The Ultimate Guide to Navigating a Commitment Ceremony -
Couple kiss at their Washington State forest commitment ceremony

The Ultimate Guide to Navigating a Commitment Ceremony

Welcome, my Amores! My guess is that you are here because a Commitment Ceremony has crossed your mind, and you want to know if it’s right for you.

Perhaps you are intrigued by the idea of expressing your love to your partner in a non-traditional way. Maybe a commitment ceremony is the best fit for your lifestyle and goals. Maybe, it just sounds like a heck of a good time and you and you want to learn more.

Wherever you fall on the commitment ceremony spectrum, I am here to answer your questions. Together, we can understand 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. Let’s uncover the mystery of the commitment ceremony, and how to go about planning one that is perfect for your celebration.

We have all heard the buzzword and been intrigued by its mystique. But what exactly is a commitment ceremony? Is it a good fit for your relationship? Or, perhaps the most important question, will you still have the option to wear a gorgeous flowing dress, order a multi-tiered cake, hire an adventure photographer, and be the center of the world for a day? (Hint: YES.)

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

Put in its simplest terms…

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

However, a commitment ceremony can 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.

Couple exchange vows on a Hawaii beach Couple exchange vows on a Hawaii beach

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. Commitment ceremonies do not have these licenses, so it is not seen as binding by the government or by the law.

The only difference between a commitment ceremony and any other type of 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. 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. 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?

Couple walking together through a forest in Hawaii

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.

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 to a wedding or elopement when a legally binding marriage is not in the cards for the couple at the time.

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.

A man gives a smiling woman a piggy back ride in the Utah desert. Couple holds hands in Arches National Park in Utah.

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, all states 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!

Commitment Ceremonies for Couples Who Don’t Want to Be Legally Married

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.

Woman in roller skates and.a wedding dress and man in a suit on a skateboard kiss in Moab Utah

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.)

Who Can Perform a Commitment Ceremony?

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

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 Can You Do During a Commitment Ceremony?

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.

A couple holds hands in front of a waterfall

How to Plan Your Commitment Ceremony

Now is the fun part. (Like… Casabonita level of fun.) 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!”?

Couple kisses at sunset in Dead Horse State Park in Utah.

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.

Couple embrace on the beach in Washington State

Highlighting Your Commitment

Whoever you are, however you define your love, it should be celebrated. Whether that celebration is to scream it from the rooftops type of celebration, or nestled sweetly in arm in arm with your partner as you hike a mountain at sunrise, I want to be there to support you and your authentic celebration.

Meet Your Colorado Elopement Photographer

Colorado Elopement Photographer stands next to a Jeep

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.

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