Marriage is a sacred commitment of two people to love one another in faithful partnership with the expectation that the relationship will mature and be mutually enriching. Friends know that marriage depends on the inner experiences of the couple who marry and not on any external service or words. Thus, the ceremony in which the couple enter into this commitment is performed by the couple alone, in the presence of God, the families, and the worshiping community. Both the solemnity and the joy of the occasion are enhanced by its simplicity.
The Meeting extends its loving care through its oversight of clearness for the couple and, upon approval of the Meeting, through careful attention to a meeting for worship for marriage. In addition, care is given to assure that any applicable legal requirements are addressed.
Securing Meeting approval
The couple intending marriage writes to the Meeting or Meetings under whose care they would be married. Any date the couple is planning for the wedding should be far enough in the future to allow the Meeting time to fulfill its responsibilities.
When the clerk receives the request, the letter is customarily read at meeting for business, often after preliminary consideration by overseers. The Meeting then appoints a committee of clearness. Some Meetings have standing committees for this purpose, chosen from Friends of proven abilities.
The method of securing approval varies with circumstances.
- When only one Meeting is being asked for the oversight, the couple simply forwards the request to the Meeting, which then appoints the clearness committee.
- When the two belong to separate Meetings, they must allow time for both Meetings to consider the request. The Meetings may each name committees for clearness, or they may decide to name a joint committee. If one Meeting is at a distance, a correspondent may be assigned to confer with the clearness committee where the marriage will take place. Whatever the process, approval is granted by both Meetings before the couple proceeds with the wedding. A Meeting may offer assistance to Friends wishing to be married under its care, even though they live too far from their home Meeting to be married there.
- When one of the couple is not a member of the Religious Society of Friends, the clearness committee endeavors through consultation with the couple and the family and friends of the non-member to discover whether obstacles exist.
- If the Meeting agrees to consider a marriage under its care when neither party is a member of a Meeting, the clearness committee takes the necessary steps to become familiar with the couple and their circumstances before recommending approval. It should encourage the couple to take ample time to attend meetings for worship and offer themselves and the members of the Meeting the opportunity to come to know each other. Only so will non-members feel at home in the Meeting, and only so will the Meeting be able to grant clearness in good conscience. In the case of non-members, the Meeting also assures that any additional applicable legal requirements are met. (See also Marriage not under the care of the Meeting, p. 52)
Clearness: the process
The term clearness referred originally to clearness from other marriage commitments. Today, within a broader sense of clearness, the committee explores areas of understanding with the couple, considering what it takes to achieve the permanence and satisfaction of a committed, loving relationship, and the extent to which the couple is prepared for the dedication and constancy such a relationship requires. Knowledge of available resources for the couple and the committee is essential for any Meeting, including Quaker literature on the subject.
The purpose of clearness is well served when members of the committee ask thoughtful questions and listen attentively, leaving space for worship in the exchange. Potential difficulties—and the role of Divine assistance in this process as well as in the future development of the relationship—can be carefully and openly explored. A committee under the weight of the couple’s future success knows that failure to speak truth in kindness is to risk possible suffering. Such truth is best shared from the actual experience of Friends.
The committee can be guided by these suggested queries for the couple:
- How did the couple meet? What values and beliefs do they hold in common? On what matters do they differ? Can they meet differences with humor and respect? Are they open to considering outside help if such guidance seems warranted?
- Do they both see marriage as sacred? Are they open to seeking divine assistance? What are their plans for nurturing the spiritual basis for their marriage?
- Do they each see themselves and their partner as equal and trusted, sharing responsibilities and decisions? Do they communicate feelings, needs, dreams and fears?
- Are they aware of the need for other friendships that contribute to both individual growth and the marriage relationship?
- Have they thought about children, and the joys and the challenges families create, including consideration of how the work is shared?
- If there are children in either relationship to consider, has the couple broached the subject of this change of relationship with them?
- How do they view their relationships to their extended families? to their community? to society as a whole?
- Are there prior obligations—legal or financial or other—that need to be met?
- What are the views of the parents concerning this relationship? (Parents may send a letter.)
- What other questions does the couple have?
The clearness committee does its best to confirm that the intended partners follow a true leading in seeking marriage. Since occasionally obstructions do appear, it is considered wise to treat all applications with the same degree of care. The focus for the committee is the two people being married and attention to their responsibilities to each other and to their families. Particularly with young people, the Meeting seeks from the parents of the couples their expressions of unity with this intention, usually in the form of a letter. When either of the couple brings children to this union, their well-being must be considered; but whether the children should be consulted regarding their feelings about their parent’s marriage is a question to which there is no generally accepted answer. If the clearness committee and the couple feel that it would be helpful, it is appropriate to include the children in the clearness process.
While most Friends’ marriage ceremonies conform to civil law, couples who do not want, or are not eligible to contract, a legal marriage occasionally ask for a ceremony of commitment or a wedding under the care of the Meeting. The Religious Society of Friends has long asserted its freedom to conduct under divine leading marriage ceremonies not conforming to civil law.
