Do You Take Me? Part II


When I first learned that Pennsylvania offers self-uniting marriage licenses, I dismissed it as “not right” for Collin and my wedding.  Mostly because I think we are both going to cry a lot during our wedding ceremony, so we couldn’t be the emcees, so to speak.

Then the time came (and went, we are WAY behind schedule on this) to find an officiant, and nothing felt right.  None of the rabbis from Collin’s family’s temple were available, and I didn’t want to rush into finding a rabbi here on the slim chance I could get him or her for our wedding (because I am converting to Judaism for our children, not for our wedding, I am putting it off until after the wedding so I have one less thing to worry about).  All of the for-hire wedding officiants we looked at seemed too Christian or too new Agey (or too expensive or too overbooked). Finding a judge makes me grumpy because it reminds me of my stalled legal career.

What I really wanted, I kept saying, was to have a friend ordained online and have him or her officiate.  But the legal status of that type of wedding ceremony is up in the air in Pennsylvania, and I don’t want the headache of having my marriage invalidated.

Then I heard a friend of a friend got around that problem by using a self-uniting marriage license, but still having someone else preside over the ceremony.  As long as we say, “I take you as my husband” and “I take you as my wife” and have two witnesses sign our self-uniting marriage license, we’ll be married.

Collin is in love with this idea.  He wants to have our ceremony be lead by our families and us, as a group.  We know that writing it and practicing it will not be easy, but the end result will be the most meaningful, wonderful, right-feeling thing we could do.

And I agree.  But…

1. I’m still concerned about legal issues. A few years ago, Allegheny County (where I live) denied a couple a self-uniting marriage license because they could not prove they were of a faith without clergy.  A federal judge told them to cut that out in 2007.  Hopefully that means we’d be safe, but I still scared that I’ll show up at the courthouse 60 days before our wedding to get that license, be denied, and have to find a real officiant with only two months to go.

2. I feel like I’m guilty of cultural appropriation. Self-uniting marriages are available in Pennsylvania because of the Quaker population.  Collin and I are not Quaker, and have no intention of ever joining the Society of Friends.  Is having a self-uniting marriage along the same lines as when a Christian couple uses a chuppah?  Or worse?  I’m using the mechanism of their marriage ceremony because it is convenient to me.  It feels icky and wrong to have a Reverend (even a non-denomination one who promises to not mention Jesus) marry us because we aren’t Christian, so shouldn’t it feel icky and wrong to marry ourselves when we are not in the Society of Friends?

3. Can we pull this off? This is the DIY project to end all DIY projects.  Can we really write and perform our own wedding ceremony without any help from a pro?

Please, I am BEGGING for input and advice on this issue.  If you think I’m being a selfish, privileged, nasty cultural appropriator, tell me.   If you think the ceremony will be a clusterfuck without a proper officiant, tell me.  If you think I’m going to have the best wedding ever if I do this, tell me. Please please please weigh in.


  1. 1. The Quaker wedding ceremony is actually administered by family, so I think you’re actually in pretty good shape. And by being aware of religious appropriation, you’re guarding yourself against it. But still, be careful.

    2. I presided over a friends’ wedding in Maine. It was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing moments of my life. Nerve-wracking, but awesome. I also want to be a minister, so it made a lot of sense for me to help them with their ceremony. I think that in your case, having ONE emcee, with lots of help from family/friends, would make a big difference.

    3. Writing your own ceremony is amazing and phenomenal and makes the entire thing so deeply personal. I’d suggest you do this whether or not you go the self-uniting route. I have lots of notes and some readings (including one about marriage equality, if you’re so inclined) that I’d be happy to share. Feel free to email me at douxquemiel gmail.

  2. I know nothing about Quaker traditions, but this reminded me of a couple of other things. In the Catholic wedding ceremony the bride and groom actually perform the marriage themselves. The priest doesn’t marry them, strictly speaking. And in medieval and early modern England if a couple made vows to each other and meant them, it was an official and binding marriage, didn’t matter where, or if there were witnesses (though this was increasingly discouraged!)

  3. 1) Ugh, that worries me too. But if this is your best option, I’d say dig in and pursue it. At least you have a prior ruling behind you.
    2) Another tricky one. I feel like I don’t have enough information/insight into Quaker traditions to weigh in on cultural appropriation here.
    3) You absolutely can. We wrote and organized our own wedding ceremony from outside the context of anything, with just a little input from the friend we had officiate it, and then we all practiced together. We also did the bulk of the work in the last three weeks before the wedding. The fact that you’re actually starting to tackle it now, and the fact that you’ll ostensibly have the framework of the self-uniting ceremony to work from, makes me that much more confident in your abilities.

