Millennials seem to be getting a reputation for putting off or not getting married all together, but the amount of wedding invites I get every year seems to prove otherwise. But with more and more Gen X-ers choosing to leave the religions of their childhoods behind (if they had one to begin with), we’ll probably be seeing an increase in non-religious weddings in the future.
I come from a family of religious variety — we have Mormons, Evangelical Christians, Catholics, Scientologists, and a few atheists and agnostics — and my boyfriend is Jewish. But since we are both non-religious individuals, we know that our wedding will reflect that whenever we choose to get married. I’ve always kind of known this. I was never one of those people who envisioned myself walking down the pew-lined aisle of a giant church. But since the institution of marriage is still very rooted in religious traditions, it might seem daunting to start from scratch.
Luckily, planning a non-religious wedding is easy! There are really three main areas of your wedding — officiant, venue, and ceremony — that will need to be tailored to fit your secular needs. Here are a few suggestions to get your wedding planning rolling.
Typically, for a religious ceremony, the couple’s minister, priest, rabbi, or other clergy members solemnize the marriage ceremony. But when you’re not religious, who can you choose to officiate? You’ll want to check your state's laws regarding who’s qualified, but the short answer is that most sitting or retired judges, magistrates, or justices of the peace can perform a civil wedding ceremony. When my parents got married, for instance, they asked a family friend and former judge to officiate their ceremony.
Of course, you could also ask a friend or family member to become ordained. The Universal Life Church is probably the most famous online resource for getting ordained, since it’s free, it’s easy, and you’re ordained for life. But don’t let the minister title fool you — your ceremony can still be completely non-religious!
Just so you know, some places of worship will allow secular weddings to take place there. It depends on the venue and its use — a church that no longer holds an active congregation will probably be more open to the idea, for example. So even if you plan to have a non-religious ceremony and wedding as a whole, you may still be able to get married in that amazing church you’ve been eyeing. Just make sure you’re upfront with whoever runs the religious site about your intentions.
But seriously, choosing a non-religious venue is very easy. If you’re getting married outside of a church, temple, mosque, etc., your officiant is what makes the wedding religious. Get married at the beach, in the woods, at a hotel, on the rooftop of a building, at the courthouse, in your backyard — your options for a venue are basically endless.
And as with all wedding venues, choose a place that is meaningful to you and your partner, or that fits with your theme.
You’ll be skipping any religious texts and “in the sight of God” language for a non-religious ceremony, which also gives you the freedom to tailor it to your liking and personality. Because you’re not following a “traditional” religious ceremony structure and narrative, your ceremony can be anything you want it to be.
There are plenty of standard secular ceremonies your officiant can read from, or you can put together your own version using some non-cheesy and non-religious readings and traditions. You could also choose to incorporate some traditional readings from your ancestral heritage, like Native American vows, or a unique addition like a wine ceremony (perfect for wine lovers or a vineyard wedding).
I will most likely be having some sort of geek-themed wedding, like Batman or Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. So why not tie your ceremony to your theme? My best friend just had a literature-inspired wedding, so they could have included something from their favorite books or poems, for instance. You could have your officiant quote the entirety of the Princess Bride, and as long as you sign your marriage certificate and say “I do,” you’re married!