If the clearness committee is satisfied that there is no obstacle to the proposed marriage, it so reports to the monthly meeting at its next business session. If the Meeting finds no objection with the proposed marriage, it will approve holding an appointed meeting for worship for marriage, in accordance with the couple’s wishes. Wedding invitations should be sent out only after the Meeting’s approval is granted.
Overseeing the preparation
When the Meeting has given its approval for the wedding to take place under its care, it appoints an oversight committee from among its members, usually two men and two women, to oversee the arrangements. The parties to be married should be asked whether there is anyone they would like particularly to serve on this committee. Members of another Meeting may be included if so desired.
The oversight committee provides guidance to the couple as the marriage ceremony is arranged, including the obtaining of the applicable legal license and the Quaker marriage certificate. Oversight continues through the ceremony and afterwards, to assure that details are completed in right order. The oversight committee ordinarily assumes responsibility for the certificate and for the license until it is signed by the couple after the wedding. It keeps track of the process of obtaining and safeguarding the two documents through the completion of the signing, and the transferal to the appropriate parties. It also oversees the presentation of the certificate at the wedding.
Because in some places the proper license form may not be immediately available, it is important to allow enough time for obtaining the license. The Quaker marriage certificate also requires preparation well ahead of time. The couple arranges for the certificate and may need assistance in the details necessary to accomplish this. In addition, any contemplated changes from the traditional text deserve thoughtful and careful consideration, in consultation with the oversight committee.
Conducting a Quaker wedding
A Quaker wedding is a meeting for worship in which a marriage takes place. As the meeting for worship begins, some designated person may rise to explain, for the benefit of those new to Quaker worship, the absence of clergy, the role of the gathered, and the solemnity of the occasion. Printed information also has been found useful.
Following a period of silence, as long or as short as the couple is led to observe, the two rise and, each in turn taking the other by the hand, make their promises to each other, in the words from their marriage certificate, in tones clear enough to be heard throughout the meeting. When they are seated again, the marriage certificate is brought to them for their signatures. The certificate is then read to the meeting by a person asked in advance to do so. The meeting then continues and offers an opportunity to those present to share in the ceremony through prayer, meditation, and other spoken messages. The person chosen to close the meeting may, if desired, first allow the wedding party to withdraw. At the close of the meeting, all those who have been present are asked to sign the certificate as witnesses.
Friends are urged to consider carefully the intrusion into the spirit of worship that recording of any kind can present. Photographing, visible audio taping, and videotaping during the ceremony are often discouraged.
Following the wedding
Both sections of the marriage license obtained from the county or municipality are signed by the couple and by members of the oversight committee as witnesses. The proper section of the license thus signed is then returned within the legal time limit to the office from which it has been obtained.
The marriage certificate is handed to the Meeting’s recorder to be entered in the records of the monthly meeting. When this has been done, the recorder sends the certificate to the newly married couple.
At the next business meeting the oversight committee reports to the monthly meeting that the wedding has taken place in accordance with Friends’ practice, and that the requirements of the law have been properly observed.
Ongoing care and nurture of Friends married under a Meeting’s care continues as long as the couple is in the community of the Meeting. If the couple relocates, the Meeting may maintain an informal relationship with them and stay open to requests for support or help, but the actual nurture is best carried out by the Meeting to which the couple transfers.
Marriage not under the care of the Meeting
Marriage of members apart from the Meeting community
Members who marry outside the Meeting should promptly inform the Meeting of their marriage. It is then the task of the Meeting to assign overseers to visit the newly married couple—or, if they live far away, to write to them—and to express the Meeting’s continuing interest and care. Non-member marriage partners should be made welcome and invited to attend meetings for worship and business if they live within reach of the monthly meeting.
Meetings may offer a place of worship and other assistance at the request of Friends from a distance who wish to be married there but under the care of their home meeting. Communication between Meetings assures the proper clearness process and help in the oversight of the wedding.
Marriage of non-members
There are occasions when non-members request marriage with the help of a Meeting, using the Friends marriage ceremony. Since Friends do hold marriage to be under divine guidance, the couple should be fully aware and agreeable to the context of marriage for Friends. Meetings are encouraged to consider in advance what services they can offer, and to look into the legal aspects of marriage of non-members, so that when such requests are made, they can be considered realistically and in a timely fashion.
Review of responsibilities required for the good order of a Quaker marriage ceremony
A review of the duties and responsibilities of those concerned: To promote clarity and understanding, the duties and responsibilities of the persons to be married, of the clerk, and of the committees of the monthly meeting are separately outlined here. These should be reviewed in conjunction with the previous text.
Responsibilities of the persons to be married:
- To present to the monthly meeting under whose care they wish to be married the following written communications, usually directed to the clerk’s attention:
- a letter signed by both parties stating their intention of marriage and their desire that the monthly meeting have oversight of the wedding. Whenever possible or appropriate it should be accompanied by letters from parents or guardians assuring the Meeting of their interest in, and approval of, the plans under consideration.
