The ultimate guide to understanding what it is and planning your own
A self uniting marriage is one of the most unique and person ways a couple can get legally married together - it means you can marry yourself - no officiant, priest, or judge needed!
It's practice has a long history in many different cultures such as Christianity and the Baháʼí faith, and has seen a resurgence in popularity as couples are increasingly choosing to elope instead of hosting huge traditional wedding celebrations. In some cases, even at larger weddings, couples can still choose to do away with having a regular officiant and conduct the ceremony themselves in front of their family and friends.
While the basic idea of a "self uniting marriage" is pretty simple, we want to use this article to teach you more of the ins-and-outs, a little bit of the history and why it's so special, as well as some tips for couples wanting to make their self uniting ceremony extra special. In our opinion, we definitely think it's a rad way to tie the knot!
What is a self-uniting marriage exactly?
In the United States, a self uniting marriage is sometimes referred to as a "Quaker marriage" because of its connection with the Quaker faith. This religious practice was intended to simplify the act of marriage into something that didn't require a lot of formalities, onlookers, and a big party - since people who follow this spiritual lifestyle tend to be more minimalistic.
While self uniting marriages were once reserved for couple's with religious backgrounds, in 2007 as a result of an ACLU lawsuit, rules were changed to allow anyone to perform a self uniting marriage. This made room for any couple to get married in this special way in a ceremony of their own creation regardless of their religious affiliation (or lack of one).
At it's most simplest, a self uniting marriage allows two people to come together and decide to get married without any fanfare. They could literally just say "we're married!" and be done with it, just needing to sign a marriage license at a court house and call it a day. While this is certainly a possible route to go, many couples will still choose some way of marking their wedding day by doing something special, and often times this starts by creating a self uniting marriage ceremony where they can exchange vows, rings, and express their love for one another in an intimate and memorable way.
Can you have a self uniting marriage anywhere in the United States?
Unfortunately, nope! Self uniting marriages are only legally able to be performed in a 8 states. And (of course), every state has their own set of mostly similar but sometimes a little different rules. These states are:
• Pennsylvania. Allows self solemnizing with two witnesses to sign in replacement of an officiant. • California. Requires two witnesses to sign the marriage license like PA. • Colorado. Does not have any unique conditions or qualifications. • Kansas, Maine, Nevada. Only allow self uniting marriages for those who are affiliated with the Quaker faith. • Wisconsin. Offers similar freedoms as Colorado and DC, but requires couples to sign a form confirming that they understand this type of marriage may not be seen as "legitimate" in all contexts. • Washington DC. Does not have any unique conditions or qualifications.
One day, we'd love to see self uniting marriages open up to more people in more states...
How do you get a self uniting marriage license?
In order to make your marriage "official", you'll need a special self uniting marriage license (or Quaker marriage license). The specific terminology used will depend on your state, and even the local municipality you receive your license from. The steps required for getting one of these marriage licenses will be pretty similar no matter where you go:
Step #1: Find your local county court's marriage license website
An easy way to find this is to search your city's name + "marriage license" in Google. Normally, one of the top results with a .gov address will be the one you are looking for. The specific court that will issue marriage licenses may vary. Some common names you'll see is an "Orphan's Court" , "Marriage License Bureau", or "Register of Wills." An example for the city of Philadelphia can be found here.
Step #2: Complete an application for your marriage license
Most jurisdictions have an online application you will need to fill out to apply. Some may require you to come into their office for this. When completing an application, be sure you are applying for a self uniting marriage license - as it is different than a traditional marriage license. The application usually has a small administrative fee as well.
Step #3: Appear in person at the courthouse
Once you're application has been received, you will need to go in person to the court and show a valid ID.
Step #4: Receive your license
In some states, you may receive your license on the spot. In others, like Pennsylvania, there is a 3 day waiting period before it is issued. In cases like that, you'll need to return back to the courthouse to pick up your marriage license (yes, this is totally annoying we know!).
Step #5: Get married!
