A DIY Ceremony

In our desire to DIY anything and everything we can, we’re also DIY’ing the ceremony. We’re marrying ourselves.

Wait, what?

I don’t mean that I am marrying me and Mr. Wizard is marrying Mr. Wizard (how weird would that be?)—I mean that we are saying vows and pronouncing ourselves married without an officiant to do so. This is something called a self-uniting wedding, and is only available in Pennsylvania, as it originates from the Pennsylvania Quaker tradition. It is just as legal as a “regular” wedding with an officiant, except that it requires a different marriage license. With a traditional license, the bride, groom, and two witnesses sign, and then to make it legal an ordained officiant signs. With a self-uniting license, all that is needed is the signatures of the bride, groom, and two witnesses—no officiant necessary!

In Pennsylvania there are three options for who you can have legally marry you: a judge/justice of the peace, a city or borough mayor, or a minister/priest/leader of any established religious congregation. As atheists, we knew we didn’t want a religious figure to marry us, so that was out. Having the mayor marry us just seemed…weird. And we didn’t really like the idea of a stranger coming and telling us we’re married just because they said so. One of our goals for the wedding, besides all the stylistic/visual stuff, is for everything, especially the ceremony, to be as personal as possible, and none of those three options fit that bill.

Then I found out about self-uniting, found out that you don’t have to be a Quaker to have this kind of wedding (thanks to a local ACLU case), and immediately showed it to Mr. Wizard. He loved the idea, too, and so it was decided: we would have a self-uniting wedding. We love that we get to “marry ourselves,” and we won’t have any strangers present at our ceremony or telling us we’re married.

The other great thing about this is that we have a completely blank ceremony slate. There is no standard self-uniting ceremony, so we can literally do anything we want to. The only legal requirement for this is that you say the words “I take you as my husband/wife” to each other—our ceremony could literally be us saying that sentence to each other and nothing else if we wanted to. Obviously we will flesh it out a little bit more than that, but having such simple legal requirements makes it easy for us to completely customize our ceremony to fit us best.

Pennsylvania brides, are you doing a self-uniting ceremony? Has anyone ever been to one?


Mrs. Wizard

Wedding Date:
June 2012
Gonna' Be All Jersey Shore

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  1. snowcone Member
    snowcone 1141 posts, Bumble bee @ 7:59 am

    I give you major props for doing this. I think the few blanks of our ceremony we had to fill in were confusing enough, let along drafting an entire meaningful ceremony without the guidance of an officiant. I am so interested to see how this all turns out for you two!!

  2. Member
    morkiemama 2002 posts, Buzzing bee @ 8:12 am

    I’m not in PA (I’m in NJ) but that. sounds. awesome. Love it!!

  3. Member
    mandyanne 51 posts, Worker bee @ 8:19 am

    You can also do this in Colorado. It’s the only other state besides Pennsylvania. From what I understand, it comes from Colorado’s history during the Wild West era, where there were not always enough religious officials available in small communities to marry people.

  4. mswizard Member
    mswizard 554 posts, Busy bee @ 8:20 am

    @Mrs. Snow Cone: We have been sllooooooooowwlyyyy cobbling together a basic outline, but omg. It is great that we have all the options in the world, but it’s also daunting that we literally have *all the options in the world*, haha. Reading other peoples’ ceremony scripts, from any kind of wedding, has been incredibly helpful so far!

  5. Member
    mandyanne 51 posts, Worker bee @ 8:20 am

    Also in Colorado, it’s not a different license and anyone can marry you with no other qualifications necessary. :)

  6. mswizard Member
    mswizard 554 posts, Busy bee @ 8:20 am

    @mandyanne: Oh I didn’t know that! Cool. Learn something new every day!

  7. unicycle Member
    unicycle 476 posts, Helper bee @ 8:25 am

    that sounds really awesome and I can’t wait to see your ceremony recaps! I’ll have to live vicariously through you since we’re doing a traditional Catholic ceremony!

  8. castle Member
    castle 1191 posts, Bumble bee @ 8:25 am

    I love this! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

  9. Guest Icon Guest
    Cara, Guest @ 8:27 am

    So jealous that you have that option, thats awesome! We (oh who am I kidding, it will just be me, haha) plan on writing out the entire ceremony ourselves so its personal and non-religious and says everything we want it to say (plus I was a writing major in college so I figure if I cant come up with something better than standard b.s. then who can!), but legally we need an officiant, so we will be hiring somebody to literally just say what we tell them to say, word for word.

  10. Guest Icon Guest
    Philly bride, Guest @ 8:40 am

    Very cool!

    By the way, the witness requirement might be only for self-uniting, or be a local-specific thing (not sure). Our marriage certificate in Montgomery County PA was only signed by the rabbi – even our signatures don’t appear.

