Everything You Need to Know About Self-Solemnization Wedding Ceremonies

May 27, 2024

Tips, Myths, Where, and How to Do It

In recent years, self-solemnization has become a deeply personal way for couples to exchange vows without an officiant. This intimate ceremony lets partners declare their commitment in a setting that reflects their unique love story. As a photographer, I’ve captured the beauty and authenticity of these heartfelt moments.

Understanding Self-Solemnization: What is it?

Self-solemnization, also known as self-uniting wedding, enables couples to legally marry without an officiant or celebrant. This practice is particularly cherished by those who value privacy, simplicity, and the freedom to design their ceremony according to their beliefs and desires. It often takes place in scenic outdoor locations, private homes, or other meaningful venues that resonate with the couple.

Benefits of Self-Solemnization

Self-solemnization offers couples several advantages, including flexibility in wedding design, privacy, and the opportunity to focus solely on each other without external distractions. It allows them to create a deeply personal and meaningful experience that reflects their values, beliefs, and relationship dynamics.

What Are the Benefits of a Self-Solemnized Elopement?

Choosing a self-solemnized elopement offers numerous advantages beyond religious reasons. It’s simple, private, and grants you complete control over every detail, ensuring that your special day is exactly how you envision it.

Eloping in Complete Privacy

You have the option to elope with just you and your partner present. Without the need for an officiant or guests, you can exchange vows in a private and intimate setting. This allows you to focus entirely on each other and your relationship, making the experience more meaningful and special.

Fully Customizable Ceremony

Self-solemnizing gives you the freedom to tailor your ceremony to reflect your unique relationship. Whether you prefer a brief ceremony with personal vows or one that includes reading letters from loved ones or a unity ritual, the choice is entirely yours without any external expectations or guidelines.

More Location Options

When selecting a ceremony location, you can choose based solely on your preferences. Whether it’s hiking to a remote overlook, nestled deep within a forest, or driving a Jeep to the top of a mountain, you won’t need to consider if an officiant is willing or able to join you. This opens up a world of possibilities for your perfect spot.

Greater Flexibility with Timing

Without the need to coordinate with an officiant, you gain flexibility in scheduling your ceremony. This makes planning simpler and less stressful, allowing you to choose the perfect time—be it sunrise, sunset, or any moment in between.

Where is Self-Solemnization Legally Allowed in the US?

One of the most critical aspects of planning a self-solemnization ceremony is selecting the perfect location. Whether it’s a secluded beach at sunset, a rustic barn in the countryside, or a quiet spot in a bustling city park, the venue should reflect the couple’s personalities and relationships. As a photographer, I work closely with the couple to scout locations that offer stunning backdrops and natural light conducive to capturing timeless photographs.

Choosing the Right Location to Self Solemnize

  1. California*
  2. Colorado
  3. District of Columbia
  4. Illinois
  5. Kansas
  6. Maine*
  7. Montana
  8. Nevada*
  9. Pennsylvania
  10. Wisconsin*

* States requiring a religious exemption for self-solemnizing


Who is eligible: Those with religious exemptions

Couples in California can opt for a non-clergy wedding. This type of license is used for members of religious societies or denominations that do not have clergy to solemnize marriages. Couples must disclose their religious society or denomination on the license.

  • Marriage License Required: License and Certificate of Marriage for Denominations Not Having Clergy
  • Witness Requirement: 2 Adults

More details on non-clergy weddings in California


Who is eligible: Anyone

In Colorado, any couple can self-solemnize their marriage as long as both parties consent. Check with your county for specific rules on filling out the marriage license. Yes, your dog can sign your marriage license.

  • Marriage License Required: Normal Marriage License
  • Witness Requirement: None

More details on self-solemnizing in Colorado

District of Columbia

Who is eligible: Anyone

In Washington DC, couples can have a self-officiated ceremony by noting it on their marriage application.

  • Marriage License Required: Normal Marriage License
  • Witness Requirement: None

More details on self-solemnizing in Washington DC


Who is eligible: Anyone

In Illinois, any couple can self-solemnize their marriage with mutual consent.

  • Marriage License Required: Normal Marriage License
  • Witness Requirement: None

Learn more about self-solemnizing in Illinois


Who is eligible: Anyone

In Kansas, any couple can self-solemnize their marriage with mutual consent.

  • Marriage License Required: Normal Marriage License
  • Witness Requirement: 2 Adults

More details on self-solemnizing in Kansas


Who is eligible: Those with religious exemptions

Members of the Quaker, Friend, or Bah’ai faiths can self-solemnize their marriage in Maine.

