What Is a Commitment Ceremony?

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Commitment ceremonies are gaining popularity for couples who may not be able to, or choose not to, pursue a traditional legal marriage for various reasons. Like a wedding, a commitment ceremony is a platform for a couple to publicly profess their love and commitment to each other for the long term. A key factor in these ceremonies may just be what they lack: the use of the words, “marriage," "husband" or "wife.”

Who Is a Commitment Ceremony For?

A commitment ceremony is for a couple who want to be married but cannot, either for legal or financial reasons. Older, heterosexual couples can run into difficulties with pensions, insurance, taxes and bequests, while same-sex couples may live in states where it is illegal to marry. Other couples may simply choose not to have a legal wedding ceremony. In each situation, the couples desire to pledge their enduring love and faithfulness and receive the blessing of their families, friends and even their church.

Where Is the Ceremony Held?

Commitment ceremonies can be as simple or as extravagant as any wedding. Officiants will meet with a couple to plan a ceremony wherever they desire to hold their event, from a small county courthouse to a luxurious outdoor garden. Other possible venues include hotel ballrooms, community halls or private homes.

Is it Legal? Who Presides?

The commitment ceremony is meant to be an important, personally significant commemoration, but it is not legally binding. The resulting certificate marks the special occasion, but it cannot be used for identification. As such, the couple can use anyone they like to officiate at the ceremony. Experienced chaplains and celebrants can make a ceremony run smoothly. It is interesting to note that the National Institutes of Health website cites a study by K.E. Hull, showing that same-sex couples who participate in a commitment ceremony feel bound to each other, as in a marriage-like union.

What Happens in a Commitment Ceremony?

A commitment ceremony can be as particular as the couple making the commitment. Each participant makes promises, professing his or her love, and may exchange rings. The couple may choose to pray together, read scripture or poetry, or ask for congregation participation. Ultimately, the pair affirms each other and the promise to share life together.