    Additional plug for writing/conducting your own ceremony — I’ve heard from some other people who hired an officiant who provided a script, and they have little to no recollection of the ceremony or what was even said. I feel that because we did write our own ceremony, that part of the day was one of the things I remember most about the entire wedding. Compared to the rush of the rest of the day, during our ceremony time nearly stood still. Even though I felt nervous and panicked, I knew what was coming next. I knew the words before they were spoken, and that buoyed me.

    • I agree totally with Lyn on this one.
      1. check out the legalities before you commit.
      2. Quaker traditions is not my forte – but I think Sarah N makes a good point on this one (and in any event, I am not sure it is entirely a mark of convenience as to why you are considering this option).
      3. check out Lyn’s account of her wedding ceremony – it made me cry and it sounds like something similar (from a formatting not necessarily a content angle) would suit you guys too.
      Good luck!

  4. I think you will have the BEST wedding EVER if you do this!!!! But you really HAVE to put a lot of time and energy into THIS to make it the most awesome ceremony ever!!!! (I hope that you two make it ever so meaningful and not just”let’s get this done and over with so we can party”) Can you have a legal ceremony at the courthouse prior just so that you won’t worry about future legalities??? You can do this, Robbie!!! You and Collin can SO TOTALLY pull this off!!!!! I vote ‘YES!”YES ! YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. My friends Dan and Donna did the self-uniting thing this summer. It went off without a hitch. :)

    I think the fact that you can’t seem to find an officiant speaks VOLUMES to the fact that you should do it yourselves. You can choose the person in your lives who you feel would best “emcee” the day. Hell, you can choose MANY PEOPLE to do it. I think it’s an amazing opportunity and you should go for it. You are one of few people I think can execute this perfectly.

    As for the Quaker religion thing, here’s the deal. If/when Joe and I get married, we’ll likely go this route. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone being successfully denied this option because they aren’t Quakers. IT’s 2011, and that smells like religious discrimination to me. Saying that someone who is a Quaker has special rights to special ceremonies because of their special beliefs but I *don’t* have those same rights because I don’t have those same beliefs is absolute CRAP. I’m not trying to disrespect the Quakers. In fact, I’m saying that my beliefs should afford me the same rights as their beliefs afford them.


  6. So I’m a quaker, and while there’s a lot of variation within the community, I find it hard to imagine anyone being offended by non-quakers using self-uniting licenses. Frankly, I find it totally disciminatory that other states deny them to couples of other religions (pennsylvania’s the only one where suits on this basis have been successful so far). What would come a little closer to appropriation is, perhaps, some of the quaker wedding certificate-like documents that have been becoming trendy (though I have mixed feelings on this). I mean, if anything it seems silly to me when couples get married by a christian minister despite having little connection to those traditions – what gives that person authority over such an intimate part of your life? So, I can only speak for myself, but i’d say if this speaks to you, you should go for it. :)

  7. There just aren’t very many good options for secular wedding ceremonies. It’s the one area in wedding planning when I briefly thought about being religious with a hint of wistfulness, because then you’d have such a stronger template to guide you. I wanted to find a judge too! But it’s hard because they can’t accept pay, and if you do find one (or a justice of peace or a mayor) it tends to be a 5 minute thing, wham-bam-thank-you-m’am kind of deal.

    1. I’m with Viki on this point, would it be difficult to do a quick courthouse ceremony for the legality of it afterwards if necessary? I doubt you’d have to find your own officiant for that.
    2. I’m on the far looser end of these things, but in general I tend to be pretty forgiving of appropriation when you’ve clearly thought about what you’re doing. Like, having an “Indian themed” wedding when neither of you are culturally/ethnically Indian and have no particular ties to the country? Gross. But using a format introduced by one religion or another, without pretending to be someone of that faith? Seems like just beneficial sharing to me.
    3. There seem to be enough wedding bloggers (who aren’t professional writers or theater people) who put together their own ceremonies with the help of books and the internet that it seems doable to me. A rehearsal would seem definitely in order. Also, we talked to this one officiant who actually would help with writing ceremonies, even if she didn’t perform them herself, so that might be a middle ground if you’re nervous about tackling it all on your own.