  • Marriage License Required: Normal Marriage License
  • Witness Requirement: 2 Adults

More details on self-solemnizing in Maine


Who is eligible: Anyone

Couples in Montana can self-solemnize by filing a Declaration of Marriage after the ceremony. This process requires writing a Declaration of Marriage and bringing it to the courthouse. Witnesses can be the Clerk of Court staff or two adults brought by the couple.

  • Marriage License Required: Declaration of Marriage
  • Witness Requirement: 2 Adults

More details on self-solemnizing in Montana


Who is eligible: Those with religious exemptions

Members of the Quaker, Friend, or Bah’ai faiths can self-solemnize their marriage in Nevada.

  • Marriage License Required: Normal Marriage License
  • Witness Requirement: 1 Adult

More details on self-solemnizing in Nevada


Who is eligible: Anyone

Any couple can self-solemnize their marriage in Pennsylvania with mutual consent.

  • Marriage License Required: Normal Marriage License
  • Witness Requirement: None

More details on self-solemnizing in Pennsylvania


Who is eligible: Those with religious exemptions

In Wisconsin, couples can self-marry without an officiant if one or both parties belong to a religious society, denomination, or sect with customs allowing self-marriage. Proof of religion is not required.

  • Marriage License Required: Normal Marriage License
  • Witness Requirement: 2 Adults

More details on self-solemnizing in Wisconsin

Who is Allowed to Self-Solemnize?

Eligibility varies by state. Some states, like Colorado, make it straightforward for anyone to self-unite their marriage. Other states, such as Maine, require specific religious exemptions.

Each state has its own regulations regarding eligibility and marriage license requirements, so it’s essential to contact the county where you plan to marry well in advance to understand the specific rules.

Is a Self-Solemnized Marriage Legal?

Yes! As long as you are getting married in a state that permits self-solemnizing marriages and you complete and submit the required paperwork, your marriage will be legally recognized.

Even if you’re in a state that doesn’t allow self-solemnization, I have tips to help you create your dream ceremony.

5 Tips for a Successful Self-Solemnization Ceremony

  1. Plan Ahead: Even though self-solemnization offers flexibility, it’s crucial to plan the logistics in advance. Choose a meaningful location, prepare your vows, and ensure all legal requirements are met beforehand.
  2. Embrace Personalization: Use this opportunity to personalize every aspect of your ceremony. Write heartfelt vows, incorporate meaningful rituals or traditions, and select decor that reflects your personalities.
  3. Capture the Moment: Hire a professional photographer who specializes in intimate ceremonies like self-solemnization. They will not only document the event but also help you feel at ease, ensuring authentic and beautiful photographs.
  4. Consider the Weather: If you’re planning an outdoor ceremony, keep an eye on the weather forecast and have a backup plan in case of inclement weather. This ensures that your day goes smoothly regardless of conditions.
  5. Celebrate Afterwards: After the ceremony, take time to celebrate your union together. Plan a romantic dinner, enjoy a toast with loved ones, or simply savor the moment in a private setting that feels special to you both.

What Does a Self-Solemnized Wedding Ceremony Look Like?

The beauty of a self-solemnized wedding ceremony is that you have complete control over how it unfolds. You can tailor every aspect to reflect your unique love story. Embrace your creativity and thoughtfully choose which traditional elements to include or omit. Feel free to incorporate personal touches that resonate with you as a couple. Here are some ideas to inspire you—borrow them, modify them, or come up with your own!

Write Your Own Vows

Your vows are perhaps the most meaningful part of the ceremony. They provide a rare opportunity to express your deepest feelings to your partner, reflecting on your journey together and your hopes for the future.

Tips for Writing Your Own Vows:

  1. Start Early: Don’t wait until the last minute. Begin jotting down your thoughts months in advance. Capture small phrases or memories in your phone or journal to help you piece together your vows later.
  2. Discuss Length: Talk to your partner about the desired length of your vows. They don’t need to be identical, but keeping them similar in length can provide balance.
  3. Proofread: Have a trusted friend review your vows.
  4. Practice: Read your vows aloud before the ceremony to ensure they flow well.

Exchange Rings

In traditional weddings, this is when the officiant prompts you to exchange rings while reciting vows. In a self-solemnized ceremony, you can choose to recite traditional vows, create your own, or simply exchange rings without any formal vows. It’s entirely up to you!

