5. Marriage Procedure
Couples contemplating marriage are earnestly advised to seek divine guidance in making their decision, to give serious consideration to the importance of harmony and sympathy in religious convictions, and to seek early the approval of parents and guardians in order that family unity may be preserved and hasty and improper marriages avoided.
Couples who wish to marry after the manner of Friends shall address a written proposal to the monthly meeting of either. The letter, signed by them both, and substantially as follows, should be submitted well in advance of the contemplated date.
To the _______ Monthly Meeting:
We, the undersigned, propose taking each other in marriage, and we hereby request the approval of the meeting.
(Signatures of both)
The proposal may be accompanied by the written consent of the parents or guardians of either person. If either person is under the age of 18, the proposal must be accompanied by written consent of parents or guardians of such person or by a statement explaining why it cannot be obtained.
The clerk should immediately refer the proposal to the overseers or the meeting on ministry and counsel.
The overseers or the meeting on ministry and counsel shall appoint four members of the monthly meeting, at least one of whom is a member of ministry and counsel or is an overseer, to inquire into the couple’s clearness to proceed in the marriage. They should present their report to the next monthly meeting.
The term “clearness” referred originally to clearness from other entangling engagements. There has been in recent years a broadening of the concept to an exercise of the loving care of the meeting by making sure, as far as possible, that there is nothing to interfere with the permanence and happiness of the marriage.
It is wise to treat all applications with the same care. The clearness committee should explore with the couple their mutual commitment to God and their capacity for the unselfish love that endures. The committee should discuss with the couple any previous marriages or commitments, the making of decisions, including those concerning finances, having and raising children, commitments to extended family, and other areas of concern. In addition, the committee may also need to raise questions about sexual preference, potential drug and alcohol abuse, and medical and genetic considerations.
If the couple are members of different meetings, both meetings should reach clearness before the wedding takes place.
When one or both are members of the Religious Society of Friends but for adequate reasons have chosen to wed in a meeting to which neither belongs, the usual procedure for securing the approval of the home meeting is carried out, and the clerk communicates with the clerk of the meeting where the wedding is to take place, asking for its cooperation. The meeting that allows the marriage should appoint a committee of oversight; it may include members of another meeting when distance makes such an arrangement desirable.
The couple should be present, if possible, at the monthly meeting when the reports on clearness are presented. If no obstruction appears, they shall be at liberty to wed according to the custom of the Religious Society of Friends in a regular or appointed meeting at such time and place as the monthly meeting may approve.
The monthly meeting shall appoint a committee of at least two men and two women to attend and oversee the wedding. The couple are at liberty to propose the time and place of the meeting at which the marriage is to be solemnized and may suggest the names of the Friends who are to serve as the committee of oversight, if approved.
The duties of the committee of oversight are to advise the parties as to the proper procedure for the accomplishment of the marriage, to see that they have obtained a marriage license and a wedding certificate, to attend the wedding and see that it is properly conducted and that other requirements of the law are fulfilled, to make sure that the necessary information is delivered to the recorder for recording, and to report to the monthly meeting.
The overseers or the meeting on ministry and counsel may, but only when in their opinion there is urgent necessity therefor, approve the proposed marriage, fix the time and place of the wedding, and appoint the committee of oversight to attend. In such case the overseers or the meeting on ministry and counsel are to report their action to the next monthly meeting, stating reasons for it. This procedure is to be followed only under the most pressing and unusual circumstances.
The marriage having been authorized, and the meeting at which it is to be solemnized having gathered, it is recommended that the meeting begin with a period of silent worship. At a suitable time in the meeting, the couple should rise and, taking each other by the hand, declare in words to the following effect, each speaking in turn:
In the presence of God and before these our friends, I take thee, ____, to be my wife/husband, promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful wife/husband so long as we both shall live.
After these declarations, the couple are to sign the wedding certificate, and, either then or later, the members of the committee of oversight are to do so too. Some designated person should then read the certificate aloud. A period of worship should follow, and, at the conclusion of the meeting, others present should sign the certificate as witnesses.
The form of the wedding certificate shall be substantially as follows:
Whereas ____(woman/man’s full name), of ____ (place), daughter/son of ____ and ____ (parents’ names), of ____ (place), and ____ (woman/man’s full name), of ____ (place), daughter/son of ____ and ____ (parents’ names), of ____ (place), having declared their intentions to marry each other to the ____ Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, held at ____ (place), according to the good order used among them, and, (insert this clause if applicable) having the consent of parents (or guardians), that meeting allowed their proposed marriage.
Now this is to certify that for the accomplishment of their marriage, this ____ day of the ____ month, in the year ____, they, ____ and ____ (couple’s names), appeared in a meeting for worship of the Religious Society of Friends, held at ____ (place), and ____ (woman/man’s name), taking ____ (woman/man’s name) by the hand, did, on this solemn occasion, declare that she/he took her/him to be her/his wife/husband, promising, with Divine assistance, to be unto her/him a loving and faithful wife/husband so long as they both shall live (or words to that effect), and then in the same assembly ____ (woman/man’s name) did in like manner declare that she/he took her/him to be her/his wife/husband, promising, with Divine assistance, to be unto her/him a loving and faithful wife/husband so long as they both shall live (or words to that effect); and moreover, they, as a further confirmation thereof, did, then and there, to this certificate, set their hands.