    Overall, I just love the idea of self-uniting marriages, because that’s really how I view this: a choice between independent adults of equal standing.

  8. Hey, we are getting married in Pittsburgh in September and are also strongly considering this option. Like, we walk down the aisle, meet each other up front, and then turn to everyone and literally marry ourselves. Maybe we have a couple of readings, but for the most part it’s on us.

    There are a few things I like about it: #1 Our families are of different faiths. (Same as yours from the sounds of it.) This totally eliminates any problems arising from having to choose a religious officiant, and avoids us having to have some sort of spiritual guide when we are totally uncomfortable with that sort of thing. #2 We would be totally in control of the proceedings. No surprises by the officiant you just met. (One groom we know was asked for the check by his officiant WHILE his bride was walking down the aisle). #3 It’s easy and cheap. No one else to hire, pay, or meet with.

    But, if we go that route, it means a lot of agonizing about what to say in front of everyone and then practicing saying it. In some ways it could dull the “moment” of getting married because we will have been through it on a few practice-runs. But we would save our personal vows to each other for that moment, which should keep some mystery and emotion alive.

    So there you have it. I may have just convinced myself to do it!

  9. I’m in the exact same boat for our upcoming Virginia wedding. Just today the county clerk’s office told me, in the nastiest of ways, that “it would just not be legal” to have anyone but an ordained minister or a judge perform the ceremony. A family friend who is Quaker and also a lawyer is on the case, but if anyone knows about (or how to find out about) the legality of these marriages outside Pennsylvania, please let me know. As for appropriation, it’s definitely not – you want to marry yourselves because you’ve thought long and hard about how that makes the most sense for you, and because the other options either explicitly conflict with your beliefs or otherwise feel wrong –not because you think it’s cute or convenient.

  10. As you know, we asked my brother to officiate our wedding ceremony because we wanted as few strangers to be involved in our wedding as possible. (We have three — photographer, coordinator and server.) Being in California, we went the online ordination route, but only after I looked for a self-uniting license. Strangely, California doesn’t have a self-uniting option, but I would have happily gone that route if I had the option.

    You can definitely write your own ceremony. We recently wrote our ceremony using a host of online sources as starting points. I posted the last draft along with citations to the very helpful original sources (and a few others) if you’re looking for help.

  11. For someone like me, not knowing for sure whether my union was legal would FREAK ME OUT.

    We had a lovely puppet of an officiant read the ceremony we wrote. I remember everything about it. I remember feeling connected and wonderful. However, I didn’t feel like I needed the connection with my officiant as many brides do.

    I love the idea of mixing and intermingling faiths. I actually considered having a chuppah at our non-denominational Christian wedding because of what it represents: the home that the couple will build together. However, I got a ton of flack from people who kept asking me “Why? You’re not Jewish.” so I let it go. It was too hard to explain and another DIY project I didn’t have time for. In the end it’s your ceremony and you need to do what you think is important and meaningful to you as a couple.

    Doubtful this was helpful, but my 2 cents.

    • TSB, I totally agree about not knowing if it was legal or not. I performed that wedding for my friends in Maine, and I am SO NERVOUS that one day they are going to go do something legal-wise and find out they’re not actually married because I messed something up. THE HORROR OH MY GOD. I cognitively *know* I did everything right, but I’m paranoid and easily spooked.

      Our officiant read the ceremony we wrote, but added his own two cents (he was my childhood minister, so it was totally different). I remember it so vividly because we built it ourselves, and that’s what made it so special. :)

  12. CLAMP!

    I basically want to say, “You are my wife! We’re Married!!!!”
    Then I want you to say, “YES, YES YES YES! You are my husband!”
    Together, “YAY!”
    Then we kiss and squeeze!

    We don’t need someone to say that for us!


  13. We wrote our own ceremony and it was a lot more work than we ever imagined. It was, literally, a labor of love. It was such a joy to be able to convey to our dear friends and family what we believe about marriage and why we want to marry each other. We had a family friend function as our minister (she got ordained by some liberal CA church in the 1970s so she could marry friends). Our ceremony was one of our favorite parts of our wedding. Both in the time it took to write and think about (and the discussions it sparked) and on the day itself. A lot of guests were moved to tears. I highly recommend going this route as long as you recognize the time commitment.

  14. My best friend did this in Pennsylvania. We are all theatre people, and they had a friend who is actually a TV personality “host” the ceremony, but they did the vows and stuff themselves. Any Quakers present were not offended.

