Ultimate Guide to a Commitment Ceremony 2024

LAST UPDATED December 27, 2023

ULtimate Guide to a Commitment Ceremony 2024

Are you looking for a non-traditional way to get married that fits your lifestyle and / or wedding dreams? If so, a commitment ceremony may be best for you!

In this blog you’ll learn what a commitment ceremony entails, the meaning behind the ceremony, and some potential reasons you may celebrate your love in this way. Then, we will finish up with my favorite part: fun ideas and inspirational thoughts about what can make a commitment ceremony special to you and your partner.

My goal is for you to express your love in a way that feels authentic to you. Whether that is in grandma’s wedding dress with pearl earrings, or in hiking boots with a furry friend as your best man, I am so glad you are here. So let’s jump right into learning about commitment ceremonies!

What is a Commitment Ceremony?

Put in its simplest terms…

A commitment ceremony is a wedding or elopement that is not legally binding.

You may be familiar with religious ceremonies that happen in churches, synagogues, mosques, community centers, venues etc… These are typically overseen by a religious figure who is ordained by a religious institution. Oftentimes, people who have non-religious ceremonies still have someone perform an official ceremony. This can be a government official (think court-house elopement) or a friend of family member, or even an Elvis impersonator, who is ordained by any type of institution.

For a legal ceremony, the couple will then sign a marriage license administered by the state and possibly a religious document administered by their religious institution. Once the couple signs the legal government document and returns it to their government, their ceremony is now legally recognized by the government.

A commitment ceremony, however, requires no such legal paperwork and can still be conducted in exactly the same way as an elopement or traditional wedding. It can have guests, dancing, vows, first kisses, champagne, adventures, and epic photography. But there is no paperwork that’s signed immediately after. You can of course have it legally recognized later if you want, but this particular ceremony does not include any legal paperwork.

First off, let me start by saying this: for those who are looking for a photographer who will bring literal magic to your special day, stop scrolling, and book him NOW. Adam is your guy. This man has so much passion for what he does – from capturing your day exactly how you want it, to making you comfortable in front of the camera, to making sure everything is perfect for YOU, to simply being the kindest, bestest, awesomest addition to your wedding” — Julie & Tassia

Where Can you have a Commitment Ceremony?

You can have a commitment ceremony anywhere that ceremonies are allowed!

Here are my favorite places to have a commitment ceremony:

Colorado – Check out my Colorado Elopement Guide and Packages page for more info.

Hawaii – Check out my Hawaii Elopement Guide and Packages for more info.

Utah – Check out my Utah Elopement Packages and Guide for more info.

Who Officiates or Performs a Commitment Ceremony?

Since a commitment ceremony is not a legal ceremony, anyone has the ability to officiate a commitment ceremony.

If there is someone you hold dear as a couple, or an individual you look up to for relationship advice, this could be a great person to invite to officiate!

Many couples want to include a religious aspect to their ceremony and would like a religious representative (such as a rabbi or minister) to facilitate the ceremony. If you know a religious representative personally…go ahead and ask if they would like to take part in your ceremony. If not, Unitarian ministers often support various ceremonies, regardless of your religious affiliation.

How Does a Commitment Ceremony Differ From a Wedding or Elopement?

A commitment ceremony is a specific part of either an elopement wedding. You can have a big private party as your traditional wedding and still have a commitment ceremony be part of it – deciding not to legally marry. Same with an elopement – you can elope and not have a legal aspect to it.

Want A Free Guide to Plan Your Elopement?

This Guide and Checklist was created to make your life a whole lot easier – so you can just focus on being present and enjoying the moment!

Download the Ultimate Elopement Planning Guide and Checklist

What Makes a Wedding Legally Binding, But Not a Commitment Ceremony?

A wedding or elopement becomes legally binding when you obtain, sign, and submit a government-issued marriage license. There is no paperwork to obtain to have a commitment ceremony, so it is not seen as binding by the government or by the law.

The only difference between a commitment ceremony and any other official ceremony during an elopement or wedding is that there is no legal paperwork to sign. This paperwork is required for government-sanctioned marriage. For some, these documents are not an important aspect of their big day, or they are not able to be legally wed at that time (for instance, unfortunately some countries still do not recognize same-sex marriages yet). Others prefer to not involve legal or governmental aspects in their relationship.

* Adam steps onto a soapbox. Where the soapbox came from, is not important.*

I would like to use this time to remind you that you and your partner are the sole definers of your love. Whether you choose to have a giant wedding, intimate elopement or hold a commitment ceremony, please know your love is valid and recognized! Many times, couples struggle with the concept of not having an “official certificate of marriage” to back up their commitment. But I am here to tell you that a piece of paper will never define your loyalty, love, and commitment. It is the daily actions of love and reaffirmation of your life-long commitment to each other that make your relationship and marriage real. Not your signature on a paper.

*Adam steps off of his soapbox.*

Shall we continue?

What’s the Difference Between a Marriage License and a Marriage Certificate?

When a couple wants to get married legally, they apply for a marriage license. Every state’s application process is different. In Colorado, you apply for a license through a county clerk. Once you obtain the marriage license, you have permission from the government to legally marry.

