Groom’s Guide: “I Do” It My Way
Instructions for planning a wedding ceremony that’s 100 percent you
Given Seattle’s maritime ties, it’s probably occurred to you that you might be married on the deck of some historic ship by a bearded and, ideally, peg-legged captain from Ballard. Unfortunately, ship captains aren’t legal officiants in Washington—or anywhere, actually, unless your skipper is also a minister or judge. But hey, a quick visit to Universal Life Church’s website, and your favorite sailor would be ready to go.
Weddings are logistical puzzles. Organizing caterers, choosing DJs, sending invitations, and getting to the proverbial church on time can make it easy to forget that the comparatively brief ceremony is the real linchpin of the whole occasion. Steeped in tradition, the half-hour or so before the party is all about declaring your love in a meaningful and legally binding manner. There’s a lot to consider on both sides of that coin, but if you follow our “I do” how-to you’ll leave the altar like a rock star.
Walking barefoot along some grassy knoll on Vashon Island and asking Mother Earth and Father Creator to bless your union may sound awesome if you ate some funny mushrooms, but it wouldn’t make for a legit marriage in the eyes of the law.
First, you’ll want to head to Seattle’s King County Administration Building (500 Fourth Ave) to get your license. The fee is $64 cash or certified funds only (no blood test required); bride and groom, bride and bride, or groom and groom must be present together to sign the license, and it’s mandatory that each fill in the legal name they’ll have after they wed. Three days later you’re free to marry, but your license is only good for 60 days, so don’t get too far ahead of yourself. And don’t go too far away; the license is valid anywhere in the state, but only in the state. Finally, the ceremony, no matter where you have it, must be witnessed by two adults, and the license returned to the county within 30 days.
For those getting married outside Washington or in another country (where there can be complicated residency or religion requirements), Aleah Valley of Valley and Co recommends having your coordinator or venue concierge do the license legwork. Start researching early and be prepared for unexpected issues. “In Mexico, the couple has to be present and arrive within a certain time period before their wedding; they have to get a blood test and wait for the results before they can start the ceremony,” Valley says. “People anticipate that it’s a popular destination and it’s really easy, but there are definitely some logistics to deal with.”
The Master of Your Ceremony
You want an officiant who fits you like your favorite pair of shoes, and a ceremony and that speaks to what your new life together is all about.
• Traditional religious weddings typically require that clergy officiate, and there may be other conditions as well. Wedding coordinator Margaret Lynch of St. James Cathedral on Capitol Hill advises Catholic couples to get in touch at least six months in advance to complete the necessary premarital counseling with a priest. Rabbi Daniel Weiner, at the nearby Temple de Hirsch Sinai, asks Jewish pairs to write their own text for the ketubah—a marriage contract outlining the couple’s rights, responsibilities, and commitments to each other. If you’re going that route, save time to think like an Old World lawyer in love.
• These days many people refer to themselves as “spiritual,” not “religious.” If you and your beloved fall into that camp, consider an experienced justice of the peace or nondenominational minister. Rev. Mary Calhoun loves the freedom this allows her, and her clients. “I see the role of the officiant as one of ‘ceremony whispering,’” she quips. “I help foster organization, decorum, humor, and soulfulness during this segment of the celebration.”
• Sometimes people are raised in a faith but lose touch during college and the early years of career building. If you don’t belong to a local church but want some of that old-time religion, a faith-based but nonaffiliated officiant might be the way to go. “I’ve found a number of couples have gone through the Catholic regimen growing up but don’t feel they want all of the service elements at their marriage,” say Rev. Patrick Callahan. A priest for many years, he stepped down to be married but continued doing ceremonies. “I’m still a Catholic, but I am on my own terms,” says Callahan.
• Maybe you have a close friend who’s also a brilliant orator and you know he’d be just perfect to lead the day. Go for it, but be sure he or she has the required online credentials—try the Big Lebowski–inspired Church of the Latter-Day Dude. (Google it; it’s real.) “We’re seeing a lot of people go this route, but be sure you choose what your friend or family is going to say, go over it with them, and practice, practice,” says Valley. “Make sure he can handle himself and won’t start laughing or crying.”
