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What Is a Commitment Ceremony?

From eloping to proposing without a ring, bucking wedding traditions has become a lot more acceptable among a lot of today’s couples. At Modern Gents, we’ve never been shy about admitting that we’re totally here for it! (In some ways, of course, you could say we’re a little non-traditional ourselves — and proud of it, too.)

The commitment ceremony is another twist on tradition that’s gaining popularity. These wedding-like ceremonies are focused on a couple’s commitment to one another, and they can have just about any element of a traditional wedding that you want — minus a marriage license.

How does that work, anyway? What is a commitment ceremony, and what should you know if you’re thinking about having one instead of a wedding? The facts you need are all up ahead!

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Alright, So What Is a Commitment Ceremony?

In the simplest terms, a commitment ceremony is a wedding that’s not legally binding. See, the average wedding in the U.S. is actually two things:

  • A ceremony that involves taking vows, exchanging rings and all of the other symbols of commitment that most people associate with weddings. These traditions are often incredibly meaningful on a personal level — but none of them actually make you legally married.
  • A brief legal procedure in which both partners, the officiant and possibly a witness or two sign a marriage license form. This typically happens immediately after the ceremony and only takes a few minutes. Later, you’ll file this form with your local government, which will issue you a marriage certificate. This part is how you become legally married.

man woman embrace during ceremony

Commitment ceremonies involve only the first of these two parts. For reasons that we’ll talk about in a minute, some couples can’t or don’t want to perform the legal part — or they’ve already taken care of it. Thus, you can think of a commitment ceremony as any type of ritual that celebrates partners’ lifelong commitment to each other, minus the legal aspects of marriage.

These ceremonies can look wildly different from each other, depending on what the partners want. It could be an elopement with two people and no officiant, or it could be a big party that looks just like a traditional wedding minus the paperwork signing (which most people don’t notice anyway). You can even have commitment rings without marriage! (We’ll show you some cool options later on.) 

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Commitment Ceremony vs. Civil Ceremony

A commitment ceremony is different from a civil ceremony. In fact, the two are basically opposites. In a civil ceremony, you go to a government building (usually a courthouse) and have a certain official (usually a magistrate) witness your vows. The marriage license is signed, and you’re legally married from that point on. 

Civil ceremonies are a popular choice for people who want the legal benefits of being married but don’t want to plan (and/or pay for) a traditional wedding. They also don’t have to be all-business. Plenty of people dress up in all the fun wedding finery for a courthouse ceremony, and friends and family can usually come along (up to a point).

In fact, because the two ceremonies serve totally different purposes, it’s actually possible to have both a commitment ceremony and a civil ceremony. What’s more, you can do them in any order you please! 

Why Have a Commitment Ceremony

Why Have a Commitment Ceremony?

1. You’ve already gotten legally married.

Because of the substantial legal benefits that come with marriage, some people want to get married as quickly as possible once they know their partner is the one. Partners might get hitched in a civil ceremony to save time and money and then come back for the commitment ceremony later when they have more resources available to do it the way they want.

If this is your position, you’re sitting pretty! You’ve gotten the legal part out of the way, and now you’re free to focus on making your commitment ceremony everything you want it to be. Scroll down a little more for some tips on having the ceremony of your dreams. 

2. You face legal obstacles to getting married.

Various legal issues can stand in the way of getting married when you want to. These can include, among others:

  • Pending Divorce: Generally, it’s not legally possible to marry someone if you’re already married to another person — and that counts divorces that haven’t yet become official. Unfortunately, the legal process of divorce can be long, arduous and expensive. A commitment ceremony is a great way to signal the start of a new marriage without waiting for a pending divorce.
  • Pending Immigration Status: Marriage and immigration intertwine in a lot of complicated ways. Sometimes, that means legal marriage isn’t an option (or isn’t the best option) for a couple with mixed immigration status. While you’re waiting for immigration paperwork to go through, you might choose to have a commitment ceremony.
  • Same-Sex Marriage (Outside the U.S.): Although same-sex marriage is currently legal throughout the U.S., it’s still against the law in many other countries. If this is the case in your jurisdiction and you want to affirm a lifetime commitment to your same-sex partner, you might need to opt for a commitment ceremony until laws change. 

bride groom hugging each other

3. You’re planning to elope. 

The two of you are headed out to a beautiful place to make the biggest commitment of your life — and if you’re not crazy about the idea of dragging an officiant along, who can blame you? If you’d like your elopement ceremony to be as intimate as possible (and/or you want to say your vows in an inaccessible place), it’s often simpler to make it a commitment ceremony.

4. You don’t want to be legally married.

Sometimes, people want to make a deep emotional commitment to another person without becoming legally married. This might be purely for personal reasons, or there might be tax or other financial considerations. (People with disabilities, in particular, often have to consider their disability benefits when getting married.) Whatever your reasons for avoiding the legal institution of marriage, you can still have a beautiful ceremony (and a great party, if you want it)! 

