commitment ceremony
Photo courtesy of Offbeat Wed vendor guide member Conjured Events

I have been together with my partner for almost six years. We always spoke about marriage in the abstract, talking about “someday.” Recently my partner confessed that he had been thinking about asking me to be engaged, but he doesn't really want to get legally married. I was confused because engagement, to me, means preparing to get legally married. But legal marriage has never been a priority or dream for me, so I don't really care about not getting married.

I've been thinking about alternative, non-legal commitment ceremonies where we could invite friends to symbolize our commitment without the legal aspect. What kinds of non-wedding commitment ceremonies are there?

There are lots of different reasons that people don't get legally married — from not being allowed to by law, to couples who go for elopements and then want to have a ceremony of some sort at their post-ceremony wedding reception, to folks just not being comfortable with the concept of a marriage license. Can a straight couple have a commitment ceremony? YES!

Ultimately, it's no-ones business why you don't want to make it legal or deal with the legal implications of marrage! Here at Offbeat Wed, we welcome ALL readers, and love the fact that you want to celebrate your commitment to one another, and say screw wedding traditions! So here are five ideas for of non-legal commitment ceremonies and rituals that you can do on your special day, instead of exchanging vows and getting legally married…

Commitment ceremony idea #1: Unity ceremony

unity sandwich on offbeat bride alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
Read more about the unity sandwich ceremony HERE!

Sure you can have a unity ceremony as part of a legal wedding ceremony, but you can also just do it as a stand-alone! Scroll through our archives of awesome unity ceremonies — we've seen unity ceremonies that go way beyond the common shapes of “unity candle” or even “unity sand.” The idea is just to each contribute to uniting something. Unity sandwich? LOVE IT! Unity cocktail? YES!

Pick your favorite unity ritual, or come up with something all your own and throw a unity ceremony party.

Commitment ceremony idea #2: Just have a wedding, but give it a different name

If you want to skip having the state as a witness in your commitment, and you don't want to call it a wedding, steal this idea from this Formal Feminist *Not Legal* Wedding:

We actually refer to [our non-legal wedding] as a unity celebration rather than a wedding because it was not a legally official or recognised occasion.

Some wedding guests will get crabby if they think you're getting legally married on your wedding day, but you aren't. Using language like “a unity celebration” helps avoid any confusion with guests who may have a lot of assumptions about what the word “wedding” means. You can still cut the cake just like a married couple would at the end of their wedding!

Here are some other ideas for alternative names for a commitment ceremony that we've heard from our readers:

  • Celebration of love
  • Unity ceremony
  • Rite of Union
  • Soul Bonding ceremony
  • Life partner ceremony
  • Promising ceremony

Commitment ceremony idea #3: Exchange vows without a marriage contract

One couple named Ben and Joriel chose to have a non-legal wedding and just exchange vows, because they were upset about same-sex marriage not being legal in their region:

It did take some effort to get all our friends and family on board with the whole not-technically-a-wedding thing, but we felt good about making people think… Saying our vows to each other was the high point of the evening and, in many ways, the high point of our lives thus far.

We printed the words in the program, so we didn't have to worry about speaking up for everyone to hear, and there was no officiant, so we were speaking directly to each other. It was powerful and weepy and unforgettable.

At the end when we kissed, the crowd went wild, encouraged by the note in the program that said, “Please feel free to whoop and holler if you are so moved.”

See? Your non legal marriage ceremony can be full of just as much joy as folks who are legally tying the knot.

Commitment ceremony idea #4: Have a handfasting

Photos of this LGBTQ handfasting by John Newsome Photography

Doing a handfasting is an awesome way of having a wedding-type ceremony without the legalities. You may want to check out our handfasting archives for inspiration as well as these posts:

Commitment Ceremony idea #4: Just say nice things

Sarah and Tim, of Kermit and Miss Piggy fame, had a great idea when they got weddinged. Since they had already exchanged their own vows and done their legal paperwork during a civil ceremony when they eloped, they used their big reception party a year later as an excuse to say nice things to each other…

My husband and I decided that since it wasn't actually a wedding, we would just say nice things to each other instead of actual vows. We kept everything secret until we recited them at the reception and it was too sweet. -Sarah

Commitment ceremony idea #5: Throw a commitment party instead of an engagement party

Just like engagement parties celebrate the fact that you've reached a new place in your relationship, you can throw a party for your non-legal commitment. You can either surprise people with the news of your new commitment and throw a surprise ceremony, or go ahead and whip up fancy non-wedding invitations and throw a big ‘ol party for your new level of commitment. You can even sign a commitment ceremony certificate with your new non-legal spouse.

The only difference is that you're sans paperwork and legal stuff.

We know you have non-legal ceremony ideas. Leave 'em in the comments!

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Comments on 5 non-legal commitment ceremony ideas

  1. What do y’all think of the idea of just having a wedding, complete with vows, and just not signing the paperwork? Acting married but filing separate taxes and getting separate insurance? Is there something I’m missing with this plan? (I’m in the US, if it matters.)

    ETA: It’s something I occasionally consider for myself; that’s why I phrased my comment like this.

    • One, thing, be fully clear that people know you are not getting legally married. Don’t call it a wedding–regardless of YOUR beliefs, people will be very upset if THEY believe you being disingenuous.

      • I get where you’re coming from, but I completely disagree. If they want to call it a wedding and a marriage, that’s their right. They don’t have to disclose the true legality if they don’t want to.

        • We’ll have to respectfully disagree. The vast majority of people believe that marriage and wedding are legally binding terms. *I* don’t believe it’s necessary for a commitment, I’m just pointing out that some people may be a little miffed if they believe they’ve been misled. You’re correct, they don’t HAVE to do anything, but you must be prepared for the reactions you may receive. The couple in question seems at least somewhat concerned about that, otherwise, why would they ask about alternative ceremonies? If they don’t care, neither do I.

