Self-uniting marriage: wedding vows

self-uniting marriage certificate

A self-uniting marriage license is a relative rarity, available only in a few states in the U.S., including here in Pennsylvania, where some county clerks are reluctant to issue them to anyone other than Quakers, for whom they were originally intended. The courts have ruled, however, that they must be made available to any couple that’s eligible to marry, regardless of religious affiliation — which has created a need for non-Quaker wedding vows to be recited by the bride and groom in a self-uniting ceremony.

Quaker vows typically read: “In the presence of God and these our friends I take thee, ______, to be my husband/wife, promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful wife/husband so long as we both shall live.” Neither Rachel nor I were comfortable with the mention of God, and the use of the verb “take” did not appeal. To us, the central gesture of a truly egalitarian marriage should be giving, not taking.

Our starting point wasn’t the Quaker formula, however, but a set of Unitarian vows (scroll to the bottom), credited to Rev. Edward Searl, Unitarian Church of Hinsdale, Illinois, found on The Knot. If you compare them, you’ll see that while we made some significant changes, we also borrowed quite a lot. We just really loved the whole bit about respecting the other’s uniqueness and recognizing the limits of knowledge, which appealed equally to our feminist beliefs and our apophatic (cf. “Via Negativa”) instincts. I added the sentence about being the best listener I can because that’s something I do personally need to be mindful of, while Rachel, who is already an excellent listener, felt that a bigger challenge for her, relationship-wise, is patience. We also liked the “till death do us part” bit from traditional vows, re-cast into contemporary English. Our ceremony began with us each reading a poem (me an e.e. cummings thing, she a Shakespeare sonnet), following which we asked my best man (my brother Mark) to flip a coin to determine which of us would read our vows first. Rachel won the toss.

At any rate, if an internet search has brought you here, please feel free to adapt the following vows however you like, and best of luck in your own journey.

[Groom’s name], I acknowledge with the deepest respect your own individuality and uniqueness. I promise to share the full range of my thoughts, emotions, and experiences, but I am also aware that I may share but not know, for in knowing I deny the full person that you are.

I give myself to you to be your wife. I promise to share my hurts, my passions and interests, my sorrows and my joys. I pledge to be as patient as I can. I will comfort you and be comforted, and share with you in all things meaningful to me and to you, until death parts us.

*

[Bride’s name], I acknowledge with the deepest respect your own individuality and uniqueness. I promise to share the full range of my thoughts, emotions, and experiences, but I am also aware that I may share but not know, for in knowing I deny the full person that you are.

I give myself to you to be your husband. I promise to share my hurts, my passions and interests, my sorrows and my joys. I pledge to be the best listener that I can. I will comfort you and be comforted, and share with you in all things meaningful to me and to you, until death parts us.

the wedding kiss

6 Comments


  1. There’s so much love and respect in those vows. Thanks for sharing and again, all the best wishes to the both of you.

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  2. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing this with us, and wishing you both great joy in each other’s company for umpteen years to come.

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  3. Thanks, friends. A video is coming in a day or two – Rachel is going to post it to my Vimeo account with her fancy high-speed London internet.

    Reply

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