ceremony types

What types of wedding ceremonies are there, and what do I need?

Casting roses into the water
Casting roses into the water

What kind of ceremony do I need?

There are many kinds of wedding ceremonies in the world, and an almost infinite number of variations. Here are some basic categories:

Civil Ceremony

Civil ceremonies are the weddings conducted by government officials (like a County Clerk or Justice of the Peace) to solemnize a marriage license. They are usually brief and, by definition, nonreligious. If you marry in a County Clerk's office you will receive a civil ceremony.

For quickie weddings I perform an original civil ceremony developed during my service conducting civil weddings for the L.A. Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's office as a Deputy Commissioner of Civil Marriage. MTG clients can choose either a Humanist Celebrant or Nondenominational Minister title on the marriage license.

Elopement Ceremony

An elopement wedding is conducted with few or no guests in attendance. Couples choose elopement ceremonies if they are introverted or shy speaking in front of others, want to share their vows only with their partners, if they wish to enjoy a stress-free and romantic private ceremony before their public wedding, or they have reasons to conceal their marriage (e.g. violent ex-spouse, celebrity or whistleblower status).

In California, elopements without witnesses are legally binding if the couple qualifies for a confidential marriage license. MarriageToGo offers a Wedding Bundlewhich includes confidential marriage licensing and a civil ceremony for a complete legal marriage at any location.

"Ambush" and "Surprise" Weddings

An ambush elopement or wedding is when a couple has made preparations to be married but does not inform their guests until the proceedings are underway. This can be a lot of fun and is a favorite for holiday weddings and gatherings.

This is not to be confused with what is popularly called a "surprise" wedding, where one party to the marriage "surprises" the other. Technically and legally this is problematic, since by law both parties to the marriage must be informed and agree to the marriage before the ceremony takes place, swearing out a marriage license and providing proper ID and documentation. Also, persuading a reluctant partner to give consent to a marriage ceremony with no notice (even if the persuasion is mild) could later be characterized as coercion, which invalidates the marriage.

No surprise here: the surprise weddings you see on TV are usually fake. Though we love ambush weddings to delight unsuspecting guests, we don't perform surprise weddings because they make your marriage legally vulnerable.

However, there are other ways to surprise your partner with a wedding ceremony without putting your legal status at risk. Contact us for details.

Traditional Religious Ceremony

Conducted by clergy, with the content determined by each denomination's liturgy, usually in a consecrated space. Ceremonies can vary widely, with the couple's country and culture of origin influencing the content. There are often religious requirements that must be met before a religious marriage ceremony can take place.

Non-Traditional Religious Ceremony

These ceremonies may modernize religious liturgy or symbols, and normally take place in non-consecrated locations. Some couples may utilize elements from multiple traditions in one ceremony or have friends and family members assist with officiation. This term may also refer to ceremonies performed in faiths that are considered outside the cultural and political mainstream.

"Spiritual but Not Religious" Weddings

The number of "nones" (that is, people who hold spiritual beliefs but are not affiliated with a religious denomination or community) has sharply risen since the turn of the century. Often defining themselves as "spiritual but not religious," couples who choose this type of ceremony usually derive content from the wisdom traditions and philosophical texts that have influenced their personal belief systems. Spiritual Humanist ceremonies may also fall under this category.

Non-Religious Weddings

The term "non-religious" applies to a wide range of ceremonies: spiritual in tone but not beholden to any specific religious dogma or ritual requirement; a ceremony with a humanist or romantic emphasis; an atheist wedding; or a civil ceremony.

Interfaith Weddings

Usually performed by non-denominational/interfaith clergy; in some instances, two clergy members of different faiths create and conduct the wedding cooperatively. Incorporates elements honoring both families' traditions and cultures and may include secular material at the discretion of the couple/officiating clergy.

Culturally-based Ceremonies

Culturally-based ceremonies derive their content from a couple's national, ethnic, or cultural origin. Often, cultural weddings are performed separately from a civil, religious, or more "mainstream" ceremony; sometimes cultural rites are melded into an inclusive traditional or modern ceremony.

Custom (or "Bespoke") Wedding Ceremony

Couples work with a writer or officiant to create a unique ceremony based on their values and style. Custom ceremonies may be completely original or weave classic and modern wedding elements into the couple's chosen narrative. Personal vows and involvement by friends and family members are two practices frequently seen in custom ceremonies.

Simple Wedding Ceremony

In keeping with the tenets of "voluntary simplicity" (consciously forgoing conspicuous consumerism in order to reduce impact on the environment, support sustainable businesses, and increase a spiritual sense of existence) a couple may choose to keep wedding-related spending and products to a minimum. Flowers, food, and location are often provided cooperatively by friends and family. Simple weddings seek to create a sense of community and emphasize the meaning of the wedding ritual over material trappings and pageantry.

Green Weddings

Green weddings emphasize environmentally responsible practices, such as zero waste, low carbon footprint, sustainably and organically farmed food and flowers, etc. Green receptions often accompany a simple wedding ceremony (see above) that may also reflect the couple's commitment to living harmoniously with the earth.

"Offbeat" Weddings

"Offbeat" weddings consciously subvert the look/feel/values of the culturally received "white wedding" by incorporating unusual locations, content, wardrobe, and rituals. Most eschew high wedding budgets and emphasize individuality, creativity, and community participation.

Theme Wedding Ceremony

Theme weddings are fun and memorable. Themes can be derived from almost anything: historical recreation, vintage wardrobe, art, film/literature/television, music, hobbies, and more. Locations may be made central to a theme--beaches, rodeos, gardens, circuses, monuments, museums-- as well as holidays or hobbies. Themes infuse the ceremony material as well as reception decor and activities.

Geek Weddings

A rapidly growing subset of themed weddings which derive their look/feel/content from science fiction, game, fantasy, technology, cosplay, or comic book fandom. Y'know, for geeks.

Commitment Ceremony

A non-legally binding ceremony to express and confirm love and faithfulness between two people who cannot or do not wish to legally marry. They have no set format or requirements. Once the only ritual of union available to same-sex couples, commitment ceremonies have mostly fallen by the wayside since the Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality in 2015. As a result, commitment ceremonies may be legally dicey; it is a violation of California law to conduct a wedding ceremony in the absence of a valid marriage license, so the intent of a commitment ceremony could easily be misconstrued. Now that marriage equality is the law of the land, we no longer perform commitment ceremonies.

Renewal of Vows

A ceremony for already-married people who wish to reaffirm their love and commitment. Because it is not a legal wedding, the presence of a qualified officiant or witnesses is not required. A renewal of vows may reenact a couple's original wedding ceremony or incorporate new content, often new vows to honor the next phase of the marriage. Many couples renew their vows on each anniversary.

Phone or Skype Marriages

Phone and Skype marriage are strictly illegal and unfortunately all too common. They are not legally binding under any circumstances. Click here for more information on wedding scams like phone marriage for the military and incarcerated, and how to report marriage fraud when you encounter it.

Our Wedding Ceremony Services

We can perform civil ceremonies with no preparation on your part; we also love brainstorming with you to cook up the perfect custom ceremony to your specs. Click here to email us about your wedding ceremony needs. We look forward to hearing from you!