        • I agree with you. My boyfriend and I don’t believe in the legality of marriage but I want to wear a white dress and profess my love for him infront of family of friends. Marriage is a piece of paper in which the governement views two people in unity. I believe a commitment ceremony is the greatest answer. If people get upset that they aren’t attending a “real” wedding then you should reevaluate your circle of friends. Those who attend will be happy just to see the unity and love between two people.

      • A wedding is just a ceremony. It doesn’t have to be legal. You are confusing “wedding” with “marriage”.

        • No, I am not. I am aware of what each of those terms mean . I said the vast majority of people believe they are legally binding (and interchangeable) terms. If you invite people to your wedding, 9/10 will assume/believe you are also getting ‘legally’ married.

          *I* don’t care. Most people on this site probably don’t care. But no one exists in a bubble, and you should be aware of others reactions and know how you will deal with them. Aunt Sally or Grandma Jane might be a little upset that you aren’t, in their assumed words, ‘really married’ even though there was a wedding. You don’t have to care, but understand everyone doesn’t see things as you do.

          • Of course, those people who get upset about not being told might also get upset about the underlying concept. I’ve got relatives who would be quite upset that my partner and I are living together without getting married, so we don’t tell them. Yes, they would also be upset if they found out we didn’t tell them, but that’s the choice you make to keep peace. Sometimes it’s better to just keep things private.

            Anyhow, the vast majority of people believe lots of silly things. I would guess, however, that more than 1 out of 10 people knows that you need a license – not just a ceremony – to make a marriage legal.

          • In my opinion, its none of anyones business whether is legally binding or not. They’re there for the union of two people are they not? Or are they there for the signing of the contract?

          • My fiance and I are 60 years old, we both lost our spouses after 40 years of marriage. If we legally marry I will lose my benefits from 20 years of military life with my spouse. I can’t afford to lose them, I need the insurance and free medication. We want to be husband and wife and commit the remainder of our lives to each other. My Grandparents and their parents and grandparents from past generations did not have to buy a license to be married. Our commitment to each other will be a marriage commitment, it matters not what others think. We want our children and grandchildren to know us as husband and wife. Our certificate of marriage will be our own, not one the state requires of us.

      • But why do you have to tell people that you’re not legally married? I wouldn’t talk to my family about a pre-nup or about how much I’m contributing to my retirement, so why should this other business/legal issue matter to them. As far as I’m concerned, I’d be married, and as far as they’re concerned, I’d be married. It’s really only the state, the federal government, and our insurers who would consider us unmarried.

        (This is a hypothetical issue, obviously, but I would LOVE people to give their counterpoints to this.)

        • yea, i mean, how would they ever even know? how does that come out in conversation?

          “so how is the legality of marriage going for you two?”

        • We got “weddinged” without getting legally married at that time, due to some snafus with the birth certificate and the marriage licence. The only people who “know” about that are my and his parents, and the wedding party, mostly because we needed to explain to our witnesses why they wouldn’t be signing any paperwork. Some ceremonies incorporate the signing of the documents into the wedding; my sister-in-law did that. We were not going to do that, planning on signing the papers afterwards, so it never came up. However, if you live in place where people are expecting to see some paper-signin’ during the ceremony, there may be questions.

          • This is what I am concerned about. We are planning on just having a blessing in front of guests but we are acting as though it is a legal marriage, however I think guests will be expecting to see the paperwork!

          • I have never expected to see paperwork at a wedding. Our minister has a certificate that we will be signing and asking him to keep till we next come to service. Or those that are close to you just tell them its a blessing if they really need to know. The last option is not ideal but tell them you had a registry office. I cant imagine who would ask to see your paperwork. By the time you get to the reception no one will care if you signed a certificate or not.

    • What do you call a ceremony of marriage without a proposal, without rings being exchanged, without saying any vows and without consummating even after two weeks, but just agreeing that there was no lawful impediments.

    • That sounds like a “commitment ceremony” to me, which I think should be perfectly acceptable. Plenty of couples opt for that instead.

    • I have a question, if you have a non legal marriage and have you want your last name changed to you “husbands” last name how wud you do that?

      • You don’t “need” a reason to ever change your name. If you decide you want to, do. Legality of marriage has nothing to do with it.

    • My boyfriend and I plan on having a commitment ceremony next year around January on our 10 year anniversary.?

    • So it’s ok not to turn in the paperwork. Because I want to keep the certificate just not have it filed.

  2. There’s also the obvious “have a wedding without the legal part” option. That kind of fits into the categories already suggested though. But you can totally have the ceremony and the party without having a legit notary/pastor saying the “magic words” that makes it legal.

    I would recommend talking to your partner about what aspects of a ceremony would make each of you feel bound to the other for life (if that’s your thing). Is it the rings? Is it having your community watch you commit yourselves? Is it simply the speaking of vows to each other? Take whatever it is that makes you feel bound, and go with that.

    I’m thinking of The Hunger Games trilogy here. Peeta tells the Capitol crowd that in District 12, they have a toasting ceremony and no one feels married without it. So he and Katniss did that, and to them, even without the legal paperwork, they feel married. So follow their lead and do what makes YOU feel married.

  3. This is basically what I am planning on doing. Because we’re both on the same page in terms of the legality meaning nothing to us and because we both want our friend to officiate (in NC, the laws on who can legally officiate a marriage are much more strict), we are having a wedding without the legal part. To us, it’s about speaking those words of commitment to each other while we’re surrounded by the people we love. A marriage certificate is just a piece of paper. I mean, why do I need the government to tell me that my marriage is real? FH and I are the only ones who get to decide that.

