Flickr Photo by Kim Siever
Flickr Photo by Kim Siever


What if I told you that you could get married without an officiant or witnesses?

Just the two of you, absolutely your way.

Sounds super modern, right?  Well, it turns out, the concept of a self-uniting marriage is as old as time.

Maybe you’re an atheist and have no interest in “God” language for your wedding.  Or perhaps it’s really important that you be married by someone who knows the both of you intimately…like yourselves!  Or maybe you’re like me and you can’t really stand people right now 🙂

Read on to find out what your options are.



Self-uniting or self-officiating marriages can be traced to ancient Hindu literature, being recognized as one of eight forms of marriage in Hinduism called a gandharva marriage.  By this method, a woman selects her own husband and does not require the consent of her parents or anyone else.  It is based on mutual attraction between two individuals and no rituals, witnesses or family involvement are required.

In the Rigveda and classic literature, gandharva marriages are described pretty much as we understand modern courtship leading to marriage in the West: boy and girl meet, boy and girl like each other, boy and girl decide to marry and their free choice and mutual attraction are approved of by their respective clans.

There are a number of reasons given for why gandharva marriage fell into decline that include:

  • Social upheavals from internal wars or foreign invasions that led to an increase in child marriages which eliminated a girl’s desire or ability to choose a husband of her own free will
  • A shift in Hindu ideology away from a diversity of marriage forms to ones that pressured families to seek arranged marriages
  • The priestly caste in India complaining because weddings were a major source of income and they were losing money to a marriage form that did not require rituals

In modern day India, it’s been making a comeback as love marriages although most of these self-arranged couples do opt for some ceremony with friends and family in attendance.

Self-uniting marriages also have their roots here in the United States from our Quaker heritage.  Since the Religious Society of Friends has no clergy, a couple intending to marry only needs to have a local meeting approve their intention and make a public announcement before a marriage could take place.  Their ceremony consists of a silent worship, just like any other Quaker meeting of worship, where the couple will exchange promises to each other before those who are gathered.


Rules & Regulations

Because of the Quaker influence in Pennsylvania, it is one of the few states where you can opt for a self-officiating marriage.  Other states with similar options include Wisconsin, Colorado and DC.  But Vermont and Massachusetts may offer a working alternative that could be just as satisfying.



A self-uniting marriage license can be obtained in Pennsylvania for $90 ($10 more than the regular license fee).  You do not need to be of the Quaker faith to obtain one, the state’s ACLU made sure of that in 2007.  That being said, a few wedding boards mention still running into difficult clerks in Bucks Country and Delaware County.  However, there shouldn’t be any issues if you obtain the license in Philly, Chester County and Dauphin.

While the self-uniting marriage license in Pennsylvania does not require an officiant, it will require the signature of two witnesses.



Like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin also allows a self-uniting marriage with two witnesses.

You can marry in Wisconsin if you are out of state, as long as you obtain the marriage license within the county where you plan to marry.  However, there is a one week waiting period after obtaining the license before the ceremony can take place and it expires 30 days after the date is issued.  This could make sense if you’re from the NYC area are planning an extended vacation to check out…beer? Cheese?  What does one do in Wisconsin?


Washington DC

The marriage fee is $45.  License is issued the same day that you apply, there is no waiting period and the license never expires.  Also, there is no residency or citizenship requirement and no witness requirement for the wedding ceremony.  For more details, click here.



Colorado allows couples to perform their own marriageNo officiant or witnesses are necessary.  You can start the application online to save time and then visit an office with identification to pick up the license.  There is no waiting period and the license expires 30 days after it is issued.  $30 fee.


Temporary Officiants: Vermont and Massachusetts

Vermont authorizes individuals to officiate at specific marriages in Vermont.  Complete a form and return it with $100 fee.  The applicant will then receive written authorization from the secretary of state to officiate a specific marriage and that authorization must be attached to the completed marriage license when it is returned to the clerk’s office. The registration form to be a temporary officiant should be submitted at least 10 days before the ceremony.  $60 for the marriage license, no waiting period, valid for 60 days from the date issued and no witnesses are required.

Massachusetts has a similar option, a 1-day designation certificate that costs $23.50 if you apply online at least one week before the ceremony.

If you’re interested in having a self-uniting ceremony in any of the states listed above and are looking for elopement options to make a day or week of the trip, then stay tuned for future posts!

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