Opting for non-legal marriage

Oh, by the way, this is a non-legal marriage

One of the biggest surprises around a ceremony I officiated for happened a few years ago.  It involved people going through the motions of commitment, but in the end, it was a non-legal marriage. Here’s what happened:

legal marriage

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I arrived early to check in with the couple. When I ask for the marriage license, the groom informs me the marriage, for now,  would be “non-legal”.

He first contacted me six weeks earlier. Yet he waited to tell me at the last minute, “Oh by the way, we’re not getting legally married today. We’ll get really married later. Can you fake signing a license?”

Really. You tell me this now? I’d been in similar situations and I knew how to protect myself from the legal ramifications of this little detail being left out.

Little details 

“I can’t use any legal language,” I told him. “And no, I don’t carry around a spare license. You’ll have to figure that out your own way.”

End of story. It was time to go through the motions of this non-legal marriage ceremony. Should I have refused?

Maybe. I was upset. Not because the ceremony wasn’t going to end with signing a marriage license. But because he hadn’t been honest with me.

Rite of Passage

Ceremonies are a rite of passage. Two people commit to leaving behind their solitary lives so they can make a new life with the person they love. The hope is they’ll have the stick-to-itiveness to make this non legal marriagecommitment hold for the rest of their lives.

The marriage license is a duly witnessed document that states the couple’s commitment to be in this world together will be handled legally. If they change their minds, the legal system is going to manage it.

Which is why some people live together and never get married.

Or they learn and grow together, unmarried for years and years and they have no interest in making their commitment legal.

Marriage’s up and up

We humans tend to keep doing the same thing until there’s a benefit to changing. Last year, a couple who lived together in a non-legal committed relationship got married on my backyard deck. After 19 years of living together, they wanted the legal benefits marriage provides. Such as

  • Obtaining insurance benefits through a spouse’s employer.
  • Taking family leave to care for your spouse during an illness.
  • Receiving wages, workers’ compensation, and retirement plan benefits for a deceased spouse.
  • Taking bereavement leave if your spouse or one of your spouse’s close relatives dies.

People have their reasons for getting married. When they do, my job is to bring their commitment to light, sign the paperwork, and celebrate their love.

Benefits of  trust

As far as MY preferences, I’d like to know in advance what’s going on. I like to be trusted to do the right thing.  Which is not using legal language such as “Under the authority of the law of the land” or “I pronounce you husband and husband.” These are the statements I have to leave out.

The Tangled Web

There’s a saying, “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Sooner or later someone is going to figure out what’s happened, or come across the truth, perhaps at an even more inopportune time.

When a lie is discovered, then the liars have to justify their secrecy. Even then trust building will have to take place.

A few years later he contacted me to tell me their non-legal marriage was finally on the up and up. Love is what matters, not the license.

Some honest advice

  • Whichever decision you make about the future of your relationship, here’s some officiant advice:  
  • Be honest. Sooner than later.
  • Learn the power of making a decision and standing by it.


“Unless someone from the future shows up and stops you from doing it, then it’s not a bad decision,” -Jaycee’s mom

I can help you have a great ceremony whether I use legal language or not.


Contact me for more information. Happy union!

Rev Crystal

Morgan and Dan said, “Crystal did a fantastic job with our Ceremony! She was great to work with and customized our Ceremony perfectly!! Highly recommend!”


Photo:  Photo by Medienstürmer on Unsplash

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