  4. or you could just have a ” show off our love” party. a simple cermeony party. dinner, games, etc… kind of like planning a wedding but just a party on its own without the propers and traditions. Do it by your rules! 🙂

  5. You could take what you like from weddings (cake, dress, dancing, poetry, whatever) and have an anniversary party for your x-number of years together. Tell friends and family to dress up! Host it in an awesome venue! Have fun!

    • That’s what we’re planning! My partner and I are having a ten year anniversary “love fest” ( we haven’t chosen the official name for the party yet). We chose to celebrate the fact that we’ve spent this long together and have every intention of spending the rest of our lives together. June 21, 2014, summer solstice love celebration backyard acreage BBQ bonfire fireworks love fest.

  6. I’m in a similar boat. We’ve been together for over 10 years and want to get married someday but because of legal issues were trying to resolve, we have been postponing making anything legal. I like the option of having a ceremony in the church, having an officiant but just not signing the papers until everything is resolved. Not sure if the church or officiant would go for a non-legal religious ceremony.

    • As long as you are clear with the officiant, it’s a possibility, depending on the officiant and your denomination. Many officiants would consider doing a commitment ceremony. In their case, it is about a commitment in the eyes of God and is not actually required to be legal at all. It just so happens that historically, Church and State were merged so much that a legal marriage had to happen through the Church or some other religious entity. As long as you’re upfront, you can work to find an officiant who will honour your desire to commit before God without having to legally sign a contract.

  7. Agreeing with Dee. There have been families that felt BETRAYED to be “lied to” about attending a wedding without the legal paperwork. I personally wouldn’t care, but you have to prepare for guests that will. I’ve seen this complaint sadly quite a lot. Guests who felt angry that they “flew all this way” to attend a wedding and find out the couple were not legally married. I don’t know why people feel these strong reactions to a ceremony about love, but I’m just warning you that it happens. 🙁

  8. Oh my glob, you guys. My partner and I had a party exactly one year ago and I’ve been trying for that whole year to get up the guts to share it with OBB. You see, we had nothing. We didn’t have a ceremony, we didn’t exchange anything, we didn’t really even say anything other than a tearful thank you to the guests after I had already had three beers. We just had an amazing weekend full of love and friends and family and food and fellowship and it was one of the best moments of my life. We had a tough time in the few months right before the party trying to explain tte purpose of the event to the folks we really wanted to be there, and it was quite a learning experience in figuring out how to frame our emotions without resorting to defenseiveness (which I did a lot at first. Just COME to our PARTY! You’d come to a WEDDING! Just come to THIS!).

    ANYHOO: Gwen, this is all to say that you can have whatever you want and call it whatever you want and it will be beautiful and yours and amazing. And even though you may have some tough conversations, your friends and family that love you will see the light that shines in your face when you talk about your day and they will understand its importance. I am so excited for you.

    • this is our basic agenda too! I’m relieved to hear another’s story of something similar to our own vision. how did you call it? what did you say on the invites? We thought of not-quite-a-wedding but really, our party isn’t about a wedding. It’s about bringing everyone we love together to show our appreciation for our community and let them support us as we do our thing. Any thoughts (looking back) on what you could call it to help people understand its importance but also its difference?

  9. My daughter wants to do a handfasting commitment ceremony and not legally get married because of her future mother in law is getting ill very often ( she already had three strokes) and her fiance is the only child she had. He wants to make a commitment in front of her instead of legally getting married since they both do not feel ready for the real thing just yet. Which I am okay with since I believe in not rushing into making an important vow commitment that is suppose to mean a lifetime marriage. Future mother in law had said she thanks them for thinking of her but she rather have them wait and plan for the real wedding when they are ready. So I say call it what you want to call it and the family should not be upset or mad if you are not legally married but in reality commitment &Handfasting ceremonies had been a non legal activity and a custom for many years before the actual legal marriage took place.

    • Me and my boyfriend are having a handfasting in October. It’s not going to be legally binding because of the fact that in my home state you have to be 21 to get married. It will also be a pagan event cause of the fact that my family is not pagan. So we will have a “normal” wedding when I turn 21.

  10. My partner and I are planning a non-legal wedding, and we’ve still just been referring to it as a wedding. In our case, everyone knows we can’t get legally married, so there’s no “deception.” But I still have these moments of thinking “should we call it something else?!” even though I deeply disagree with the idea that the state has any say in who can or can’t get married.

  11. Hi you guys, Gwen here. Thank you very much for your responses, I will read them carefully tomorrow after some sleep and breakfast 😉

    Lots of love!

  12. Just have a wedding without signing any papers. Easy as pie. Who cares if people know whether or not it was a legal event or not. The people who would care about something like that have too much time on their hands. I’m close family friends with a couple who have been together for 15 years. They had a wedding. Never signed any papers.

  13. P.S. My husband and I had a wedding and signed our papers last minute a few days later. To be honest, we felt married after the wedding/ceremony. The legal papers were an after thought. It’s not about papers.

  14. Hello you guys, it’s me again, the question submitter.

    I apologize to everyone who graciously anwered my question and to whom I’ve been unable to get back to due to the stress of having 3 jobs at the same time gave me.

    I’m also very happy to announce that I have been proposed to by my partner last week, after discussing our future together and telling him I was a-okay with not getting married at all. We are not planning to get married any time soon, but eventually we do want to go the whole nine yards.