    It was easily the most amazing and touching wedding I have ever been to, because it was all just so THEM. It sealed the deal for my July wedding that we are writing the ceremony ourselves, the whole shebang. I may be being optimistic, but I don’t think it’ll be TOO hard (and I have plenty of inspiration, like Lyn’s and Sarah’s blog posts, to guide us along). An actor friend of ours who is online-ordained will be our technical “officiant,” but I don’t think the format of our wedding will be too far off the Quaker model.

    Point is, it sounds like you know what you DON’T want from the ceremony, which means you probably also know what you DO want, so writing the whole ceremony will likely not be as hard as you think. Coordinating whole families to take part will be the tricky part, so if I were you I would pick one charismatic friend/family member and keep others’ participation simple and minimal. YMMV.

  15. I can see being worried about the legal parts, but if you do a bit of research (sounds like you already have) you should be able to get a pretty good idea of what is allowed. So weird, all the legal issues with getting married.

    As for stealing ideas from the Quakers – I don’t know a lot about them, but aren’t Quakers in particular pretty open to anyone? I actually worry about using religious elements in my wedding as well, since I was not brought up in any denomination (took communion for the first time at Christmas in a Methodist church and it sort of freaked me out!). But what I have really been learning through the wedding-blog-world, is that we modern wedding planners have a fabulous freedom in choosing ideas and traditions that seem meaningful to ourselves (the significance of the chuppah is lovely, and doesn’t really have anything specific to do with being Jewish, its just their interpretation of the idea?).

    I am probably not explaining this properly so instead of taking up more space I will say, I think your plan sounds fantastic and you should absolutely go for it!!

    (and if the legal bit is too worrisome, having a legal wedding at the courthouse and then a family/friends ceremony/reception is a great idea. My friends did that in Wisconsin a couple years ago and it worked out very well.

  16. We have considered the self-uniting option LOTS of times. I like it because neither of us are at all religious, and it feels more like “us” to not have some random person we don’t know screwing up our names etc. This is an available option in Colorado, where we met, and there it has NOTHING to do with Quakers. So my advice is to not feel like you’re stealing anyone else’s religious traditions – you’re just trying to make sure that your ceremony is as true to you as possible.

  17. I think you guys are definitely capable of doing this. There are a lot of resources out there online (if you need links, I’ve got them to other’s ceremonies). If you start now, don’t procrastinate, you could write a truly moving and personal ceremony.

    Rely on your family and friends. You might be choked up at some moments, so I definitely agree that you should have some friend or family member emceeing the ceremony. And practice. It’ll be important without a pro leading everything.

    As for cultural appropriation, I think what you are doing doesn’t cross any lines. Sure you are taking on the mode, but you will turn it into something very personal. You won’t be using any sacred Quaker phrases I assume. You aren’t doing it because you think the Quaker service is “cool.” Maybe do a little research and try to find more Quakers to bounce your idea off of and see what they think. But I think you guys are safe.

  18. Don’t worry about getting the license…. it’s a breeze. We got one last year at the city-county building downtown (Pittsburgh) and all we did was fill out the paperwork for a regular marriage license then tell them we wanted a self uniting one. I even forgot my driver’s license and they let me use my Pitt Student ID to apply for it. There was no questions about religion or demanding we are Quakers (I’m Lutheran and the hubs is Buddhist). It was a $70 piece of cake… mind you $70. Allegheny county charges a $30-35 computer processing fee. We weren’t modivated enough to drive out to Greensburg but if you get it out in Westmorland county, it’s only something like $35 total for the license but you have to go back out to pick it up.

    As for the ceremony, I’m sure you can get it figured out just fine. We were going to go that route with ours until mid summer my dad had a “I’m not walking you down the aisle if you don’t have a real minister” but that was also when he was protesting the idea of us getting hitched at the courthouse before the big family wedding…

    The closer you get to the day, the more drama that will occur. Just stand firm to what you guys want because it is all about your “LOVE” and how you want to affirm it to the world. =)

  19. Ok, the fact that the State offers this option means it’s a civil process for marriage that originated from a religious practice. But it’s still a legal process, so I wouldn’t worry about quaker appropriation. So long as you can confirm the legality.

