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FFRF wedding: A match made in reason

Jana Weaver and Richard Halasz prepare to get married with Dan Barker as officiant at the start of the 2013 FFRF national convention in Madison, Wis. (Photo by Brent Nicastro)
Jana Dubke wears one of Richard Halasz’ humorous T-shirts while protesting with Annie Laurie Gaylor at Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s prayer rally in 2011.

Lifetime Members Richard and Jana Halasz share the story that led to their 2013 FFRF Madison, Wis., convention wedding.

By Richard & Jana Halasz

I promise to have and hold you

Near and dear

With love

More than time and space,

More than rhyme or reason.

I promise to hold and have you

Dear and near

With love

In the now and here,

In free verse and in insanity.

We shall have no gods before us,

And together we rule.”

The 2013 FFRF national convention in Madison, Wis., where those words were spoken, wasn’t where we started, but it was a pivotal point in our journey together through time and space and the here and now.

RICHARD: I lived in Milwaukee and worked as a stand-up comedian. I traveled a lot throughout the years; I got married and divorced. Along the way, I would somewhat regularly see the very interesting font signage reading “Freethought Hall” on the building in Madison, Wis., that I assumed was an extension of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was only later that I learned that building was the headquarters of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, of which I had been a member since 2005. I became aware of Jana in the original FFRF online forum. I noticed her cute picture was bathed in a soft purple with her comments drenched in intelligence!

JANA: As I grew more comfortable with my atheism, I busted out of my natural introversion and started traveling by myself to mingle with other nonbelievers, which was both scary and exciting. My first convention was the 2010 FFRF convention in Madison, a long way from southeast Texas.

RICHARD: At the 2010 convention, Jana and I somehow missed each other, like ships passing in a foggy night. But, even now, at conventions, I’m like a squirrel with attention deficit disorder, distracted by every other squirrel.

JANA: In April 2011, I went to the American Atheists convention in Iowa, followed in June by the World Atheist convention in Dublin, Ireland. A highlight of the convention in Iowa was when a friend took a picture of me with Lawrence Krauss, for whom I had a terrible case of hero worship. I’d bought three copies of his book Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life In Science for some new atheist friends, including that fellow Richard Halasz, who I still didn’t know well at all, only that I thought he was funny in the forums and he wrote well.

RICHARD: Years after we had married, I met Krauss at the 2016 Pittsburgh convention and had him sign his book A Universe From Nothing. I told him about how a woman on the FFRF private forum sent me an autographed copy of his book, Quantum Man, and how she and I exchanged emails, phone calls and eventually visited me in Milwaukee. I told him how Dan Barker presided over our wedding at the FFRF convention in Madison and how all of that came about partly because of his book. Krauss thanked me for that “great story.” 

JANA: After I’d sent Quantum Man to Richard, I got a package in return, which was one of his self-designed T-shirts that said, “50% Cotton, 50% Shroud of Turin.” 

RICHARD: I first wrote the “50% Cotton 50% Shroud of Turin” joke after reading a story about the shroud in Omni Magazine. Omni was initially a science and science fiction magazine before resorting to stories of woo woo, including alien abduction, crop circles and burial cloths of manufactured messiahs. I turned that shroud joke into a T-shirt, selling them with much of the profit going to FFRF. And, I sent one to Jana, in an effort to “woo” her!

JANA: I’d been in my new place only a month when Richard contacted me. I think from that first phone call, our future was set. From my journal: “We talked, I asked questions about how he came to be available and why his past relationships had died.  He — and I love the way he deliberately chooses his words and doesn’t, “um, um, ya know”— described some of them as with women who, unlike me, didn’t “value intelligence.” He said one of his girlfriends got really angry when she asked what he would do if he won the lottery and he said he’d buy hardback books instead of waiting for the paperbacks to come out.” This was ear music to a bibliophile!