Planning Your Commitment Ceremony

As we mentioned earlier, flexibility is one of the major advantages of commitment ceremonies. Your ceremony can have just about any look, feel and structure that you want. With that in mind, here are some of the major considerations for a commitment ceremony:

Who will be there?

The smallest and simplest commitment ceremonies involve only the people getting married and no one else. (Check out our piece on the pros and cons of eloping for more insights about whether it’s right for you.) On the other hand, a commitment ceremony can have hundreds of guests if you want it to, just like a traditional wedding.

Basically, that means you’ve got all of the same considerations you’d have when planning a wedding guest list. That also includes figuring out who’s going to be in your respective wedding parties and how large those parties will be. It can all be a little overwhelming, so see our tips for narrowing down your guest list if you’re at an impasse. 

gay couple exchange rings

Do you want an officiant?

An officiant (such as a priest, pastor, imam, rabbi, ordained friend or celebrant) is totally optional for a commitment ceremony. Some people find it personally meaningful to have one present, and some don’t care one way or the other. If you’re not religious but still want someone to preside, secular officiants are increasingly popular.

On the other hand, if you know for sure you don’t want an officiant, you should know that in a few U.S. states you can still get legally married without one. These states allow what’s called “self-solemnization,” which is a fancy name for getting married without an officiant. In all of the following states, you and your partner can make your own union official: 

  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Nevada
  • Pennsylvania
  • Wisconsin

Note that some states have certain requirements for self-solemnization, so check the relevant laws before you make it part of your plan. 

Where will you have the ceremony

Where will you have the ceremony?

In most cases, you can book any venue for a commitment ceremony that you’d book for a similar-sized wedding. The one potential exception is religious venues, which might have specific requirements about the nature of the ceremony.

Some couples choose to have a commitment ceremony while they’re on vacation. This can be a really fun way to do it and leave you with some truly awesome memories. Vacation commitment ceremonies tend to work best for small weddings, although there’s always the option to make it a true blowout destination ceremony if you and your family have the resources. 

What kind of food will you serve?

If you’re having a small ceremony, or especially if you’re eloping, you might simply choose to go out for a special dinner and drinks afterward. This can be a great way to keep things manageable and affordable while still treating yourself and your guests to something worthy of the occasion.

Options are plentiful for those who want a bigger commitment ceremony. For a formal event, you might choose to go with a traditional three-course meal. At more casual ceremonies, meanwhile, self-serve options like a family-style dinner or taco bar are awesome for keeping everyone fed without going overboard. 

What kind of vows will you say?

The vows are right up there with the rings (see below) as one of the most personal and intimate aspects of making your lifelong commitment. If you don’t have any particular ideas in mind, the traditional vows still hold up well, and they work just as well for a commitment ceremony as they do for a wedding. 

However, a lot of folks find real value in having both partners write their own wedding vows. It’s a great way for each partner to express what means the most about their relationship! For a keepsake you’ll both cherish forever, you can even have your custom vows made into a print or book. Perhaps best of all, at a commitment ceremony, there’s no one to tell you what your vows have to say!

What kind of rings will you have?

For a lot of couples, the exchange of rings is one of the most symbolically meaningful parts of the whole ceremony (wedding or commitment). The rings have a unique and magical way of making it tangible, and Modern Gents is proud to be part of the most important day of so many people’s lives. 

Of course, you don’t have to exchange rings at a commitment ceremony if you don’t want to. Some couples might choose an alternative, like tattooed rings, and some might have already exchanged promise rings or another type of ring to symbolize their commitment. Still, with so many striking options for rings from Modern Gents, try looking at what’s available. You might be surprised at the array of beautiful and affordable designs!

exchanging the rings

Featured: The Elite and The Lovely in Rose Gold

Here are some of our favorite commitment ceremony rings from our collection. Mix and match them for a beautiful set of his and hers rings (or his and his, or hers and hers — you get the idea):

  • The Bliss: Treasure the warmth of rose gold and bask in the brilliance of a pear-shaped stone with this engagement ring and wedding band set.
  • The Titan: A forever commitment demands a durable ring, and that’s exactly what the titanium shine of the Titan will give you.
  • The Lovely: Take the shine into overdrive with the jumbo-sized stone and brilliant halo of the Lovely.
  • The Elite: Sleek, masculine and oh so sophisticated — it’s easy to see how this tungsten wedding band got its name.
  • The Ultraflex: Enjoy the flexibility, comfort and low-stress simplicity of a set of silicone rings
Discover Incredible His and Hers Ring Sets

We’re always proud to be a part of so many different ceremonies that celebrate love! Moreover, we love to help our customers make their big day everything they’ve always dreamed of. For more tips that can apply to commitment ceremonies as well as weddings, see our favorite backyard wedding ideas and our tips to avoid wedding planning fights.  


Image Credits







Doralin Samuel Tunas/