- upon approval for marriage, the request for permission to be married in a regular or, the usual practice, a specially appointed meeting for worship. The request should include the date of marriage and the time of day desired.
- suggested names of Friends whom the couple would like to have serve as an oversight committee for the wedding.
- To meet with a clearness committee to explore the leading to marry.
- To mail out invitations only after approval has been granted by the monthly meeting or Meetings involved.
- To meet with the oversight committee named to oversee the wedding, at a time and place suggested by the committee, to discuss plans for the wedding, including the choice of persons to read the marriage certificate and to open and close the meeting for worship.
- To have the certificate prepared in ample time and using words that reflect the contemplated proceedings.
- To arrange for the appropriate license for use where there is no clergy.
- To inform themselves, with help from the committee overseeing the wedding, of all the applicable legal requirements of the state in which the marriage is to take place and of the forms to be used.
- To be sure that the license is given to the committee overseeing the wedding before the wedding and that the marriage certificate is ready.
- To commit to memory the promises to be made vocally, which should be to the following effect:
- In the presence of God and these our friends I __[Name]___ take thee _[Name]___to be my husband/wife/partner, promising with divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful husband/wife/partner so long as we both shall live.
- To sign the marriage certificate after the promises have been made.
- To sign both sections of the marriage license after the wedding and before their departure, one section being kept by them and the other returned by a member of the committee overseeing the wedding to the office from which the license was obtained.
Responsibilities of the clerk of the Meeting:
- To present the letter of intention to marry—and other letters received supporting the request—to the appropriate Meeting body at the earliest opportunity.
- To see that the request is considered and, if accepted, that a committee for clearness is appointed.
- To arrange for presentation of the committee’s report on clearness to a subsequent session of the monthly meeting.
- When the report has been accepted and the marriage allowed by the monthly meeting: a. to request the Meeting to name an oversight committee for the wedding and to appoint a meeting for worship to be held at the time and place requested for the wedding, if at all possible; and b. to inform the parties that they are free to proceed with their plans.
- To present the report of the oversight committee at the session of monthly meeting following the marriage.
Responsibilities of the committee seeking clearness:
- To make inquiry and conscientiously satisfy itself that there is nothing to interfere with the accomplishment of the marriage; and in interviews with the couple to explore their leading to marry.
- To report its findings and recommendations to the next session of the monthly meeting, including any specific plans the couple has as to date and time of day.
- To make available books and pamphlets on marriage; to have on hand information concerning resources within the yearly meeting, such as the Library and the Committee on Family Relations, as well as organizations within the community which may be helpful and appropriate.
- To review with the couple the promises they propose to exchange at the marriage and make sure that the words of the certificate are consistent with them.
- To be informed concerning the applicable legal requirements for obtaining a marriage license.
- To make sure that the welfare and rights of any children by a former marriage have been properly considered and legally secured.
Responsibilities of the committee to oversee the marriage:
- To meet with the couple to discuss plans for the wedding, including the choice of a person to read the certificate and one to close the meeting, and to arrange for the rehearsal.
- To see in advance that all applicable legal requirements have been met and that the proper license has been obtained; also to see that both sections of the license are dated and signed by the couple following the wedding and by two members of the committee as witnesses and that the proper section of the license thus signed is returned to the office from which it was obtained within the time required by law.
- To see that the marriage and reception, if any, are accomplished with dignity, reverence, and simplicity.
- To arrange for the care of the certificate following the meeting for worship and to see that it is signed by those who were present as witnesses.
- To deliver the certificate to the recorder for copying or duplication for the records of the monthly meeting and to give the recorder an address to which the certificate may be returned.
- To report to the monthly meeting whether the marriage has been suitably accomplished; whether the applicable legal requirements have been satisfied; whether the certificate has been properly recorded; and to report any name changes that result from the marriage for the recording in the minutes of the monthly meeting, for the quarterly meeting and for the yearly meeting.
The marriage certificate:
This form is the traditional wording of the marriage certificate. The couple reviews the wording of the certificate with the overseers of the marriage, including any desired word changes.
Whereas [name] of [address], son of [names of parents: use mother’s maiden name], and [name] of [address], daughter of [names of parents: use mother’s maiden name], having declared their intentions of marriage with each other to _______________monthly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends held at _________________, their proposed marriage was allowed by that Meeting.
Now this is to certify to whom it may concern, that for the accomplishment of their intention, this ________day of the ___________month, in the year of our Lord __________, they, [name] and [name], appeared in a meeting for worship of the Religious Society of Friends, held at _____________, and [name], taking [name ] by the hand, did, on this solemn occasion, declare that he took her, [name], to be his wife, promising with Divine assistance to be unto her a loving and faithful husband so long as they both shall live; and then, in the same assembly [name] did in like manner declare that she took him, [name], to be her husband, promising with Divine assistance to be unto him a loving and faithful wife so long as they both shall live. And moreover, they, [name and name,] did as further confirmation thereof, then and there, to this certificate set their hands.
And we having been present at the marriage have as witnesses hereunto set our hands.