Marriage certificates usually last for 60 days (it can vary depending on the state and jurisdiction). In some states, you may need witnesses to sign your marriage license to make it "official".
How can you make a self uniting marriage ceremony special?
The absolute best thing about self uniting marriages is that it gives all of the power to the couple to create a ceremony that reflects who they are perfectly. These weddings are some ofthe most authentic we've experienced. We've witnessed many of them, and again and again we see couples filled with joy that comes out in natural expression of their love for one another. Whether you are self uniting in front of a bunch of family & friends or keeping it extremely intimate, the result is always something beautiful.
In our opinion, just because you're having a self uniting marriage, doesn't mean your day is any less special!
Let's talk about some ways you can make it awesome and memorable!
Write meaningful vows for each other
Your self solemnizing wedding vows will become the bulk of your ceremony because you don't have anyone officiating. When it comes to writing vows, we suggest keeping things simple and talking from the heart. Vows are simply a way to express the love and passion you have for one another - you don't have to be a poet to write great ones!
Choose a beautiful & special location
Traditional wedding days often come with beautiful backdrops of big wedding venues - who says you can't have somewhere beautiful to yourselves just because you're doing something smaller? One of the great parts of a self uniting marriage ceremony is it can be had almost anywhere.
We've been with couples as they've gotten married in the middle of the woods, in front of a waterfall, on an AirBNB property, in their backyards, and even at those big wedding venues during off season (or during the middle of the week).
Add in special traditions if they are meaningful for you
Religious and cultural traditions can come out during a self uniting ceremony if they hold meaning for you. Most couples we've seen will exchange rings with each other. Some have done hand fasting. In some cases, couple's create their own traditions, too! Feel like you need a marriage ceremony dance off? Go for it!
Give yourself the freedom to enjoy your entire day together
We find that the most memorable things that have happened in our lives happen over a longer period of time, not just a quick 30 minutes. Our wedding day sticks out to us for many reasons, but having a full day to create memories has helped it stick in our minds just a little bit more. With the right planning, your self uniting marriage can turn into an entire day of memories.
Document the day
We're definitely a little biased, but we feel that having photos (and even video) can especially compliment little elopements and small sized weddings because it allows you to share your special marriage with the people in your life. Not to mention, these things also give you something to look back on, and let's you remember the day fondly and vividly years down the road.
Self Uniting Marriage FAQS
Q: What states allow self uniting marriages? A: Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, Maine, Kansas, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Washington DC
Q: Is our marriage legal if we self marry? A: Yes. Self uniting marriages are legal if you are in a state that allows them and issues the appropriate marriage license paperwork.
Q: If people can self unite, why do so many people have big weddings? A: The act of a self uniting marriage can occur by two people individually or in front of hundreds of guests - so it's a way of holding a ceremony that is not traditional, but not necessarily outside of the big wedding event. In our experience as wedding & elopement photographers, though, we have seen an increase in couples choosing to self unite in smaller elopement settings - either just the two of them (and us!) or just the two of them and a couple of their closest family members and friends.
Q: Can we have family & friends at our self uniting marriage ceremony? A: Yes, absolutely. In states where you need witnesses to sign your marriage certificate, it can also be a special way to incorporate parents or someone else special in your life to "seal the deal".
Q: I live in a state that allows self uniting weddings, but want to get married somewhere else that doesn't. Is there any way to self unite? A: One "workaround" that allows you to have the best of both worlds is to file for your license and sign the document to make your marriage legally official in your state. You can then travel anywhere and have a symbolic ceremony. This would work really well if you live in PA but really want to get married in the Adirondacks in Upstate NY, or wanted to fly across the country to somewhere like Arizona, or even out of the country entirely!
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We love getting to connect with couples wanting amazing photos to commemorate their love.
Whether your already in the middle of planning for your big day or just getting started - we're open books and open ears, happy to help you and show you how photography can compliment your day - beautifully!
Hand and Arrow is a wife and husband photography team serving couples in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania and tri-state area.