Kyle and I got married before our wedding.
If you have to read that a few times to even begin to understand what I'm saying, you're not alone. We confused a lot of people. Technically, we now have two anniversaries to forget each year for the rest of our lives.
If there was one wedding-planning decision that we made that I would make again and again and again the same exact way, it would be this one. We were legally married a month before our wedding day.
Let me preface this with the fact that we are in somewhat of a unique situation and this kind of decision does not work for everyone! There were a few details of our relationship situation, personal beliefs and practical needs that led us down this path:
Kyle and I have been together since the fall of 2008 and have lived together since the spring of 2013. In the winter of 2016 we bought a home together and opened joint bank accounts. Our lives are already completely intertwined and marriage wouldn't change any of those details for us.
Neither one of us would identify ourselves as religious. We had no desire to be married in a church or by a member of the clergy.
We wanted our friend to officiate the ceremony.
We view marriage very similarly: First is the legal aspect for taxes, insurance, etc. that we view as... contractual... for lack of a better term. Second is the extremely personal relationship aspect which we believe is solely between the two of us and absolutely no one else. We view those as two separate parts of a marriage that don't have anything at all to do with one another. Which to us meant that being legally married and having a wedding ceremony were two different things that need not overlap.
Pennsylvania marriage law is (in our opinion) dated and restrictive especially when it comes to who is authorized to solemnize marriages.
§ 1503. Persons qualified to solemnize marriages.
1. A justice, judge or district justice of this Commonwealth.
2. A former or retired justice, judge or district justice of this Commonwealth who is serving as a senior judge or senior district justice as provided or prescribed by law.
3. An active or senior judge or full-time magistrate of the District Courts of the United States for the Eastern, Middle or Western District of Pennsylvania.
4. An active or senior judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit who is a resident of this Commonwealth.
5. A mayor of any city or borough of this Commonwealth.
6. A minister, priest or rabbi of any regularly established church or congregation.
We didn't want any of those people to solemnize our marriage! When you're married by a judge, justice, magistrate, etc. they still perform a ceremony and we didn't want to have two ceremonies.
We considered online ordination for our friend, Jared, who officiated our ceremony but see that last part? Regularly established church or congregation? Pennsylvania does not recognize online ordination as regularly established. It's typically not an issue unless the marriage is ever contested (divorce, deaths, major health insurance cases, etc.) and if the marriage is ever contested - it's not legal. WOAH.
I did a lot of searching and somehow, somewhere, stumbled across self-uniting marriage. Self Uniting marriage is rooted in the Quaker belief that no one can unite a couple in marriage except God - a member of the clergy is actually seen as an interference. The practice comes from one of the oldest statutes in Pennsylvania. We are not Quaker though I can see parallels with my personal beliefs in some of their core values - particularly that the details and promises of a marriage are solely between the two partners. It's nobody else's business!
No, you don't need to be Quaker to go this route. In fact, the ACLU of Pennsylvania determined in a 2007 court case that putting a religious test on marriage licenses is a first amendment violation. The actual license itself is identical to a regular marriage license with one exception - there is no line for an officiant's signature and instead there are two lines for witnesses.
Self uniting marriage licenses are the same price or close to the same price as regular licenses, valid in all 50 states and D.C., they're available to everyone and their popularity is on the rise!
You can use this license in a number of ways:
You could include it in your wedding ceremony and sign it on your wedding day as you would any other license (but this way you can have anyone you want or no one at all officiate your ceremony).
Or... you can do what we did! We got our license, waited the three day mandatory waiting period, said some nice things to each other, had our moms sign as witnesses and sent that baby back in the mail asap. Our official date of marriage is 07/17/17. This was the most amazing decision we made. We didn't have to deal with paperwork getting lost in the hectic-ness of our wedding day. We didn't have to set time aside for signing. We were able to have whoever we wanted lead our ceremony so that it had a more traditional feel for the guests but also felt right to us.
I do not intend for this blog post to be a how-to on self uniting marriage but just to share what we discovered and encourage couples to go forth and do their own research! You'll need to find out exactly how using a self uniting license could work best for you!