For some people, the party is the most important part of a wedding. But for me, the ceremony was a much bigger deal. So I spent a lot of time thinking about what the ceremony should look like, and ultimately concluded that we should officiate it ourselves.
We couldn’t agree on anyone to be our officiant — each person we thought of “belonged” too strongly to me or to my husband; no one belonged enough to both of us. We aren’t religious, so there was no minister in our life, and we didn’t want to bring in someone we didn’t know to give the ceremony when the event was so very intimate (we had only 28 guests). So using resources I found on Offbeat Bride, including Wedding Ceremony 101 and a few wedding ceremony scripts that I collected from my family, I wrote our ceremony, divided up the text between me and my husband, and we officiated our own wedding — other than the legal part! [In the United States, self-uniting marriage or Quaker marriage is legal only in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wisconsin, and DC. -Editors]
Here’s our self-officiated wedding ceremony…
Opening of thanks
We started by thanking all of our guests for being there and for witnessing our vows and supporting our marriage, including:
“We especially thank you for tolerating us as we choose to step outside the confines of the traditional wedding ceremony, and focus on the things that matter most to us as a couple. We know that many families couldn't fathom the idea of a wedding ceremony without an officiant or, well, many of the other things that are about to happen, and we are so very lucky that all of our families not only tolerate our eccentricities, but encourage us to find our own way and love us all the more for doing so.”
Handfasting and exchange of vows
Then we explained that we see marriage as a set of three contracts. The first is between the two people getting married, as they commit to spending the rest of their lives working together as partners. We gave a very brief description of handfasting in a couple of cultures, explaining that “We aren’t trying to follow any of these original traditions directly. We like that they have a history in the traditions surrounding marriage, and we like the symbolism of tying our hands together as part of getting married.”
We asked each of our parents to think of something that their kid was bringing to the marriage, to say a few sentences about that characteristic, and then to tie a cord around our clasped hands. So we ended up tied together by four cords. We talked about how the four cords “bind our hands together and combine to form a marriage stronger than the sum of its parts, just as by joining our lives together we become something that is more than just the sum of the two of us.” Then we exchanged our vows.
The second contract in our view of marriage is between the couple getting married and their community. We had all our guests stand in a circle with us (relatively easy to do, with only 30 people!), then we tied a really long cord around everyone’s wrist. We asked our sisters to lead the vows between us and our guests. The people being asked replied “we will.”
Speaker 1: L and B, will you reach out to your community both when you need help and when you have something to celebrate?
Speaker 1: Community, will you offer L&B your wisdom and encouragement in their times of struggle, and celebrate with them in their times of joy?
Speaker 2: Community, will you listen to L&B, and when they request it, give them your best advice?
Speaker 2: L and B, will you listen carefully to that advice even if you choose not to heed it?
Speaker 3: L and B, will you strive as husband and wife to be contributing members of the community gathered here today?
Speaker 3: Community, will you do everything in your power to support, uphold, and honor the marriage of L and B?
Ring warming and exchange
We passed our rings around the circle and asked people to warm and bless them before we put them on. Then we put them on the other’s hand and said, “I give you this ring as a symbol of my commitment to you and to our partnership in life. You have my heart always.”
The final contract in our view of marriage is between the people getting married and the state. We passed around scissors so “we don't all have to spend the rest of the evening tied together.” Then my sister came up and performed the very minimal ceremony that is required by the state of Vermont, where lay people can perform marriage ceremonies by applying for a permit in advance. She declared us MARRIED!
Closing and showering with love
We asked everyone to think of a word that represents love, and then we had everyone shout it at us three times all together (an idea I stole from Offbeat Bride): “We know no one is going to be able to tell all the words apart, but we think that’s an appropriate representation of love.”
We kissed. They cheered. We were married.
If you want to see more self-officiated ceremonies, check our archive of self-united weddings.