In Colorado, your marriage license and certificate are on the same document. The top half is the license that states you have permission to marry. The certificate is the bottom half, which you (and your officiant, if you have one) sign. The purpose of the certificate is to document when and where you got married. You then have to file the certificate back with the government.

The license lets the government know you had permission to legally marry, and the certificate lets the government know the details. A commitment ceremony does not procure a marriage license or a certificate, so these steps will not be required when planning for your special day.

Adam was absolutely phenomenal. A master of his craft. You will not get any better service than this man.You can tell someone is going to treat you to something beautiful because they are just in love with what they do and this man, this man takes the cake. ” – Sam and Mike

What’s the Difference Between a Civil Ceremony and a Commitment Ceremony?

civil ceremony is a legal marriage ceremony presided over by a government official and is oftentimes performed at city hall. A civil ceremony is legally binding, and at some point, the couple will have to obtain a license and submit it to the government in order to complete the process.

With a commitment ceremony, there is the freedom to hold the ceremony at any location (did someone say the Colorado Sand Dunes?), without the stuffy legal stuff.

Why Would We Have a Commitment Ceremony?

I view a commitment ceremony as a beautiful alternative when a legally binding marriage is not in the cards for the couple at the time, or they just don’t want to make it official in the eyes of the government.

So who participates in commitment ceremonies? The breadth and depth of reasons a couple would elect for a commitment ceremony are huge. The one thing they all have in common? They are ready to express their love in a way that is suitable for their relationship.

Want A Free Guide to Plan Your Elopement?

This Guide and Checklist was created to make your life a whole lot easier – so you can just focus on being present and enjoying the moment!

Download the Ultimate Elopement Planning Guide and Checklist

Commitment Ceremonies for Couples Who Can’t Legally Get Married

Laws have changed and are continually changing. But it’s possible that under some circumstances a couple can’t get married legally. In that case, a commitment ceremony allows the couple to vow themselves to each other without the legal aspect.

* Another soapbox appears…*

As we continue to talk about commitment ceremonies, it should be acknowledged that for a long time, the LGBTQ+ community regularly participated in commitment ceremonies. This was because they were not legally permitted to get married. As of a few years ago, LGBTQ+ weddings are legal all across the country. And it’s about damn time.

While the laws have changed here, there are still some countries where LGBTQ+ weddings are not allowed. If a couple decides to get married in those lands, they may opt for a civil ceremony and legally tie the knot back home.

As a photographer and human being, I want you (yes you!) to know my thoughts on the matter. I am a photographer who accepts and embraces consensual love in all of its forms. I am happy when my Amores have found happiness. No matter what that type of love looks like.

*Adam steps off of his soapbox for a second time.*
**Readers wonder how many soapboxes are included in this piece.**

Let’s continue!

If you are looking for that magical elopement with 0 stress and beautiful pictures, Adam is the way to go! He made our special day the absolute best day i could’ve asked for. in our case a literally winter wonderland. i couldn’t thank him and his company enough. Truly deserves more then 5 stars in my opinion.”  – Jacey & Cori

Reasons why couples choose a COmmitment Ceremony

The beauty of a commitment ceremony is that you are able to make the best decision for your relationship. And some couples just don’t want to be legally married.

Perhaps you have been married before, and you don’t need to do it again. Or, you want to commit yourselves to each other, but want to put off your actual wedding day legally until a future date. (In the midst of the pandemic, we have seen thousands of couples postpone the official celebration due to travel restrictions and wanting to keep everyone safe!)

There are financial reasons individuals may refrain from getting officially hitched. For example, a change in marital status may impact the financial benefits you get from the government or institutions, such as tuition assistance.

Maybe you want to save enough money to celebrate your wedding in a specific way, or you decided you’ll only get legally married after 23.5 years together. It’s all valid! Your love is valid. And a commitment ceremony will further validate and celebrate this love.

Commitment Ceremonies for Couples Who Can’t Get Married Right Now

Maybe you and your partner plan on having a destination elopement. You may be too preoccupied with your epic surf trip, a ski getaway, or finding the best Colorado elopement photographer to bother with the legal requirements of getting married in that particular location. In this case, your elopement is just as real as any other, but since the actual day doesn’t include the paperwork, it’s technically a commitment ceremony.

That does not in any way diminish the beauty, importance, and reality of your day. In fact, it simply shows that you and your partner are committed not only to each other but to living a lifestyle that reflects your relationship best.

Commitment Ceremonies for Straight Couples

If you are a straight couple, you too can have a commitment ceremony! Just as a reminder, a commitment ceremony is not legally binding and can be conducted by any couple at any time. All ya need is two willing people in love who want to commit themselves to each other. Fear not, you are in the right place!

For those who are looking for a photographer who will bring literal magic to your special day, stop scrolling, and book him NOW. Adam is your guy. This man has so much passion for what he does – from capturing your day exactly how you want it, to making you comfortable in front of the camera, to making sure everything is perfect for YOU, to simply being the kindest, bestest, awesomest addition to your wedding” — Julie & Tassia

What is Involved in a Commitment Ceremony?

