Here comes the event chairperson, all dressed in white. She glides down the aisle to the altar where her co-chair waits. They recite their vows. The guests—or rather the contributors—are moved to tears. Doesn't everybody cry at a "unique fund-raising celebration"?

You could think of it as a wedding, of course, but Marcia Anderson and Jim Diebold prefer not to. As far as they're concerned, the ceremony that united them as husband and wife last month in Washington, D.C., was a public service. After all, they could have gone the traditional route and raked in a nuptial bounty of blenders and cheese plates; instead they requested that guests send a check to one of two charities chosen by Anderson, who designated herself "event chairperson" for the occasion because, she says, "it's more professional than 'bride.' "

It all started when the happy couple realized that, after 14 years of living together, they already owned enough small appliances for a lifetime of connubial bliss. Anderson, a 34-year-old corporate writer, mulled over the problem and finally hit upon a solution: "At funerals it's become real common to say, 'In lieu of flowers, please send a check to charity,' " she told her betrothed, a 42-year-old marketing executive for Hallmark. "Why not do that for a wedding?"

Having no pet charity of her own, Anderson went shopping for worthy causes and picked two: the Epilepsy Foundation and Women in Community Service, which greeted her novel proposal enthusiastically. They gave Anderson letters of introduction and suggested she find merchants willing to donate goods and services for the event. The charities promised all contributors a tax deduction, and Anderson offered to mention them in the wedding program. Stories in the local press about Anderson's plans soon had publicity-conscious altruists offering everything from a reception hall to parking attendants. "We tried to work with all the people who called," says Anderson, "but sometimes we had to turn them down because of the competition."

Initially mystified by the scheme was Anderson's family, for whom the notion of a charity wedding conjured up visions of Goodwill. "They thought we'd have four-day-old cake and used clothes," Anderson says. And then there were people who thought the bride and groom were simply in it for a free ride; Anderson assured them that she and her intended laid out $10,012 for the celebration because many goods were only discounted, not provided gratis. The crudest cut of all came from syndicated etiquette columnist Judith "Miss Manners" Martin, who happened to note in print during Anderson's wedding preparations that—without naming names—a wedding invitation is not supposed to be a demand for gifts, so a request for donations is poor form.

Still, the big day brought out more supporters than detractors; one unsolicited donor appeared at the reception in a gorilla suit to deliver a singing telegram. In all, merchants contributed $18,874 to the wedding, which raised $2,930 for charity. The IRS isn't likely to extend its blessing to the happy couple if they try to deduct their out-of-pocket expenses for the affair. Nevertheless, Anderson thinks it was a success and says she would consider planning charity weddings for other brides. "But if I did," she says, "I'd want to be paid for it."

—Patricia Freeman, Katy Kelly in Washington, D.C.