I am often asked by couples that want to be married, “How can we have a wedding without a ceremony in California?” or “Look, we just want to be married but we don’t want a wedding ceremony.” And it’s a simple response, “You can’t.”
By law, you must first acquire a marriage license. I can issue your marriage license immediately before I officiate your wedding ceremony because I am a notary public specially commissioned by Los Angeles County to do so (but I can issue them in any California County). But a marriage license simply authorizes a couple identified on the marriage license document to have a marriage ceremony. If you do not have a ceremony before the marriage license expires in 90 days, your marriage license simply becomes meaningless.
Legal Marriage Ceremony California
In technical terms, you must have your marriage “solemnized” which is term that refers to the required formalities of a legal marriage ceremony. There are only two necessary elements to a wedding ceremony:
- While in the presence of your marriage officiant you both must clearly express your intent to be married; and
- Your officiant must pronounce you married and complete the marriage certificate at the bottom on your marriage license.
It’s that simple. I have officiated weddings for couples who don’t want the pomp and circumstance of a formal wedding ceremony with a simple, “Do you want to marry him? Do you want to marry her?” Then I now pronounce them husband and wife, or husband and husband, or wife and wife. It’s a legal formality, but a necessary one.
What are the reasons that couples do not want a wedding ceremony? There are many. Some couples are incredibly shy and do not want to be the center of attention. Others are just too busy and do not want to attach a great deal of emotion the legal formalities of their marriage. Quite often the simple “I do” ceremony is requested by couples who are planning a more elaborate wedding ceremony for friends and family at a later date and they want the legal benefits of marriage but do not want to take away from the emotion of the later celebration. And couples who are planning to be married in another country often choose to be legally married in a simple private “un-ceremony” at their home so they will not have to deal with the bureaucracy of trying to have their foreign marriage recognized as legal under United States and California law.
I’ve married people in many different places from coffee shops to beaches to street corners to airport terminals. It can be a simple, private and quick as you want.
Find out more about California confidential marriage licenses.
Find out more about legal marriage before the wedding ceremony.
Find out more about private wedding ceremonies.