    Thanks again for your kind suggestions <3

  15. Hi, I hope no-one minds me asking a question related to this thread, I haven’t been able to find many ideas elsewhere so I thought I’d try here! Does anyone have any suggestions for alternative names for a commitment ceremony? My partner and I have a family together and have considered ourselves to be married for almost 10 years, although we’ve never legally married or had any sort of wedding/celebration. We feel that we’re already “committed” to each other, but want it to be a bit more than an anniversary party. We’re looking for something kind of quirky and the only thing we’ve come up with so far is “The Non-Wedding Party”, cheesy, I know, that’s why we’re asking for more suggestions! Thanks!

    • I’m also struggling with this. We are not getting legally married (at least not now, and it’s more like a legal formality to us) and the word “wedding” makes me cringe a bit. It’s around our anniversary, but we want this to be a bit more weighty than an anniversary party. “Commitment ceremony” feels a bit too new-age or PC or something to us. “Love party” sounds like an orgy… Maybe “Rite of Union,” although that sounds a bit stiff.

      • I’m thinking about having a “soul bonding” Ceremony. I have not herd about anyone calling it this but it sounds fun.

  16. THANK GOODNESS!! THANK GOODNESS!! I’m so glad I found this site with the question thats been bothering for months now..its 1:00 am and I’m 6 months awy from my big day ..lately well for a while now I’ve considered the idea of a non legal wedding ceremony..a piece of paper means nothing to me and I cant see myself respecting that either..but I jst don’t knw how to explain that to people, I’ve been tossing and turning having these sleepless night over this issue..sometimes it bothers me to the point where it saddens having to explain this I feel people aren’t goin to respect our decision and look at as a joke .. but from reading all these helpful comments I’m so glad it was pointed out that the people who will actually care about that are the ones with to much time, sooo true! Lol ..I’m so glad I found this site I am beyond thankful I’m not the only one 🙂

    ..most importantly what means the most to me, what I believe signifies a wedding is committing to one another and takin our vows before God not the state … I’d much rather send a mutual promise to my Lord ..because when I look at marriage the only thing that will make a marriage last is faith hm not the state., the state is only there for divorce opinion glad I found this its helped me see what I cldnt understand

  17. Meri-

    I’m in the same boat.. Only it’s two months away.. For me, I have a career.. I worked so very hard to get where I am today… I don’t want to lose all of that because the man my heart beats for ..makes a wrong turn.. ( I’m not saying he has). In today’s society.. when a person in a married relationship makes a poor financial decision… You see their devoted partner standing by their side, knowing there going to lose everything too.. That is too big of a pill to swallow..
    So far .. The best solution for me seems to be a commitment ceremony.. The big day will be just fine without having to sign my entire life away for the sake of the government. The question is finding the right person to “officiate” the ceremony.. At first I was worried about what people would say.. But then I thought to myself.. Since we are paying for the whole thing… What really needs to be said?? I’m looking forward to showing my commitment to love and honor.. Thank GOD for this site! This gave me some peace…

  18. How would anyone know if you never got legally married? I am a police officer and am very worried about 20 years from now half my pension gets stolen in the event of divorce. If you aren’t legally married I don’t think the pension could be touched

  19. I am in the same bout! Me and my fiance have been together for 3 years. We both want the commitment ceremony and not legalize it just yet. Im just ready to take vows under gods eyes but still nervous about the papera. So anyways we want a non legal ceremony… but who will perform those if our preacher wont? Do we call the court house and ask if a justice of the peace will do that?? So confused and worried to find someone willing.

  20. Me and my man have been been together for 6 years. He asked me to marry him 3 months in… I of course said yes. He already wears a ring and so do I. We’ve talked about having a “wedding” without the paper work. We feel it’s no one else’s business if it’s legal or not. The few family members we told about it said they thought that was a good idea too, but I do have one concern. What about my last name? Do I have my last name changed, or not. And if I do then if we do ever have any kids then their birth certificate would show their parents are not married but has the same last name… I wouldn’t want them to ever think we were family before we married. LOL

    • I’m not 100% sure – but unless you ‘officially’ marry, you can’t legally change your name (unless you apply to do so via deed poll) in which case their birth certificate would have your maiden name anyway?
      If you did change your name, then I’m sure you can just explain if the question ever came up. Who ever looks at their birth certificate that closely anyway, haha?
      Just enjoy the moment 🙂

    • You can legally change your name to anything you want to. I don’t think your children would think that you were siblings. If they ask as they grow older I am sure they would understand.

  21. I’m 3 months away from my non-legal wedding. Most friendsare supportive & totally agree with us. My family, not so much, but thay are going toattend. I am calling it a wedding. Agter all, what did people do begore ge government got involved? You got martied in a church begore God,family and friends & youwere married. That is exactly what we plan to do!

  22. I’ve always wondered about something like this, for me – but my partner and I aren’t spiritual and a lot of commitment ceremonies seem spiritual/metaphory to us. They just don’t suit my partner and I. I have wanted to get married since ever I can remember – but never have I said ‘I am so excited to be legally bound a person forever!’ rofl. The other thing is, where I live – if you have been living with your partner for over a year, the government considers you ‘common law’ and thus, legal marital restrictions and benefits apply. You are supposed to file your taxes together, claim each other on insurance, etc – legally married or not. So what does a legal marriage certificate REALLY change, anyways?

    I just want an opportunity to wear a pretty dress, plan a day that is 100% ‘us’, gather all the people I love in one room, and tell them all how excited and happy, lucky, and utterly ecstatic I am to be with my significant other -and hear him do the same. Also, an opportunity to thank the individual people that have brought me to where I am, and have helped shape and form the woman I became – the one that he fell in love with in the first place – and the people who have supported he and I in times of need. Thanking the people I love for the part they have played in my relationship is super important too. That’s what I want, and government forms and legal titles really have zero to do with it. I don’t want a day that says ‘I am his wife!’ I want a day that says ‘Look how much we love each other, thanks for your part in that!’. I would do a commitment ceremony, but for my belief system – all the ones I have seen would feel hokey and forced, for us personally. (Note: Not meaning to knock anyone else’s beliefs, I DO believe that everyone should do whats best for them and I fully support that 100% with bells on – I just know what’s not right for me.) I feel like in order to do it, I would have to entirely craft a concept from scratch – which I mean, would make it super cool… but that’s a lot of work and I’ve got no where to start. lol Blah!

