The most important thing to understand about a commitment ceremony is that it does not involve laws or government agencies in any way; there’s no license or certificate, and the participants’ legal status does not change. Couples who have commitment ceremonies should not say they are married, especially not on any official forms, and most especially not if they live in common-law states. Here are some of the most frequent questions people ask us about commitment ceremonies:
- We want to have a ceremony or wedding to celebrate our relationship, but we don’t want to get legally married. Can we do that?
- Can I change my name (can we change our names)?
- Does Unmarried Equality perform commitment ceremonies?
- We’d like our ceremony to be religious. Are there ministers, rabbis, and other religious officiants who are willing to preside at a wedding where we won’t be getting legally married? How can we find one?
- Can our ceremony have vows and other wedding-like features?
- We’d like to list Unmarried Equality in our gift registry (for a wedding or commitment ceremony), to encourage our guests to support the relationships of those who cannot or choose not to marry. How can we do this?
Yes, many people appreciate the ritual of a wedding even if they don’t want to (or can’t) get legally married. Some want to be married “in the eyes of God” but have reasons why a legal marriage is not a good option for them. Others want an opportunity to celebrate their love with their family and friends, or make vows to each other in a private ritual. If you want to, it’s even legal for one or both unmarried partners to change their last names so that they match like a married couple. The options for how to create your own ceremony are limitless. A few ideas you might find helpful:
For resources on how to design your own ceremony, check out books on planning a contemporary, “non-traditional” wedding, and (2) books on gay and lesbian ceremonies (we encourage heterosexual couples to explore these books, too — they are full of great ideas!). Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple, by UE’s founders, includes a chapter specifically about planning a commitment ceremony as a different-sex couple. If you find other useful ideas or resources, please let us know so we can share them with the people who ask us!
Yes! Anyone in the U.S. can change her/his name by court order. (When people legally marry, they can change their names without a court order.) The internet offers lots of information about how to legally change your name – we like using the information at NOLO.
Does Unmarried Equality perform commitment ceremonies?
No, UE provides information and does policy advocacy. We don’t provide any personal services and we don’t have lists of officiants in local areas. We do offer suggestions about finding an officiant under the next heading.
If you want a religious officiant at your ceremony, you may be able to find a clergy person who will perform a religious marriage ceremony (or other type of religious “union”) without requiring that you get legally married.
Clergy may be more willing to do this if they know you personally, have a sense of your relationship and situation, and understand why you have important reasons why you can’t or choose not to have a civil marriage. Some religions like Unitarian Universalism, Reform or Reconstructionist, Judaism, and paganism or Wicca may be more likely to support your situation. Unitarian ministers are usually very respectful of people’s own religious beliefs and backgrounds without requiring any “conversion” or agreement to a new set of beliefs. You might also seek out congregations that openly welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, as the clergy there may be especially comfortable with blessing relationships that aren’t recognized by the state. Check local LGBT newspapers or websites for listings.
Yes! It’s your party; you can do anything you want. You’ll find many creative suggestions for planning a ceremony at our Books & Links page.
How do we list the Alternatives to Marriage Project in our gift registry?
This is a wonderful way to show your support for all relationships as you celebrate your own! You can point your friends and family to our gift registry page, or you can create a formal registry using the service at JustGive.org. Many couples have invited donations at the time they married or had a ceremony, and many individuals have invited donations to mark birthdays and other important life events These donations are especially meaningful to us. Thank you!