A civil union is any ceremony which does not occur in a religious venue. The reasons a couple might choose this type of wedding ceremony are as varied as the couples being wed. Many choose a civil ceremony based on budget constraints, personal views which would be incompatible with a religious service and a desire for a simple wedding created by the bridal couple. Regardless of your personal reasons for considering a civil union, there are some rules which apply.
Legal Issues for a Civil Union
Each state has different regulations which apply to civil unions and some time should be spent researching the legal requirements which apply to your location. US Marriage Laws
has a state-by-state listing of who can perform a marriage. While this will give you a good starting point for finding a legal officiant for your civil union, it is by no means an exhaustive list. Contact your County Clerk for specific and current information. You will find this listing under the County Government section of your local phone book.
Civil Union Vows
Because of the non-religious nature of this type of wedding ceremony, civil union wedding vows are primary written by the bride and groom. The inclusion or exclusion of rituals, phrasing and vows is entirely at the discretion of the bridal couple. While you will not be required to participate in traditions which do not support your viewpoint, you may not get the guidance these customary elements provide. Most couples take advantage of the traditional components of a wedding and then alter them to suit their needs. For example, the traditional lighting of a unity candle is completely appropriate for a civil ceremony and can be transformed by the reading of a poem or quote which more accurately reflects the symbolism you wish to provide. Meaningful verses and songs can be placed where you feel appropriate and are entirely at your discretion.
Civil Union Venues
While civil unions have few restrictions on the type of vows spoken, you might have some restrictions placed upon you depending on the venue you select. Parks, mansions and other public venues will allow most types of ceremonies with little interference. However, if you plan a ceremony in front of a judge in the courthouse, you will find some traditions nearly impossible to replicate. Unity candles, processionals, music and readings may all be restricted due to space or policy issues. Talk with the judge or justice of the peace in the early stages of your wedding planning to avoid confusion. Another option is to complete the civil ceremony in front of the judge in a basic fashion and then hold more symbolic ceremony at a reception venue. As the legal requirements of a civil union have been fulfilled, any person of your choosing may take the place of an officiant and your wedding elements may take any form you desire.
Benefits of Civil Ceremony
The biggest benefit to holding a civil ceremony is the freedom you have to create the wedding you desire without feeling pressure to conform to traditional expectations. Feel free to include those traditions which support your feelings and skip the parts which hold no meaning for you. When writing your vows, quote the famous poets or compose words from your own hearts to express the depth of your emotion. There is no question that planning a civil ceremony can take more effort on the part of the bridal couple, but by creating a wedding which truly reflects the spirit and soul of your relationship, you will be able to speak vows which have meaning for you. After all, it is not the location, wedding dress or decorations which make a ceremony a wedding. The heart of a wedding happens when two souls pledge to spend their lives together. How a couple decides to make these promises is entirely up to them.