    • Celebrate away! I just want to clarify the reference to “common law” after a year. I believe that “common law” relationship status is state law, not federal law. For instance, in the state of PA where I live there is no such thing as “common law marriage” anymore and hasn’t been for almost a decade. So, here in PA, that designation only applies to couples who qualified to use it prior to that time.

      • In Australia defacto is classed the same as marriage by most government institutions.

  23. Thank goodness I found this site and this discussion. I have a “wedding” coming up in two months, but partner and I are not getting legally married for a variety of reasons. I feel it’s no one’s business if we’re legal or not (as someone upthread said, I wouldn’t talk about my pension contributions), but I worried that calling it a wedding or sayingg that we are married seeme dishonest somehow. But calling it anything else invites questions and, frankly, I’ll consider us married.

    Y’all have put my mind to rest about feeling dishonest. We’ll have an officiant and a fairly traditional ceremony (in the middle of a big outdoor party; we’ll just get everyone’s attention, do our thing, and go back to the food/wine), but just won’t do the “by the power invested in me by the state” thing.

    I very much appreciate the advice and support and, again, I’m so glad to have found this site!

    • Update (waaaay after the initial post): we had a ceremony where only the officiant and my daughter knew we weren’t making it legal. We’re now ready, so we got the license and signed the paperwork three years to the day so our anniversary is still the same (10/12); my daughter got ordained online so she could “officiate”. My best and congratulations to the Offbeat Bride Tribe!

      • What did you say instead of “by the power vested in me…” I’ll be in a wedding, possibly officiating, that isn’t a legally binding ceremony, and we’re attempting to come up with alternate wording because the couple doesn’t want the world to know it isn’t legal. Thanks in advance!

        • I’m Christian and my partner isn’t but we had our officiant say something like this, “May you both share in God’s blessing as you walk this journey together as best friends and partners in life. [Groom], you may kiss your bride.” There are wonderful references on the internet on drafting up a ceremony. I wrote our whole ceremony for our wedding. It was very special!

        • Our officiant said something like, “by the power invested in me and with the support of all present”. True, and it sounded “official” enough that no one questioned it.

  24. I think having a “wedding,” inviting friends and family, accepting their gifts, and not telling them it’s a commitment ceremony is deceptive. If it’s to show your commitment to each other, than it’s a commitment ceremony, or commitment celebration, or whatever you would like to call it, but it’s not a wedding.

    A wedding, by definition, is a marriage ceremony. You won’t be married. In reality, you’re no more committed to each other than you were before the ceremony, and people have a right to know your status hasn’t changed. If a husband gets mad, tells his wife it’s over, and walks out the door, she’s still his wife and he’s still her husband. If a committed man gets mad, tells his partner it’s over, and walks out the door, he’s instantly single and so is she.

    In addition, the law has been setup to protect the weaker spouse in case of death or divorce. A legal marriage offers protections being committed to someone doesn’t- it enables you to make medical decisions for that person, it enables you to claim them for tax purposes, it gives you rights to financial assets earned during the marriage, it provides financial protection and custody protection in case of divorce, it protects children and the other partner in case one person dies, etc.

    Yes, you can sign all the paperwork there is to try and cover yourself in case the worst happens, but because your marriage isn’t legal, the paperwork can easily be challenged, especially by your family members. In addition, in states like SC, where non-married fathers have few rights, unless they’re court ordered, if the mother passes or runs off (not that anyone would), her family could get custody of her children, even if she leaves a will, by challenging the father’s ability to care for them alone. Plus, if you take each other’s name and hold yourselves out to be husband and wife, in 9 states that in itself will make you legally married, which defeats the purpose of not being legally married.

    I think too many people want to minimize exactly what rights a legal marriage comes with, whereas a non-legal marriage comes with no rights at all. People should do what makes them happy but deceiving the people you claim to love into believing you’ve made a deeper commitment than you have is wrong. It’s a lie of omission. In addition, anyone that agrees to a commitment ceremony that’s less financially viable than their partner is may not be making the best decision for their future.

      • Wow this is helpful
        Partner is sick and he does not want me stuck with the bills later..

    • You hit this spot on and I couldn’t agree more. My second anniversary is came and went. We were married by a dear friend who clearly told us he wasn’t licensed in that certain state and that when we come back home, we need to sign papers to make it legal. Well, my husband or is it partner, no wait, is it roommate, well, whatever it’s called has made promises that we will do it right and we pick dates and nothing happens. I’m finding myself not caring anymore. To me marriage is a huge deal not some random “committment” ceremony, that’s like leasing a car and when you’re done you’re done.

      That is not my only issue. I have kept my legal last name. Yet people in our circle question why I haven’t changed my name also they know me with his last name. It’s confusing and I’m trying to deal with this by simply going by my legal last name. I feel as though I cheated and lied to people and it feels horrible. Does anyone else have this problem? Also, what do you call eachother? Husband? Wife? Partner? Life Partner?

      Sad part is that somehow we as women are trying to convince ourselves that it’s okay to have a partner, have a whatever wedding and forgo the legalities behind a binding marriage contract. We will play the wifey role and pretend it doesn’t bother us, but it’s the elephant in the room syndrome and it’s eating away at what some of us truly believe in. The fundamentals of marriage.