  11. Member
    Crindy 319 posts, Helper bee @ 8:40 am

    I would have loved to do that!

    Unfortunately (fortunately?) my brother is ordained in the Church of Universal Life, so we decided to give him probably his only shot ever at officiating a marriage.

  12. Member
    caw 19 posts, Newbee @ 8:45 am

    That is as awesome! So excited for you!! Wish we had that option here in Seattle!!!!!

  13. Member
    newfiebullet 2233 posts, Buzzing bee @ 8:51 am

    That is so awesome!

  14. msdragon Member
    Mrs. Dragon 814 posts, Busy bee @ 9:19 am

    I was going to point out the Colorado thing, too — I’ve loved this idea ever since I first heard of it! It might be a bit of a daunting task but it will be soooo personalized and lovely. I bet it’s worth every bit of hard work!

  15. mspony Member
    mspony 9265 posts, Buzzing Beekeeper @ 9:21 am

    This sounds so unique and awesome! I’m very interested to see how you structure your ceremony. Good luck, we wrote our whole ceremony, I know it can be daunting :)

  16. Member
    BreeninBoston 160 posts, Blushing bee @ 9:27 am

    Love that. In Mass, you can’t self-unite but you can have anyone marry you with a special one-day license so that is what we are doing. I love the idea of hand crafting your ceremony, we are doing that too and it fun but amazing how many options there are.

  17. coyote Member
    coyote 1963 posts, Buzzing bee @ 10:07 am

    Wow, I have never heard of a self-uniting ceremony before! I so look forward to seeing yours, I’m sure it’s going to be beautiful!

  18. Member
    farmergirl 133 posts, Blushing bee @ 10:08 am

    Interesting! My FI is Quaker, and his parents were technically self-uniting, I suppose, in that they were married “in the care of the meeting.” They were married in VT though I wonder what the differences are… in a traditional Quaker wedding, there’s not really anything different from a normal meeting (when Quakers gather to sit in silence together) except that the couple stands up at some point and affirms their vows. I wonder how that works legally in a state that doesn’t do self-uniting… I will have to ask them! I’m excited to see how you write your ceremony, for me personally I think I would be way too overwhelmed with all of the options!

  19. Member
    paw 871 posts, Busy bee @ 10:12 am

    What a neat idea! I am looking forward to seeing what you decide to include/not include into your ceremony!

  20. Member
    stephk527 987 posts, Busy bee @ 10:30 am

    As a fellow Pittsburgher (or Pennsylvanian), we also were excited about this! Another awesome facet to the good old Quaker-based law is that the officiant doesn’t have to be ‘officially’ ordained – as in, the websites that ‘ordain’ you are good enough. Therefore, my cousin went through the process and is marrying us. :) As my FI said, “Everything in our wedding is going to be so meaningful!” We’re also drafting the ceremony from scratch and making it fit us. . .fingers crossed that we both come out relatively unscathed and Bridezilla-y. 😉

  21. Member
    stephk527 987 posts, Busy bee @ 10:31 am

    Oops, meant to say “un-Bridezilla-y”**

  22. ostrich Member
    ostrich 2402 posts, Buzzing bee @ 11:04 am

    ahhh, this sounds AMAZING. if i could have kept it together during our ceremony, i would have loved to do this! :)

  23. Member
    nycsa 2306 posts, Buzzing bee @ 11:26 am

    We are going to get a self-uniting license (PA) but will probably have someone”act” as a an officiant. I would love to know read some tips on preparing the ceremony

  24. Member
    nycsa 2306 posts, Buzzing bee @ 11:28 am

    We are going to get a self unitiing license as well (PA) but will try and have an officiant. I would love to see some tips on preparing the ceremony.

  25. msfox Member
    msfox 1635 posts, Bumble bee @ 12:39 pm

    I’ve heard about this!! I’m so psyched you’re doing it.. can’t wait to hear how it goes!

  26. Member
    Roe 2800 posts, Sugar bee @ 1:58 pm

    Make sure you research this! I know a lot of couples who ran into legal roadblocks when they tried to self unite in PA as they weren’t Quaker…

  27. Member
    MrsKeAloha 1044 posts, Bumble bee @ 2:11 pm

    I think that is wonderful you found something that will work for you and your fiance. Weddings should be about the two of you Uniting and choosing to spend your lives together and not about all the other stuff.
    For us it was and is very important that someone officiate our ceremony, someone we knew and trusted. I mean, who will tell me to breath so I don’t pass out. Ya, I will need that extra person to remind me what my name is.. :-)

  28. opossum Member
    opossum 84 posts, Worker bee @ 5:27 pm

    This is so cool… I can’t wait to see how it works out!