RICHARD: I remember what a joy it was talking with Jana! And it was so very much fun observing her fully embrace atheism and all that entailed. She was like a newly bloomed flower turning to the dawn of a new sun, with a smile bright enough to embarrass a constellation of novas. 

JANA: I’d hoped Richard could attend the Texas Freethought/Atheist Alliance of America convention with me in Houston in October 2011, and even bought him a ticket when I registered. However, since he was expecting to have some comedy gigs lined up around that time, he couldn’t make it. I was still desperate to see him, though, so I made plans to fly to Milwaukee before that convention. 

RICHARD: I regretted not being able to see Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins speak at the convention in Houston, which — if memory serves and it usually does, but it doesn’t wait — it was Hitchens’ last convention before his death. 

JANA: We finally met on Sept. 8, 2011, and it was everything I’d hoped for and more. We enjoyed a few blissful days together finding out we meshed just as well in person as online and over the phone. I flew to see Richard one more time late in 2011, but then neither of us had any extra money to splurge on visits. I finally convinced Richard he’d just have to move down to Texas. Then, in March of 2013, I picked him up from the train station and brought him home to my little apartment. 

RICHARD: Yes, I moved from Milwaukee, on a day that was filled with ice and snow and hail and sleet and every other piece of wintry gunk imaginable, to Texas, to live with Jana, the woman I’ll love until the Big Bang stops echoing.

JANA: After the usual adjustments to living with someone else, we knew we were committed to making us work. We started making plans with the goal of getting married at the FFRF convention.

RICHARD: I never thought I would ever get remarried. I always looked at people getting married AFTER getting divorced like those who reburned the scar tissue on the roof of their mouths because they couldn’t wait for the pizza to cool down! 

JANA: I was thinking that since we were to be married before the start of the morning meetings at the convention, there wouldn’t be many people there, so I started out calm and not too nervous. That didn’t last! 

From my journal: “We went down for breakfast and when Dan came into the room to do the Moment of Bedlam, he also said they had a surprise — that there would be a freethought wedding before the official start of the program and everyone was invited.

“I immediately lost my appetite and started furiously repeating the words I was supposed to say to myself. Richard, of course, was all happy and not at all concerned — at least he appeared to be. We left the breakfast and waited around for the doors to the ballroom to open. One guy, Ray, who’d sat beside me at breakfast — and who I told I was the one getting married — asked to get his picture with us. 

“The doors finally opened and we sat down right in front. Dan came up and talked to us a little bit. We told him our plans and he told us he was required to say some things. He said he’d call us up to the stage right after he played some love songs.

“I don’t know what time we got started, but we had a pretty full house. Dan played the piano, playing freethinking songwriter tunes, then said that Richard and I met through FFRF and called us up on the stage. Or something. I don’t remember. Richard said something about us meeting in the private forum, then we exchanged emails and phone numbers, and kind of left it at that.

“Dan then asked if we had something to say. Richard said his lines, but too quietly and not in front of the microphone. People yelled, “Louder!” So, when it was my turn, I stepped up, said my lines while looking at him and got a laugh at the “in insanity” thing. Then Richard said, “We shall have no gods before us,” which brought down the house and kinda drowned out my, “and together we rule!” But the high five and the kiss after got applause.

“Then we put the rings on each other and Dan presented us as husband and wife. Richard then gave Dan the check of $2,000 for two Lifetime memberships — marriage gifts to each other. There was delight and more applause. Dan filled out the paperwork, Annie Laurie hugged me and signed as a witness, and Brent Nicastro, the photographer, signed as the other one. It was BOSS!

“Dan gave us back the form to mail and we went back to our seats in front and I could breathe again.

“We got congratulations all day! I made a copy of the form for us in the hotel’s business center, then dropped it off at the front desk to go out in the mail. Whew!”

RICHARD and JANA: It’s fun to go back and identify butterfly wing-flapping moments that led to our Happily Ever After, such as Lawrence Krauss writing a book and Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor meeting on AM Chicago with Oprah in 1984.