      • Does anyone know how and if this an option in England as we are facing the same issue. Need to be married in God’s eye’s but not the Government’s. Any info would be really useful as wedding booked for October.

        • What is it you’re concerned about? The legality? The emotional impact of “getting married” but not being actually, legally married? The legal position you will be in if you get married in a registry office and not a church or in an informal, non-legal ceremony?
          UK resident

          • Will my baptise church let me have my ceremony but not sign the registrar to keep it non legal? Or If we do the legal bit abroad will I still be able to say my vows in church in front of God and be announced as husband and wife although technically be already married. Sorry its a long question. I am a Christian so the God part is all that matters to me.

  25. Clearly you didn’t read the no drama policy on here. Not are you rude and judgmental, you’re ignorant. Your points would have come across more clearly if not written so emotionally.
    What do you know exactly of weddings and marriages of other cultures, religions and ethnicitys?
    Marriage is about love and commitment. Religiously or non religiously. “Legal” or not. Like many holidays celebrated, marriage has turned into a commercial misconception that has mutated into something else. Before financial binding and the government came into play, people got married in the eyes of God plain and simple.

    You’re right: “If a husband gets mad, tells his wife it’s over, and walks out the door, she’s still his wife and he’s still her husband. If a committed man gets mad, tells his partner it’s over, and walks out the door, he’s instantly single and so is she..”
    HOWEVER: If one of the married parties had a temper like yours, and for arguments sake cheated, thats adultry, and maybe you aren’t familiar with how great lawyers can screw over the party with the not so great lawyer. I mean, clearly binding finances are the reasons marriage is so important right?

    Marriage can offer financial protections in the case of divorce. When married couples split up, one spouse may be legally required to pay spousal support or alimony to the other. If those arguing are the less fortunate party, I can see why marriage is so crucial to your pocketbook.People who cohabitate have the benefit of reducing the cost per person for rent, energy, and so on occur when people are simply roommates, regardless of their relationship. Also, simply cohabitating instead of actually being married also avoids some of the negatives of marriage, such as legal entanglement.

    I could go on and on about how finances can break down a “legal” marriage, or how a divorce can screw over either party financially or with child custody. But honestly, you can change your name, live together, create joint banking accounts, and many private employers now a days actually do offer domestic partner health insurance plans. Unless you’re marrying for money, and/or trying to kill your legal spouse for money, I really don’t understand what actual points you made.

  26. We are considering a non legal service because financially we will be in the gutter if we marry as they combine income and assets so my disabled partner will lose all his pension, medication discounts etc unless I quit my job. We struggle to pay the mortgage as it is and I work 6-7days a week to cover his additional expenses. Plus my feminist heart hate the idea of all my training and heart work given up just because the government says if I earn over $200 bucks a week then my partner cant have even minimal independence of being able to pay for his own phone bill or lunch. Most disabled couples don’t get married for this very reason. But I’m an old fashioned girl and don’t want kids (or intimacy) till we are married in the eyes of God and family. So thinking a service without the official paperwork, instead an unofficial document.
    I’m scared by dees comments that everyone needs to know its not legal as why is it most people’s business? Our priest is concerned we wont be as committed but with the number of divorces these days it is a couples commitment to each other not a document that is more important.
    And yes under the law here defacto count the same as married so we have to be careful how we manage that as we need separate bedrooms etc anyway because his disability is very severe. Anyone else’s experience in this would be most appreciated.

    • I’m in the same boat as you, disabled carer! Where are you at in the process now? Have you gone through with a wedding/ceremony? My wedding is in only a month, so applying for the license is needed soon if we decide to go that route. We were anticipating losing a great deal of money after the wedding due to his termination of disability until a family member suggested we do it all without the legality/paperwork of it. My fiancee and I both agree that the government should have no part in a marriage anyway, but at the same time I can’t help but feel nervous that there will be some sort of legal repercussions later in life that we haven’t thought through if we aren’t legally married…

      • My advice would be to have all the paperwork that would normally be covered by legal marriage (legal power of attorney, medical POA, etc.) in place, as these would be the legal repercussions that are likely to hit. Also, you might not be able to be each other’s beneficiaries on life insurance policies and pensions/401(k), so be sure whoever you designate as next of kin is in sync with taking care of your partner in case of disaster.

        No one but my partner, our respective daughters, and the person who performed the ceremony know that we’re not legally married (nor do they care, really). All of our official paperwork still show us as single, with our respective kids as next of kin/beneficiaries as required by law. It’s caused a couple of weird mental-space moments, but it’s the way it has to be for a while.

        Good luck to you and your partner, DearLiza!