(full signatures of the couple)
And we, having been present at the wedding, have as witnesses set our hands the day and year above written:
(signatures of witnesses)
Printed wedding certificates are available on order with two months’ notice from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting; 1515 Cherry Street; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102. Assistance is also available from the New York Yearly Meeting office.
When the couple prefers, the marriage may be solemnized by a pastor or other Friends’ minister whom the county and state recognize as qualified to perform the functions of a cleric for this purpose. In such a case the couple should follow the procedure above outlined to obtain the monthly meeting’s approval, except that, instead of proposing the names of Friends for appointment as a committee of oversight, the couple should state the name of the pastor or minister whose assistance in the ceremony they desire and the names of two witnesses to be in attendance, and the wedding certificate shall be in form appropriate to these circumstances.
In such cases, and in the solemnization of any other marriage, the pastor or minister is earnestly advised to employ a wedding ceremony in keeping with the ideals of Friends and to impress upon the couple the fact that marriage is a solemn religious engagement. The committee of oversight must exercise due care to ascertain that all legal requirements precedent to the marriage have been met and must comply fully with the laws in reporting the marriage to the proper officials. Any marriage solemnized by a pastor or minister shall be reported to the monthly meeting that had approved the marriage.
It is affectionately advised that moderation be observed in all of the proceedings of the wedding day, including simplicity of dress and surroundings, and that the occasion be characterized by the dignity becoming its serious spiritual purpose.
Nonmembers may marry in the meeting, subject to the laws of the respective states and the considered judgement of the monthly meeting and according to the good order of Friends.
A condensation of the duties of individuals may prove useful:
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE PERSONS TO BE
- To write a letter to the clerk of the monthly meeting under whose care they wish to be married, signed by both of the couple, stating their intention to marry and enclosing, if needed and available, the consent of parents or guardians.
- To write a second letter to the clerk for presentation to the session of the monthly meeting at which the committee on clearness makes its report requesting permission to marry in a regular or appointed meeting for worship (the latter is more usual) and proposing, if they so desire, the names of Friends they suggest to serve as a committee of oversight for the wedding. The day, hour, and place where they wish to have the marriage solemnized should be included.
- To refrain from sending wedding invitations until the monthly meeting allows their proposed marriage.
- To meet the committee of oversight, at a time and a place suggested by the committee, to discuss plans for the wedding, including such matters as the choice of persons to read the wedding certificate and to close the meeting for worship.
- To have the Friends’ wedding certificate prepared in ample time. Information concerning the details involved in this part of the procedure may be obtained at the yearly meeting office.
- To inform themselves of the legal requirements of the state in which the wedding is to take place and to obtain the forms to be used to comply with them.
- To be sure that the license is given to the committee of oversight before the wedding and that the wedding certificate is ready.
- To commit to memory long before the wedding day the promises they will say to each other.
- To sign the wedding certificate after they have spoken their promises.
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CLERK
- To refer the letter of intention to marry and the letters from the parents or guardians, if needed and available, to the overseers or to the meeting on ministry and counsel immediately following their receipt.
- To provide for time to receive a report on clearness at the monthly meeting.
When the monthly meeting has accepted the report:
- to request that the meeting appoint a committee of oversight for the wedding and also that it grant permission for a meeting for worship to be held at the time and place requested for the wedding;
- to inform the couple that they are free to proceed with their plans.
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE COMMITTEE ON CLEARNESS
- To make inquiry and conscientiously satisfy itself that there is nothing to interfere with the accomplishment of the marriage. The couple should be interviewed both separately and together. (See the beginning of this section on marriage.)
- To report its findings and recommendations to a subsequent session of the monthly meeting.
- To make available books and pamphlets on marriage and, when appropriate, to refer the couple to an available marriage counsellor.
- To be informed concerning legal requirements for obtaining a marriage license.
- To make sure that the rights of children have been legally secured, if either of the couple has children by a former marriage.
- To be available to assist in any way that may be needed.
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT
- To see that the wedding is takes place with dignity, reverence, and simplicity.
- To meet the persons being married to discuss plans for the wedding, including the choice of persons to read the wedding certificate and to close the meeting.
- To see in advance that all legal requirements have been met and that the proper license has been secured, executed, and filed with the public authorities within the specified time.
- To arrange for the care of the wedding certificate following the meeting for worship and to see that opportunity is given for those present to sign it.
- To arrange for the recorder to record the marriage, as the monthly meeting requires.
- To report to the monthly meeting whether the wedding has suitably taken place, whether the legal requirements have been satisfied, and whether the marriage has been properly reported to the recorder.
MARRIAGE OF MEMBERS NOT UNDER THE CARE OF THE MEETING
If a member is married not under the care of the meeting, the overseers should either visit or correspond with the newly married couple, expressing the interest of the meeting in their new home. It should be assumed that the relationship of the member with the Society will continue, and the non-member will be made welcome and invited to attend meeting.