We are not particularly religious people. Okay, we’re not religious at all. We try our best to be spiritual, good people. Just not in an organized, Sunday-church-going type of way. So a church marriage was just not “us.” We’ll just be getting married at our reception site by a family member who is ordained.
But let’s say we weren’t lucky enough to have that option. It would be super weird and inconvenient to pay a religious leader we didn’t know or really even support to officiate our vows. Or what if we were atheist and didn’t want to go to the Justice of the Peace? Or get married on a boat or by a mayor?
Pennsylvania can be pretty cool.
Luckily, we live in the great state of Pennsylvania, where reverent, God-fearing people have accidentally paved the way for modern-day heathens. (At least I’m sure that’s how the 1700s group would view us.) Quakers played a huge role in the foundation of this state. One of the many laws that reflects that is self-uniting marriage. Because they traditionally have no clergy, when Quakers marry they don’t have an officiant, as it’s God marrying them, not any man.
This is why for all of its history Pennsylvania has allowed self-uniting marriages. So if you want to just write your own vows, you can. And skip the clergy fee. (Just make sure you have two witnesses.) I think it could be kind of beautiful. (Though I’m happy with our decision to have our family member involved; it means a lot to us.)
When you go in to get your license, be sure to mention right off the bat that you want a self-uniting marriage. Do your research before you apply. Some clerks might be jerks and refuse to give it to you. If you do get a jerk clerk, you really could, and I’d argue should, throw this ACLU case in their face.
Essentially what happened was that Allegheny county asked a couple if they were Quakers. They said no. So they refused to give them the license.
Let me recap: they asked them their religion, and because of their answer, refused them a government service. Allegheny county screwed up royally. So from what I understand they are now much more accommodating to couples who want to take the self-uniting route.
I also understand that they do not charge a fee for this service. This is not true in all counties.
Philadelphia county charges $90 in addition to the fee just to apply and get a normal license. Which may start to get close to the fee an officiant would charge, making this a budget wash. UPDATE: A reader was recently issued a self-uniting marriage license in Philadelphia county. Contrary to how it is presented on their website, the fee for that county is only an additional $10, making the entire affair $90 TOTAL.
If you live near a county other than the one you live in, try giving them a call to see what their fees (and jerk levels) are. In Pennsylvania, it doesn’t matter if your license is issued by a county other than the one you live in or the one you will be married in. As long as it comes from PA and you get married in PA, you’re good.
Other states offer self-uniting marriage, too.
Here are some states that offer similar options, or just options that may be better for some more secular couples:
- Colorado also offers self-uniting marriages.
- UPDATE! Thanks to a reader comment, we now know that Washington DC‘s laws changed in 2013 to allow self-uniting marriages.
- UPDATE! Thanks to a reader comment, we now know that Wisconsin offers self-uniting marriages in much the same way Pennsylvania does. It was set up for specific religious purposes, but it is illegal to deny a couple a self-uniting license because of their religion. Meaning that as it goes it PA, it goes it Wisconsin.
- UPDATE! Thanks to a reader’s efforts, California now has a precedent for performing non-Quaker non-clergy marriages. (AKA self-uniting marriages where you don’t have to be a Quaker.)
- Let’s say you don’t have a religious leader in your family. In Massachusetts, anyone can become a Justice of the Peace for a day, specifically for the purposes of marrying a friend or family member. (Or just anyone.) The fee to apply is only $25, so most people would be saving money vs. a professional clergy member. And you can get married by anyone that’s super close to you. Or just anyone you want.
If you know of any other pretty cool state marriage laws pertaining to the officiating, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.