        • I’ve been with my guy for 14 years and we decided to get engaged and have a reception. I have kids (previous marriage) who need to file for financial aid, which would be hit if I legally married. Why? The money has to be paid back regardless of whether or not there’s a spouse. As well as a tax hit, social security hit and health care hit. We decided not to do the legal route, but do everything else but the paperwork. Didn’t go over well with the old school people in our families. Don’t understand why a piece of paper that the government created makes our commitment to each other official or any more real? They say its to protect each party if the marriage dissolves so why does the lack of one define the commitment to those that don’t care about that protection? We can get all the legal paperwork done to protect ourselves without involving them, such as wills, power of attorney, health care proxies etc and I’ve absolutely been able to change my life insurance policies to whomever I want, no family connection is mandatory. I already did it. He’s my beneficiary because I simple put him on the paperwork as the beneficiary. I’m so tired of the looks by people who’ve I’ve confided in about not legalizing our situation (our immediate family). They’ve made me feel like we’re doing something dirty or making me feel like I’m not really a part of my fiancee’s family without it. Some have made me feel like we’re being dishonest by not alerting the entire guest list that it isn’t legal and receiving a wedding gift. To me, when you give a wedding gift of money to the couple, it’s to cover the cost of your plate at dinner. Well, I’ve paid for that and all the other expenses so why should they feel like they’ve been robbed or something. All we haven’t done is sign a piece of paper someone else decided made our commitment legitimate. Sorry for the rant. I’m 5 months from my reception and seriously stressing from all the questions well-meaning people are grilling me about. I have to justify myself because we’re not signing our name to something. Reading from this site has opened my eyes a little and made me feel a little better that others feel the same as we do and that there are more than we would’ve thought. I’ve taken to telling people that we’re doing the ceremony part ourselves and even that didn’t work. They want to be there. Going so far as to look me in the eye and ask me if its legal. This is what our society has come to. I’ve even had a family member, when asked by their kids why they don’t get to call me auntie, that even after 14 years I’m not really an aunt because its not legal, while we discussed our plans. I wanted to cry. I was shocked as she was telling them. It told me how they really viewed me despite 14 committed years and it hurt. Both of us have been previously married and it didn’t ingratiate us to the idea again for a whole host of reasons. But we both wanted to call each other husband and wife because that was what we are to each other. So going forward…I am calling it our wedding reception because that is what it is to us. If no one likes it…tough. Don’t leave us a stupid gift if they want to be that superficial. I’ve responded to this particular blurb because of the question concerning life insurance. Yes indeedy, you can put whomever you want as beneficiary, no questions asked. If there are…then you’ve got the wrong insurance people because it’s yours and you are paying the premium. Just make sure you also mention it in the will to cover yourself if nervous about it. My fiancee has changed his 401k to my name as well. If you want to leave your money or policies to say a homeless man, that is your money or policies and you can give it to whomever you want. They have no say who gets your money other than who’s name is on their precious paperwork.

      • My boyfriend and I have been together for 10 years. I was in the process of divorcing my husband of 20 years when he became ill with a rare, debilitating disease. He has no family. He is the father of my two daughters – both in their early 20’s. I could not and would not abandon him. He has had several strokes and is like a child. My boyfriend takes care of my daughters and I in so many ways. He also TOTALLY supports me taking care of my husband who lives in a nursing home which my boyfriend and I pay for. He does get disability and medicare (though he is just 60) but both only cover a fraction of his care. Our family is me, my husband, my boyfriend and my two daughters. We attend family functions as the five of us. It is complicated and sometimes drama – but it is the right thing to do. Both of our families and all of our (true) friends accept this. My daughters have been bugging me to have a commitment ceremony with my boyfriend (they want the pretty dresses and wedding fluff!) I have been blowing off their requests for months but noticed that when I bring it up to my boyfriend…he does seem interested. So, after buying me the most BEAUTIFUL engagement ring at costco just because I was looking into the case and he said he could tell that I liked it – we started seriously discussing the idea of a commitment ceremony of some type. So this is our plan: I’m changing MY last name to his because he damn well deserves it and I am honored to have it. We are having a “Together Forever” party with the theme “Pop the Champagne She Changed Her Last Name”. My daughters will wear fancy dresses and we will have music and cocktails and all will be right (as right as we can control) with the world. Done.

    • I feel you! My fiancé and I are having a ceremony/wedding this October. I’m on disability for my disability (cerebral palsy). It’s not like I don’t want to get legally married because I do but right now we just can’t afford to. I’m a freelance graphic and web designer and I don’t make nearly enough to get off of it. I’m trying to get a graphic design job but because of my speech impairment, companies tend to shy away from hiring people like me. My fiancé makes decent money but not enough to support us and pay a mortgage. It just can’t work and we are fugal people! I wish more people understood our situation without judging us. I’m Christian and my bridesmaids are all super Christian people and I’m hesitant to tell them just because I don’t want them to judge us or our decision.

      Any advice or words of encouragement is appreciated!

      • Hi! I know that you already had your commitment ceremony by now, but I was wondering if you could share how it ended up going? I am looking into commitment ceremonies to see if would be right for my boyfriend and I, but we, too, are Christians and I wonder how that works without the legality of it all?? Thanks!!

        • Hey Jessica! It went pretty well actually! It was very lovely. I drafted up our own ceremony and had our friend officiate. In Michigan, we could not call it a “marriage”, it had to be a commitment ceremony and we couldn’t have a clergy or public official to officiate the ceremony. Please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected] if you want to discuss this further in depth. I’d be happy to help!

          • hey melissa,
            Did they pronounce you husband and wife? I will be having mine too soon. I am looking for the right officiant, or maybe having a friend

    • this was very helpful as my fiance just found out that he is sick with a terminal illness. We are in the middle of deciding what is the best way to commit to each other without the legality, due to medical financial responsibility that would be heaved on me . I have lost a daughter and a husband. He does not want me to bare the financial burden after he is gone. I like the commitment ceremony idea. I will be upfront with all about it. They will understand… I hope..

  27. Hi everyone! I’m loving all of these ideas! My gf and I want a ceremony but not a legal ceremony. It can be just the 2 of us in Bahamas or in front of family and close friends, we are still considering different ideas. This is so unromantic I know but for financial reasons, kids and our living arraignments we cannot legally marry right away. It’s a long story but she will lose monthly benefits if she EVER re-marries. We are totally committed and we are getting ring tattoos this weekend instead of actual rings. We plan on keeping things separate legally and financially and there will be no documentation even though we live in a common law state. Down the road we want to make it legal and formal when our kids are older and out of our separate homes. Thanks so much guys!!

    • I would love to know how it goes. Does everyone know it isn’t an offical wedding? Are you afraid of people finding out and they take away her benefits? I know I am. All the very best!!!