Perhaps a better question could be… other than the paperwork, what isn’t involved?! A commitment ceremony can be as extravagant or as simple as you would like it to be. (Cue custom-made M&Ms with you and your partner’s name on every candy.)

A lot of couples follow a structure that includes personal vows (or traditional vows), exchanging of rings, some personal words expressing their love for each other, declaring their intent (I do take you as my partner/husband/wife/lover/adventure buddy etc…), and then smooches!

What are Commitment Ceremony Vows?

Commitment Ceremony vows can be whatever you want them to be! You can go either traditional, or as custom as you want. For traditional vows, you can pull from religious texts or anything that might appear in popular culture (think ‘love is kind, love is… ‘ from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8). For non traditional vows – you can each read a line back and forth that you wrote together or from your favorite text, you can jointly read from a text, you can paint a picture, you can sing a song, you can meditate. However you can best express what you vow to your partner, works best!

Can I Change My Name if We Aren’t Legally Married?

Yes! Anyone has the ability to change their name, regardless of the parameters of your relationship. When you are legally married you automatically have that option. If you aren’t legally married you can do it but it’ll require a different process. Do your research (here is a great place to start) and make this day include every aspect that is important to you as a couple.

What  Are Some Commitment Ceremony Ideas?

The short answer? Anything your sweet little heart desires! You can craft your commitment ceremony to be like an elopement or traditional wedding. You can include bridesmaids, groomsmen, pets, slow dances, and photoshoots. The sky’s the limit as you plan for your commitment ceremony and celebration.

Furthermore, there are no rules preventing you from incorporating traditional customs into your commitment ceremony! Talk with your partner and understand what traditions resonate with you two as a couple, and which ones feel less authentic. With a little bit of planning, the commitment ceremony can be a genuine reflection of the relationship you plan to celebrate.

You can also include a lot of other incredible ideas into your day. Just check out this ultimate guide to elopement ideas.

If you are looking for that magical elopement with 0 stress and beautiful pictures, Adam is the way to go! He made our special day the absolute best day i could’ve asked for. in our case a literally winter wonderland. i couldn’t thank him and his company enough. Truly deserves more then 5 stars in my opinion.”  – Jacey & Cori

How to Plan Your Commitment Ceremony

Now is the fun part. (Like… Casabonita level of fun for all you Colorado or South Park fans.) You can plan your commitment ceremony the exact same way as an elopement or a wedding. Need some help on where to get started? Lucky for you, this is my area of expertise:

Step 1: Dream Big

Take time to write down what your dream commitment ceremony looks like to both you and your partner.

Step 2: Think about the money, Honey

What does a budget look like for you?

Step 3: Choose your destination

What location gives you goosebumps and makes you say, “This is reflective of our love!”?

Step 4: What activities should be included in a Commitment Ceremony?

Whatever feels authentic to you and your love! We’ve got a ton of great elopement ideas, and here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Sage Smudging
  • Handfasting
  • Reading of a poem or a letter to each other
  • Reading of a cultural blessing
  • A video recording from loved ones
  • A unity sand ceremony
  • Seal away a love letter to each other in a time capsule
  • Plant a tree together
  • The ideas are truly endless. If it feels right and symbolic of your relationship… go for it.

Step 5: Find your Dream Team

A piece of advice? Always hire a photographer. This will be a day you won’t want to forget.

Step 6: Plan the details

We are talking about dresses, food, bouquets, and the Elvis impersonator. The whole nine yards.

Step 7: Have your Commitment Ceremony

This is a day you will cherish forever.

BLOWN AWAY! The day of the wedding was SO MUCH FUN! And our pictures were PERFECT!!! Adam captured the day exactly how we want to remember it. HIGHLY recommend!” – April and Devon

Are you interested in an extraordinary commitment ceremony and/or elopement?

I’m a Colorado elopement photographer and I help couples craft a wedding day that is truly focused on just the two of them and what fills them with joy. If you are looking to have a commitment ceremony in a gorgeous place, whether it be the mountains, sand dunes, lakes, rivers, or more – I can help you make that happen in the most fun and best way possible! For more info about what it’s like to get married check out my Guide to Colorado Elopements.

Meet Your Elopement Photographer

Hi there! I’m Adam. When you are ready to take the next step in planning your special day with the best Colorado elopement photographer for you, let’s talk. I can help you find the perfect commitment ceremony package for you and answer any questions you have about your day. I can’t wait to celebrate your love in a way that is authentic to you.

Want A Free Guide to Plan Your Elopement?

This Guide and Checklist was created to make your life a whole lot easier – so you can just focus on being present and enjoying the moment!

Download the Ultimate Elopement Planning Guide and Checklist

CHECK OUT REAL ELOPEMENTS

see for yourself what it’s actually like

Want A Free Guide to Plan Your Elopement?

This Guide and Checklist was created to make your life a whole lot easier – so you can just focus on being present and enjoying the moment!

Download the Ultimate Elopement Planning Guide and Checklist