The Quaker Marriage Procedure

Marriage is a sacred commitment of two people to love one another in faithful partnership with the expectation that the relationship will mature and be mutually enriching. Friends know that marriage depends on the inner experiences of the couple who marry and not on any external service or words. Thus, the ceremony in which the couple enter into this commitment is performed by the couple alone, in the presence of God, the families, and the worshiping community. Both the solemnity and the joy of the occasion are enhanced by its simplicity.

The Meeting extends its loving care through its oversight of clearness for the couple and, upon approval of the Meeting, through careful attention to a meeting for worship for marriage. In addition, care is given to assure that any applicable legal requirements are addressed.

Securing Meeting approval

The couple intending marriage writes to the Clerk of the Meeting or Meetings under whose care they would proper license. Any date the couple is planning for the wedding should be far enough in the future to allow the Meeting time to fulfill its responsibilities. A period of five to six months in advance is recommended.

When the clerk receives the request, the letter is customarily read at meeting for business, often after preliminary consideration by the Care and Counsel Committee. The Meeting then appoints a committee of clearness. Some Meetings have standing committees for this purpose, chosen from Friends of proven abilities.

The method of securing approval varies with circumstances:

1.When only one Meeting is being asked for the oversight, the couple simply forwards the request to the clerk of that Meeting, which then appoints the clearness committee.

2. When the two belong to separate Meetings, they must allow time for both Meetings to consider the request. The Meetings may each name committees for clearness, or they may decide to name a joint committee. If one Meeting is at a distance, a correspondent may be assigned to confer with the clearness committee where the marriage will take place. Whatever the process, approval is granted by both Meetings before the couple proceeds with the wedding. A Meeting may offer assistance to Friends wishing to be married under its care, even though they live too far from their home Meeting to be married there.

3. When one of the couple is not a member of the Religious Society of Friends, the clearness committee endeavors through consultation with the couple and the family and friends of the non-member to discover whether obstacles exist.

4. If the Meeting agrees to consider a marriage under its care when neither party is a member of a Meeting, the clearness committee takes the necessary steps to become familiar with the couple and their circumstances before recommending approval. It should encourage the couple to take ample time to attend meetings for worship and offer themselves and the members of the Meeting the opportunity to come to know each other. Only so will non-members feel at home in the Meeting, and only so will the Meeting be able to grant clearness in good conscience. In the case of non-members, the Meeting also assures that any additional applicable legal requirements are met.

Clearness: The Process

The term clearness referred originally to clearness from other marriage commitments. Today, within a broader sense of clearness, the committee explores areas of understanding with the couple, considering what it takes to achieve the permanence and satisfaction of a committed, loving relationship, and the extent to which the couple is prepared for the dedication and constancy such a relationship requires. Knowledge of available resources for the couple and the committee is essential for any Meeting, including Quaker literature on the subject.

The purpose of clearness is well served when members of the committee ask thoughtful questions and listen attentively, leaving space for worship in the exchange. Potentialdifficulties—and the role of Divine assistance in this process as well as in the future development of the relationship—can be carefully and openly explored. A committee under the weight of the couple’s future success knows that failure to speak truth in kindness is to risk possible suffering. Such truth is best shared from the actual experience of Friends.

The committee can be guided by these suggested queries for the couple:

  • How did the couple meet? What values and beliefs do they hold in common? On what matters do they differ? Can they meet differences with humor and respect? Are they open to considering outside help if such guidance seems warranted?
  • Do they both see marriage as sacred? Are they open to seeking divine assistance? What are their plans for nurturing the spiritual basis for their marriage?
  • Do they each see themselves and their partner as equal and trusted, sharing responsibilities and decisions? Do they communicate feelings, needs, dreams and fears?
  • Are they aware of the need for other friendships that contribute to both individual growth and the marriage relationship?
  • Have they thought about children, and the joys and the challenges families create, including consideration of how the work is shared?
  • If there are children in either relationship to consider, has the couple broached the subject of this change of relationship with them?
  • How do they view their relationships to their extended families? to their community? to society as a whole?
  • Are there prior obligations—legal or financial or other—that need to be met?
  • What are the views of the parents concerning this relationship? (Parents may send a letter).
  • What other questions does the couple have?

The clearness committee does its best to confirm that the intended partners follow a true leading in seeking marriage. Since occasionally obstructions do appear, it is considered wise to treat all applications with the same degree of care. The focus for the committee is the two people being married and attention to their responsibilities to each other and to their families. Particularly with young people, the Meeting seeks from the parents of the couples their expressions of unity with this intention, usually in the form of a letter. When either of the couple brings children to this union, their well-being must be considered; but whether the children should be consulted regarding their feelings about their parent’s marriage is a question to which there is no generally accepted answer. If the clearness committee and the couple feel that it would be helpful, it is appropriate to include the children in the clearness process.

While most Friends’ marriage ceremonies conform to civil law, couples who do not want, or are not eligible to contract, a legal marriage occasionally ask for a ceremony of commitment or a wedding under the care of the Meeting. The Religious Society of Friends has long asserted its freedom to conduct under divine leading marriage ceremonies not conforming to civil law.

If the clearness committee is satisfied that there is no obstacle to the proposed marriage, it so reports to the monthly meeting at its next business session. If the Meeting finds no objection with the proposed marriage, it will approve holding an appointed meeting for worship for marriage, in accordance with the couple’s wishes. Wedding invitations should be sent out only after the Meeting’s approval is granted.

Overseeing the preparation

When the Meeting has given its approval for the wedding to take place under its care, it appoints an oversight committee from among its members, usually two men and two women, to oversee the arrangements. The parties to be married should be asked whether there is anyone they would like particularly to serve on this committee. Members of another Meeting may be included if so desired.

The oversight committee provides guidance to the couple as the marriage ceremony is arranged, including the obtaining of the applicable legal license and the Quaker marriage certificate. Oversight continues through the ceremony and afterwards, to assure that details are completed in right order. The oversight committee ordinarily assumes responsibility for the certificate and for the license until it is signed by the couple after the wedding. It keeps track of the process of obtaining and safeguarding the two documents through the completion of the signing, and the transferal to the appropriate parties. It also oversees the presentation of the certificate at the wedding.

Because in some places the proper license form may not be immediately available, it is important to allow enough time for obtaining the license. The Quaker marriage certificate also requires preparation well ahead of time. The couple arranges for the certificate and may need assistance in the details necessary to accomplish this. In addition, any contemplated changes from the traditional text deserve thoughtful and careful consideration, in consultation with the oversight committee.


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