Rituals and ceremonies are important events in our lives. Among them, the moment we officially proclaim to the world our love to each other as a couple can take the form of either a wedding or a commitment ceremony. The two rituals have many similarities, but also one big difference: the marriage certificate, that legally binding document signed during a wedding ceremony, is non-existent in a commitment celebration.
Thefreedictionary.com defines a wedding as "the act of marrying", while the Macmillan Dictionary defines the commitment ceremony as "a ceremony similar to a wedding for two people who are of the same sex, or for two people who choose not to marry each other." In simple terms, the wedding and the commitment ceremony are public affirmations of a couple’s love and commitment to one another in front of a minister, judge or council worker. More common among the gay, lesbian and transgender community who cannot marry legally, the commitment ceremony is becoming increasingly popular with heterosexual couples who choose to commit to loved ones without signing a marriage certificate.
Types of Ceremonies
Both wedding and commitment ceremonies may mean different things to different people. They can be religious or secular events, formal and traditional, or looser and less structured rituals to bless the relationship. Some people plan their big day according to specific customs and rules and go for the the whole package - the church, the wedding gown, and hundreds of guests. Others prefer to celebrate their love by throwing a big party in the back garden, or exchanging vows in the intimacy of a secluded beach. The common thread is the act of exchanging vows and enjoyment of the couple's feelings among close friends and families.
Unlike the wedding, the commitment ceremony gives two people the freedom to choose to honor the traditional customs of a classic marriage without having to sign a marriage license. Some couples choose to follow the wedding ceremony ritual, others prefer to invent their own rituals. There are no legal rules and limitations that apply to the commitment celebration and even the couple's close friend can officiate the commitment ceremony.
The Vows and Exchange of Rings
In both ceremonies, after the the officiant - priest, judge or friend - welcomes the guests to a celebration of love and commitment, the couple exchanges vows and promises to be a committed or married couple. They may choose the traditional vows of love in sickness and in health, in richness and poverty, till death do they part, or they may write their own vows. The exchange of vows is the central element of both ceremonies. They also guide couples in choosing the theme of the celebration.
After the couple exchanges rings, the officiant announces the union of the two persons and invites the couple to kiss.
In case of a wedding, at the end of procession, the couple signs and receives an official marriage certificate.
Readings and Music
A religious commitment ceremony or wedding usually incorporates hymns and scripture readings focusing on love. A secular ceremony will usually also include music and readings about love, such as poems, passages of literature, personal writing, or pop songs, depending on the couple's personal preference.
After the ceremony, a reception follows. This can be formal and traditional or casual. A commitment ceremony may also include traditional wedding elements such as the first dance, cake cutting, and bouquet toss, or may just be an unstructured party.