    Also, you have this. It will be HARD but really meaningful. If you want Jewish elements at all, buy the Anita Diamant book (which we’ve been using to help plan our Jewish ceremony and is SO helpful. We’re adapting, but she gives lots of background in the reasons and potential alternatives for the ceremony and other rituals). Use other people’s ceremonies as a reference (it’s always easier to start with an idea to spark or structure yours). 2000Dollarwedding has a bunch of linked ceremony ideas, Indiebride has the most useful thread on readings and vows in the world, A Practical Wedding has some good How Tos, and I also loved Cupcake Wedding’s ceremony stuff. Read through. get a sense of what feels right. and you’ll have the best DIY project of all – a ceremony.

    Start now though, because it’s freaking hard and emotional. But worth it.

  20. Appropriating would be two white people with no sense of history jumping a broom. Choosing the self-uniting option to get a government document is not appropriation. It’s a successful navigation of bureaucracy and archaic marriage laws.

    Writing our own ceremony was scary but worth it. Of course, we are also writers so it wasn’t a completely foreign concept to us. (The very mention of centerpieces made me want to cover my ears and rock back and forth, so it’s all about what your own personal strengths are :) .)

  21. definitely check into the legalities of it. as for only doing it because it is ‘convenient’ for you, I don’t feel like that the case. well maybe it is, but it does not seem as disrespectful as you think it might be. I mean how many people get married in a church by a reverend who aren’t religious? in this case, you are using something along the lines of something you want . if all the legal stuff works out, I say go for it. can you pull it off? yes, totally. I’ve been reading your blog from the start and have full confidence you can self officiate an amazing ceremony and keep your sanity too.

  22. So, I don’t know if this is helpful, but here’s what we did when we hit basically the same problem.

    1. The day we got our marriage license (2 weeks before wedding), we went to an officiant near the courthouse (not a judge, just a state-appointed legal officiant) and got married that day.
    2. On the day of our wedding, we had the friend we had chosen (who could not get internet-ordained to perform our ceremony because she lived in a different city, of all the stupid things) marry us like we’d always planned.

    The only people who knew that this was not the state-sanctioned part of the wedding were me, the Boy, and our officiant. We kept it this way to prevent my mother from becoming even more insane, but if that’s not your style, you could totally tell everyone.

    This may not work for you, but it did work for us. Good luck!

  23. Just to provide an update for everyone on this thread, my now husband and I did go the self-uniting route. I can assure you all that it is legit! We’re totally married! This is one of two options in PA now. Since we did it this way, we had my brother “officiate” even though he’s not ordained or anything. Technically we didn’t need an officiant, but we wanted someone we care about to lead the vows.

    The only catch is that you want to make sure you tell the marriage license office up front that you’re doing the self-uniting ceremony, so they know which forms to give you.

  24. My fiance and I are doing this at the end of May. We have written the plan for the day and our vows and are working a sand ceremony into the wedding portion. My question is: does anyone know the maximum number of witnesses who can legally sign the license? We’d like to use the combination of our 5 adult children and children-in-laws. There are only 2 lines on the form, but my plan is to draw in 3 more lines so that all the kids are part of it. My fiance is worried about this invalidating the ceremony.

  25. Ask the marriage license office. I imagine adding other lines could very well invalidate it, but def call them and ask!

  26. Pingback: Why Writing a Wedding Ceremony Is Hard | HitchDied

  27. The work of an officiant is more than standing up and saying a few words about marriage. An officiant is a real non-biased witness to your marriage. If there is trouble in your marriage down the road, your officiant can testify that you were, indeed, married at a certain time and place. Not only that, suppose there is a natural tragedy in the State and records are lost. Your officiant is a legal back-up to the State’s records. They keep and maintain official records of your marriage.

    Upon the death of one of the marriage partners, it is possible for an outsider to come forth and claim the marriage was not legal, thereby claiming an interest as a possible heir. If your marriage records are flimsy, lost or questionable, an outsider might have a legal case against the estate.

    Since the Self-Uniting license can be questionable, or possibly challenged later on, a wedding officiant would be a good investment at your ceremony. Check to be sure the officiant meets all of the State’s requirements and qualifications. Because this is a legal process, your officiant should not be a family member or friend. This is not the place to try to save a few dollars.

    • In Pennsylvania, the self-officiating marriage license must be signed by two witnesses (who must also include their addresses) before being submitted back to the state to obtain the marriage certificate. It is a legal document and just as, if not more valid for record-keeping than an officiated ceremony, especially considering it requires TWO witnesses.

      There is no legal reason to be made to think that a self-officiated wedding license, signed by two witnesses, cannot be just as legally valid as one signed by a ‘traditional’ wedding officiate.

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