  29. Member
    misssemi 136 posts, Blushing bee @ 8:00 pm

    I grew up Quaker and my parents had a Quaker/self-uniting wedding.

  30. Member
    village_skeptic 1861 posts, Buzzing bee @ 11:31 pm

    We are also self-uniting, although we’re having our best “couple friends” help us facilitate the ceremony. One of the pages of our wedding website explains the whole idea — including links to the PA statute that makes this legal. I didn’t want any BS on the day of “OMG is that legal?!” But…considering that people have mostly blanked the fact that our wedding website exists…c’est la vie.

  31. Member
    Teirk 50 posts, Worker bee @ 5:23 am

    We’re Pittsburghers as well (though getting married in Central PA) and we’re less than three months out and still stuck on the officiant question. We’ve considered the self-uniting option, but we still want someone to guide the ceremony, even though we’ll be writing it ourselves. The plus side is it can be anyone — doesn’t have to be legally binding like a traditional ceremony. The down side is we can’t think of anyone we’d be comfortable having do it! We finally thought of someone who would be perfect but they won’t be in the country on the day. Starting to really stress it!!!

    Keep us updated on how you choose to craft your ceremony, I’m sure it will be perfect!

  32. mswizard Member
    mswizard 554 posts, Busy bee @ 5:40 am

    @Roe: We have definitely done our research, no worries! The county we’re getting married in allows self-uniting licenses, and due to the local ACLU case in which the state tried to prevent a non-Quaker couple from getting that license (which the couple/ACLU won), it’s definitely legal without question for anyone of any walk of faith.

    @village_skeptic: Hahaha I could have written that entire comment myself. Our family have been badgering us endlessly about whether or not it’s a “real” wedding. We put a page on our wedding website about it, but no one seems to acknowledge our website’s existence, even though we put it in big letters right on our STDs… /:

  33. Guest Icon Guest
    Christina, Guest @ 11:53 am

    I’m from PA also. We had a Catholic ceremony, but friends of ours had a self-uniting wedding. It was very them – they had written what they wanted to say to eachother and had the MOH hand them the papers at the appropriate time. The MOH also served as master of ceremonies, so to speak, and led them through everything. From what I understand you can pretty much do everything however you’d like, as long as certain things are said, and the correct signatures (bride/groom/witnesses) are there.

    For our wedding, only the priest signed the certificate. I think DH and I signed when we applied for the license, but on the day of, only the priest’s signature was required. No witnesses. In fact, the MOH/BM names weren’t even recorded anywhere on the legal docs, their names only appear on the church certificate!

  34. Member
    Roe 2800 posts, Sugar bee @ 2:00 pm

    @Miss Wizard:
    Phew! I knew a couple that tried it in Allegheny in like…07? and was turned away. Glad to hear that the state is getting on board and you know, ending the discrimination thing….

    We’re having a friend of the family officiate who is a judge, so phew!

  35. mswizard Member
    mswizard 554 posts, Busy bee @ 7:41 pm

    @Christina: I think maybe I’m thinking of the church certificate then, that the BM/MOH signs as well as the priest and the couple. I know I’ve seen my parents’ and grandparents’ and aunts’ and uncles’ and I always just assumed they were the licenses, but now thinking about it, they definitely weren’t and they were probably their church certificates. Should have thought about that more before I put it in a post! Now I know :)

  36. Member
    nycsa 2306 posts, Buzzing bee @ 10:53 am

    I am going to have to find out if I am in a PA county that won’t hassle us. I will keep you guys posted

  37. Member
    nycsa 2306 posts, Buzzing bee @ 10:55 am

    Ok, I just checked the laws for Berks County, PA:

    Self-Uniting Marriage License:
    Yes. If you want this type of license, you need to inform the clerk before you begin the application process.

    Berks County includes both my planned and back up wedding sites.

  38. Member
    Crafty 36 posts, Newbee @ 5:57 pm

    Wisconsin lists this as an option, but I don’t know how it would work for the license (as you usually have to list the officiant). I didn’t look into it further as we’re being married by a minister, but it *is* a pretty great (and interesting!) option.

  39. Guest Icon Guest
    Dan, Guest @ 10:32 pm

    Our daughter is self uniting this week, and I am honored to be the officiant. It is very cool to be so involved…can’t wait

  40. Guest Icon Guest
    Chelsey, Guest @ 8:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this post!!! I live in Pittsburgh and have had 3 different friends who legally got married on a different day than their wedding day because they didn’t have an minister, etc. marry them. I guess they didn’t know about this option. My boyfriend and I have always planned on a mutual friend marrying us, but after our friends experiences, we thought it wouldn’t be possible and we have been really sad about it! It is so AMAZING to hear that this IS still an option!! And how lucky for us that we live in PA?!? Thanks again so much!

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