You probably know the basic Western ceremony structure: walk down the aisle, officiant’s welcome and musings, readings or songs, exchange of vows and rings, pronouncement of marriage, and the green light for a smooch. But that might not seem meaningful to you, particularly if you or your partner are of different
cultures. Consider honoring each family’s traditions by respectfully bringing together time-honored
elements. Heads up: If you choose to vary too far from what guests are familiar with, make sure to provide some sort of explanation—either verbally during the ceremony or written in the ceremony program.
Wedding planner BreeAnn Gale of Pink Blossom Events told us about Elizabeth Norbeen and Brett Jassny, who got married in 2011. They simultaneously honored her Native
American heritage and his Jewish faith with a blanket ceremony—bride and groom wore separate blankets, then as a couple, were wrapped in one—while a rabbi officiated underneath a chuppah. “The ceremony was really about who we are,” Norbeen says. “The traditions blended well together, and it felt really natural.”
Christian ceremonies often feature the lighting of a single unity candle with two tapers, signifying the union of two hearts and lives, but there are any number of ways to evoke this sentiment. We’ve heard of wine lovers pouring two bottles into one to make a custom blend; gardeners might contribute soil to a single potted plant.
And why not let the crowd in on the action? Ring-warming ceremonies are good for that. At the start of the ceremony the rings are passed from guest to guest; each one takes a minute to hold the rings and silently give their blessings or best wishes to the new couple. When the rings make it back to the altar, they’ll have been thoroughly loved on by everyone in attendance.
And then there’s the handfasting observance. Thought to have originated in pre-Christian Europe, this practice once represented the engagement of the couple, not the actual marriage, but for the last four centuries the act has been incorporated into the wedding ceremony instead. The couple’s hands are bound together with a cord or ribbon, and the officiant ties the knot. The action is typically paired with words like “As these hands share affection, you demonstrate your love for one another; this is the greatest foundation in holding your family as one,” says Calhoun.
You Do You
Five outside-the-box opportunities:
1. Preceremony cocktail party A cool Jewish tradition: having separate bride and groom receptions (kabbalat panim) before the I do’s. Typically lively events, she is supposed to sit on an attractive throne and he at a table laden with food and drink.
2. Fun before formality Recent Valley and Co clients started their wedding off with a big reception, then surprised their guests when a bagpiper stepped in to start the ceremony. The wedding began on the spot, ended quickly, and transitioned into an even bigger celebration. “No one had to go anywhere, the guests where totally shocked, and it was a very memorable experience,” says Nick Valley.
3. Non-trad organization Make your ceremony more intimate by forgoing the usual rows of chairs; instead, have guests form a circle or spiral around you. If the ceremony is short they can stand, if it takes place outdoors they can sit in the grass—or consider bringing in some hay bales or other unexpected seats.
4. Writing your own vows Rolling your own is fairly common these days, but if you haven’t written anything creative since freshman English, do review the lines with your officiant. And make sure to say something about agreeing to spend your lives together.
5. Beautiful music Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” is so 1840s. Walk down the aisle with something that speaks to you. Some parties strut the aisle to “Top Gun Anthem,” or for a softer touch get a violinist, guitarist, or mandolin player to strum the chords to you and your sweetheart’s favorite songs.
Jennifer Taylor of Taylor’d Events by Jennifer shares ceremony-insider tips:
• Religious rituals aside, modern ceremonies last somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. Keep it thoughtful but tight by limiting the service to just a couple of poems, scripture readings, or literature excerpts. And don’t be afraid to mix song lyrics and fun movie speeches in with The Prophet, “An Apache Blessing,” and Corinthians 13.
• You remember learning to be prepared, right? For rainy or super-bright days, be sure to have at least a few umbrellas on hand for guests to grab; Bella Umbrella offers rentals for such occasions. Make sure your venue has backup plans for bad weather, too. Canopies or large tents add warmth at evening ceremonies.
• Unless you’re having a very small wedding, amplification of your ceremony is strongly recommended. “People came to your wedding to see you get married, but they need to be able to hear you, too,” Taylor says.
• Your wedding will fly by. With all the hugs and handshakes you and your new spouse might miss the opportunity to bask in your big day together. Plan for a few moments and a little space for the two of you to sip Champagne and enjoy some appetizers in private after you leave the altar.