Lesbian Relationship Advice: What is a Commitment Ceremony?

What is a commitment ceremony?
Everyone’s definitions differ, but a commitment ceremony (or wedding) can be seen a contract with up to five facets.

A couple’s union, whether with a same-sex ceremony or heterosexual one, is a personal, religious, familial, and social contract. It’s only the fifth facet of the union, the legal one, that differentiates a same-sex commitment ceremony or wedding from a heterosexual ceremony.

While we should continue to fight for the legal rights of all our citizens, that doesn’t mean that everyone can’t have ceremonies and unions that are special, beautiful, and meaningful.

Is a commitment ceremony legally recognized by the state?
For the most part, no. The vast majority of states and provinces do not recognize the union of same-sex couples. With the passage in 1997 of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” in Minnesota’s Legislature, for instance, the state wiped out any previous attempts at recognizing such marriages. Even Vermont’s newly created Civil Union only applies to couples when they are in that state, and not when they leave to go to any other state. Therefore, any legal benefits of your union must be made on your own, through such legal means as powers of financial and medical attorney, wills, and “pre-nuptials”.

If a commitment ceremony is not legally recognized, then why have one?
Marriage is not just a legal institution, it can also be a personal, religious, familial, and social one. Even if the state does not recognize the union, all the parties involved do, and all the other facets are binding.

Why make the commitment ceremony a public one?
A wedding or commitment ceremony is the public witnessing of vows. The guests at a commitment ceremony play an active and essential part of the ceremony, as all in attendance witness the vows.

Who should we invite to our commitment ceremony?
For a commitment ceremony, a couple may invite the people most important to them, the ones they want to publicly witness their vows. As witnesses, the guests are an active and essential part of the ceremony. Vows are a personal contract, and by having them witnessed, the contract becomes public, as well. Involving a minister can also make it a religious contract, although not all couples choose this option.

Why use an officiator?
An officiator experienced with commitment ceremonies is very helpful in the planning and execution of the event. A minister experienced with same-sex unions has performed this ceremony and its rituals many times, and not only knows all the facets, but all the variations as well. Processionals, recessionals, the escort “giving away” the one betrothed to the other, these and all the other elements must be coordinated as well as agreed upon.

An experienced minister not only helps write the ceremony, but helps stage manage the event, keeping things going smoothly. The couple will only do this ceremony once, probably with only one rehearsal, and a calm, experienced officiator keeps the ceremony flowing smoothly. Having someone else there who really knows the ropes helps make the event ceremonial, meaningful, and special.

Should we write our own vows? Why exchange rings?
Vows can be written by the couple, or the minister can help the couple choose traditional vows, or variations of them. The exchange of rings is the symbol of the vows the couple has taken. Vows can be exchanged without rings, but the symbols are powerful, and rings are a physical sign of those vows.

Provided courtesy of:
Rev. Tomkin Coleman
Minneapolis, MN

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