Last time I wrote about how I want to think about commitment ceremonies (i.e.
not to be considered simply as the alienating alternative permitted to the LGBTI community).
I have done commitment ceremonies lately for straight couples – one was married already in a smaller ceremony with restrictions of location and time and wanted the
major celebration to be a commitment ceremony, and another wanted a commitment ceremony followed by the legal marriage.
This is how the latter unfolded:
The bride and groom had lived together for decades, had children, a home – he repeatedly asked her to marry him, but for whatever reasons, it was never the right time. What she really wanted to do was to surprise him at his 40th birthday party with a wedding ceremony. Even though only one of the parties to marriage needs to sign off on the Notice of Intent a month before the marriage (and the other can sign right up to the wedding), this really is not acceptable by law. The issue is duress – there has to be no doubt that a person is entering marriage of his or her own free will – not dragged kicking and screaming as it were. So it’s not a good look if the date on the Notice is the day of the wedding. The bride knew this and suggested we do a commitment ceremony, and this was to be the bigger celebration of their union, when all their family and best friends were gathered for the birthday party. So much thought went into this ceremony! We knew we had to omit any part that suggested that this was the marriage: in fact it had to be stated that it wasn’t; that the actual legal declarations would be made a month hence; the definition of marriage with reference to ‘a man and a woman’ had to be left out (they were happy about that) and no legal documents were signed.
So the ceremony came form the heart and included beautiful sentiments and readings.
At first the groom thought he was just meeting his mother for high tea at the Palais Royale in Katoomba. When he arrived -“ Surprise!” – the whole family and best friends were there for a full-on birthday party, then the bride dropped to her knee, proffered a wedding ring and popped the question. All the guests knew this was going to happen but he had no idea. Of course he said yes! And she whisked him away from the party to get into wedding clothes – a vintage theme was requested and bridal party and guests complied. (Not to mention the celebrant). So fitting for the venue!
I met the groom before the wedding and to be sure asked him if he was willing and happy to proceed. Having been knocked back again the week before, he certainly was.
The ceremony followed the format of marriage but not the marriage act: to no intent nor purpose was it the actual marriage. Yet it had such impact as the expression of the desire of this couple to publicly formalize their union.
In place of the marriage certificates we signed a commitment certificate and the Notice of Intended Marriage. It was official!