Have a Unity Ceremony

Unity ceremonies offer a wonderful opportunity to personalize your ceremony. Options include:

  • Handfasting
  • Sharing a drink from a Scottish Quaich
  • Sealing a memory box for a future anniversary
  • Planting a tree or small plants together
  • Pouring two/three colors of sand into one vase
  • Creating a piece of art together

Read Letters from Loved Ones

Incorporate friends and family who can’t be present by reading their letters during your ceremony. If your ceremony location has time constraints, consider reading the letters during a post-ceremony picnic instead.

Have a First Kiss

While traditional ceremonies often reserve the kiss for the end, feel free to break this rule. If you feel moved to kiss your partner after hearing their vows, go for it!

Have Your Dog Sign Your Marriage License

In states where it’s allowed, let your dog sign your marriage license! Use a non-toxic ink pad to stamp your dog’s paw print on the license, and be sure to have a wipe handy to clean their paw afterward.

What If Your State Requires Witnesses?

Some states that allow self-solemnization also require 1-2 adult witnesses to sign your marriage license. Your photography and videography team can often serve as witnesses, or you can ask a friendly person nearby to help. This can lead to memorable encounters, like the travel-loving retired couple who signed Michele and Nick’s marriage license and stayed in touch with them for years!

If you’re planning to marry in a location that doesn’t permit self-solemnizing ceremonies, don’t worry! There are several ways to still have your dream elopement ceremony, whether in the US or internationally.

Do the Legal Part First

For couples eloping internationally or in states without self-solemnization, consider getting legally married at your local courthouse first. Then, have your elopement ceremony later. For example, when we eloped in Scotland, we signed our marriage license at a courthouse in Colorado before heading to Scotland. This way, we got the legalities out of the way and enjoyed a ceremony without any legal constraints.

Some couples worry that having a legal ceremony before the elopement makes it less special. From our experience, the courthouse ceremony can still be exciting, but it doesn’t overshadow the significance of your “real” ceremony on your wedding day.

Have a Private Vow Exchange

If you prefer not to sign your marriage license at the courthouse before your elopement day or want to include guests in a more “traditional” ceremony, consider a private vow exchange. Many couples read their personal vows in private and then have a traditional ceremony with guests and an officiant. At the family ceremony, you can either read traditional vows or repeat your personal ones. This approach allows for a private, intimate experience while ensuring legal marriage and guest involvement.

Ask a Guest to Get Ordained

While it might seem like a big ask, having a guest get ordained is usually simple in most states. This guest doesn’t need to lead the ceremony like a traditional officiant. You can still lead your ceremony and have them assist with the paperwork afterward. Depending on the state, you might need 1-2 witnesses, which can be other guests, your photography and videography team, or even a friendly passerby.

Make sure to follow the state’s specific rules where you’re eloping.

Hire an Ordained Photographer

Another convenient option is to hire a photographer or videographer who is ordained. Since your photographer will be present at your ceremony, they can also serve as your legal officiant. Alex, for example, is ordained and has officiated many ceremonies. You can lead your ceremony and then have your photographer help with the paperwork. Depending on the state, you might also need 1-2 witnesses, who could be guests, other members of your team, or friendly passersby.

Always adhere to the rules and guidelines of the state where you’re eloping. This option is available for elopements within the US.

5 Myths About Self-Solemnization Weddings Debunked

It’s Not Legally Binding:

In many jurisdictions, self-solemnization is legally recognized as long as all legal requirements are met, such as obtaining a marriage license and filing necessary paperwork.

It’s Only for Introverts:

Self-solemnization appeals to couples who prioritize intimacy and personalization but is not limited to introverts. It’s for anyone who wants a meaningful ceremony without traditional constraints.

It’s Less Romantic:

On the contrary, self-solemnization often enhances romance by allowing couples to focus solely on each other and their commitment without distractions or external pressures.

It’s Too Informal:

While self-solemnization can be informal, it can also be as formal and ceremonial as you desire. Couples have the freedom to design a ceremony that reflects their desired level of formality.

It’s Exclusively for Small Weddings:

While self-solemnization is often chosen for its intimacy, there’s no rule limiting the size of the ceremony. Whether you invite a few close friends or keep it entirely private, the choice is yours.

This comprehensive blog post covers everything from the essence of self-solemnization to practical tips and debunking common myths, ensuring couples have a clear understanding and inspiration for their own self-solemnization ceremonies.

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