If you’ve never been to a commitment ceremony, or even if you have, you may be wondering what’s involved, and how you would set about organising one. I thought I’d have a go at providing an overview that may help you to think about whether a commitment ceremony may be right for you.
Just as people grow through cycles and stage, so do our relationships. A commitment ceremony is a beautiful way of marking and celebrating the deepening of a relationship as our love grows and matures. Done well, the act of planning and holding a commitment ceremony can itself be a powerful deepening experience which will take your relationship to a new level of intimacy.
A commitment ceremony can be a celebration of a shared past – honouring the journey which has brought us to this point in our relationship. A commitment ceremony creates an opportunity to stop and appreciate the fullness of the love and joy that we feel in each others company. It is also a declaration of our intentions for the future of our relationship.
Unless or until the law changes in Australia, same-sex couples do not have the right to legally register a marriage. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on a full wedding experience – minus the legal paperwork. On the other hand, holding a commitment ceremony does not preclude the possibility of getting legally married at some future point. In this context it may be more akin to an engagement or betrothal ceremony, and it may be held very privately or shared with a wider community of friends and family.
At the heart of your commitment ceremony or wedding are the pledges or ‘vows’ that the two of you will make to each other. To pledge is ‘to make a solemn binding promise’. It is important that you and your beloved spend some time together getting very clear what it means to you to be making a commitment to the future of your relationship. It is entirely up to you to decide what it is that you wish to promise to each other. Is a lifelong union ‘to the exclusion of all others’ your intention? If not, how do you envision the commitment that you will be making?
When two people commit to joining their lives, they effectively form a new family. If this is something which feels relevant and important, you may wish to consider how you would like to involve or acknowledge your parents, children and/or siblings in your union ceremony. For some couples, this can also offer a beautiful opportunity to affirm and acknowledge the bonds we share with our chosen family – our relatives by choice rather than by blood.
Part of what lends a commitment ceremony its power is that there are others present to witness these lovers’ pledges. In some instances it could be simply the presence of the celebrant which lends solemnity to a very private commitment ceremony. More commonly you will want to invite the important people in your life to witness and celebrate with you. When you imagine your commitment ceremony who do you picture gathered around you?
You can hold your commitment ceremony wherever you choose. Some prefer to be out of doors, in a private garden or a public park. Some are happier in an indoor venue, whether it be your own home or a commercial venue. It is worth thinking through your contingency plans for bad weather – rain is possible at any time of year in Perth, and the middle of the day can be very hot in summer.
Ceremony works by creating a special time and space set apart from the ordinary doings of daily life. Within the ceremony, everything that happens takes on an additional symbolic layer of meaning. For example a ceremonial pouring of water over the hands of the marrying couple may symbolises the washing away of anything in your individual or shared pasts, which might stand in the way of the deeper union which you desire.
The opening part of your commitment ceremony is designed to build the atmosphere and prepare you and your guests for that moment when you will gaze into your beloved’s eyes and speak the words of love and commitment from your own heart into the heart of your beloved. It may include an acknowledgement of the past – the journey that brought the two of you to this place. There may be an opportunity to symbolically release and wash away anything you do not wish to carry forward with you into the future of your relationship.
The central part of your ceremony is about enacting the transformation – from two individuals to a united couple. It is all about affirming and sealing the bond of love between you – through your choice of words and symbolic actions. These could include the exchange of wedding rings, handfasting – in which the couple’s hands are symbolically tied together with cords or ribbons, the lighting of a unity candle or the unity sand pouring ceremony. There is a treasure trove of wedding traditions from around the world which we can dip into to create your ceremony, and I’ll be very happy to explore the many options with you when we meet.
The closing segment of your commitment ceremony is about affirming what has been done and orienting toward the future. At this stage the celebrant may announce your union and/or present you to your community with your newly acquired status of life-bonded partners (or whatever your choice of wording is). Couples often choose to includes a final blessing or inspirational reading and/or piece of music to bring the ceremony to a close.
Many cultures share the tradition of a wedding feast. There are many ways to create your post-ceremony celebration, and the conventional reception centre catered dinner is only one option. Some couples choose to share a champagne toast, and possibly light refreshments, in situ immediately following the ceremony. Others invite their family and friends to bring a dish for a picnic or pot-luck dinner. Thinking creatively about what you most want to get out of the experience will help you find the option which is going to work best for you.
In closing, it is worth noting that the word wedding originates from an Old English word ‘weddian’ meaning ‘to pledge, to covenant to do something, to marry’. A pledge is a solemn (ie. deeply earnest) binding promise to do something, give something or refrain from doing something. Therefore it seems to me entirely appropriate for same-sex couples who wish to celebrate their union through a ceremony centred on an exchange of pledges should be entitled to use the word wedding if they choose.
Many blessings on you and your love,