If you are planning a wedding, you may be wondering which elements of your marriage ceremony are absolutely required by law and which are optional. How much of the ceremony can you create from scratch to reflect your and your fiancé’s beliefs and sentiments?
When my daughter asked me recently whether a religious homily was a requirement of a Catholic wedding, I began to consider what sets religious weddings apart from secular weddings. I posed this question to my clergy spouse: “What is the absolute minimum verbal exchange required for you to sign the marriage license?” Her answer: “Asking both persons if they agree to be wed — and getting a positive response, of course.”
Saying “I do” before a person licensed by the State to marry you is all you need! Obviously, however, that is not nearly enough for most couples. Most desire a much richer ceremony, one that is particularly meaningful to them. And we Justices of the Peace are eager to help you fashion the wedding ceremony that you desire.
How do you develop a wedding ceremony that is true to you? Most JPs have samples of language that you can consider. I begin, for example, by sending you a list of the items in a typical ceremony. For each item, I present alternative wording, from very traditional to quite contemporary. I make it clear that everything is optional and can be excluded or revised. This works well for most couples, who are thankful to have a blueprint upon which they can build their unique vision.
And that Catholic homily — can that be included in a secular wedding as well? Yes! Just because your wedding will be officiated by a JP doesn’t preclude you from incorporating spiritual readings or prayers into your ceremony.
On the other hand, some couples want a purely secular wedding. One groom-to-be recently wrote to me: “My bride and I are non-religious and want to stay away from any reference to God in our ceremony.” Are you permitted to leave God out of your wedding? Of course! It’s your wedding! Your JP will help you follow your own philosophy in the design of your ceremony.
As JPs, our goal is to make the wedding as meaningful as possible. So don’t be afraid to ask your Justice of the Peace for what you want and expect in your wedding ceremony. Remember that the only real requirement is for you both to say in your own words: ”I do.”