  28. I have a similar question. My boyfriend and I have been together for over 6 years. We are committed to each other and have been for years. I want to have a wedding ceremony next year. He doesn’t believe in marriage as an institution and is also a huge introvert so he’s opposed to the ceremony idea but is not opposed to marrying me. Our current idea is to get married at a courthouse and then have a bbq. I feel like a bbq with no ceremony would be really informal and not what I want. I know that ultimately this is just one day but I want it to be special and very memorable and I don’t feel like I’ll get that at a bbq. I want to be able to wear the dress and walk down the aisle and have people around supporting us. Does anyone have suggestions about a type of event that we could do that would make us both happy?

  29. My boyfriend has never been married and this will be my second. We are in our fifties and have financial concerns of being married. I want to be married in the eyes of God but not my government . This is so not how I was raised and have mixed emotions but also know I will be with this man for the rest of our lives…..thoughts? I feel like we are at the older edge of this conversation .

    • Hello I am in same situation as you i am 46 second marriage my man not before he is younger than me. I believe in higher power he does not. I understand how hard this most believe that we should be govt married both of us are okay with the idea of not doing that.

  30. Hello…my wife and I would like to ask about a ceremony in which we add a second wife(poly) to our marriage in just a ceremony so that we can incorporate her with a ceremony just for her.

  31. I am beyond ecstatic that I found this site, my fiance and I are not interested at all in making our LOVE a legal matter for the government to be a part of, we are in our 40s have both been married before and realize that the peice of paper you pay all that money for doesn’t mean crap, it’s what’s in your heart and wanting to commit to each other and share that love with our friends and family just seems like the right thing to do. Explaining it to people is a whole other thing, people are so wrapped up in what we have been programmed to think is the “right, proper, legal” thing to do, that when you say we are getting “illegally married” LOL they look at you like you have a horn growing out of your head. They say things like will you change your name, what about insurance, what if one of you gets sick… on and on. That’s why we are keeping in small less than 40 and to those who get it, we also talked about combining our two last names to make up a new one, of course who wants to PAY the government to say that’s ok, it’s so stupid and all about money and the ability to track you. Happy commitment ceremony or unity ceremony to all 🙂

    • Had to respond to your comments as i will be having my so called non legal wedding in Oct.
      I know that this is a real wedding as the promises we make to each other will be what we would say if it were in a registry office or on the moon, our commitment will be the same with or without paperwork. We are both financial sound and don’t need the UK government telling me what i can and cant do in a personal relationship. If others don’t accept us as married i really don’t care, no one carries their marriage certificate around with them so why question if their married or not, our rings will be a sing of our commitment to each other just like everyone else who has made the same commitment legal or not. I say Well done ALL of us.

  32. I’m just concerned about the next of kin as to questions about choices in illness situations to make decisions as next of kin.
    For younger couples that may have children, what would the status of the children be?

    for younger couples, the

    • It wouldn’t be any different than if you had siblings and put in your will who’d be their legal guardian from among them if something happened to you. Make a will and specify everything from property, money, bank accounts…same as you would for a “legal” spouse. Make a healthcare proxy that allows your significant other to act as a “legal” spouse in all healthcare decisions. Change everything you can. My fiancee and I have already put each other on our life insurance policies and 401k stuff. And lastly…if you want to change your name legally…just pay the fee, go to the judge and tell him, I want to change my last name. Anyone can do that.

  33. If 2 people are disabled and don’t want there disability benefits touched or combined, that means less money for the both of them if they get married.

    If one person is on disability and the other is not. then the disabled person will lose her or his medicare and medicaid and the non-disabled person’s income will have to take care the both of them.

    The only reason i think an alternative union commitment ceremony would be feasible.

  34. I am so glad came across this site.My fiance and i live in separate places me in Canada he in Ny state we are doing a unity/ commitment extravaganza in both countries.Due to my situation I cannot legally get married to him. When i talk to others about this they find it weird even the resort in the USA I spoke to on phone today.They said never heard such a thing.I love this idea do question myself from time to time.Honestly who gets too big parties in their lifetime. My fiance is cool with it he always says who cares what others think this is for us nobody else. I have always been an out of the box person.As time goes by I feel more comfortable with the idea at this point only one friend knows so i am hoping when it is announced to my side of friends they understand. I love this site and have already stole a few ideas thanks everyone for posting as it has made me feel so much better about all this.

  35. Hopping back in after five years (lol) because I originally posted and I get email notifications when others post.

    We ended up having a non-license ceremony, but only the “officiant” and my daughter knew we weren’t signing a license*. Three years later to the day we signed the license and became legally married. It was important to us that we made it legal at some point, and having the same date (different year) made the whole anniversary thing much less complicated.

    Only a couple of relevant people knew about this and no one else cares enough to ask to see the license. Who does that?

    [* full disclosure: now-spouse has serious medical issues and getting legally married before having legal issues worked out would have jeopardized his care]

  36. HI guys, my boyfriend and I plan on having a commitment ceremony with rings and all, something very small and intimate. This is more for a showing of unity with our kids. We each have 2, and so they feel we are fully committed to being a family. Anyhow, my question is, when he “proposes” would that be considered being engaged? I mean it’s all the same thing, just without the paperwork. I just want to know how to announce it, when it happens, what’s the best wording…especially since my ex’s family still follows me on social media. I don’t want them running to him and saying I’m getting married, because technically I am not.

    • You can say that he “proposed we commit to blending our families.” You get the word proposed, but not the word marriage.

      And then when you announce it, you can just say “We are excited to share that we had a unity ceremony, to honor bringing our families together as one.” You’re celebrating unity and blending families, with no talk of weddings or marriage.

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