. How extremists check out whether another person’s beliefs align with theirs is to make a slip, and assess the reaction, both to the slip and to their correction, because it is at that point that they strongly express their beliefs. Apparently, if I had followed the extremist codespeak playbook, the conversation would have ended much faster than it did.

So, straight from the extremist speak playbook, here’s what you should do if you inadvertently make a slip that does not align with your values
  1. Correct your slip by stating the facts. (In my case what I said was that the definition was changed in 2017 when Australian government changed the Marriage Act to allow same sex couples to marry)
  2. Follow the correction with a strong statement of agreement such as “And I’m very glad they did!”

Thanks for reading!

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                        Jennifer Cram
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