Are you engaged but can’t be legally married for one reason or another? No worries! There are alternatives to paying for a piece of paper that ultimately gets filed with your city, county or state. A commitment ceremony can be performed exactly like a wedding and, for the most part, your guests won’t even realize you aren’t being legally married!

Why Would We Need to Consider a Commitment Ceremony vs. a Wedding?

You are probably asking yourself this question right now! What possible reason could there be for an engaged couple to not be legally married?

Let’s look at some of the reasons that couples may not be able to obtain a marriage license.

People With Disabilities or of Retirement Age

Sadly, if you are a disabled citizen collecting Social Security Disability benefits, there is a possibility that you could lose those benefits, or have them greatly reduced, if you choose to be married. This is especially true for anyone collecting Medicaid. Social Security expects a disabled person to become the “financial burden” of their spouse.

Additionally, some home healthcare services may be reduced or eliminated, which causes the able-bodied spouse undue burden and stress – because services are eliminated, it is now up to the spouse to provide 24/7 care to their disabled partner!

This issue also can affect older Americans who require more care. Some couples have even been forced to divorce just to maintain an acceptable level of benefits and services! There are too many older married couples who have lost their homes because they did not receive much needed healthcare services at an affordable cost.

Same Sex Couples 

While many strides have been made in our country to recognize same sex marriages, there may still be underlying reasons why a same sex couple may choose to not be legally married.

Some family members or friends may not accept a same sex marriage, and have a major influence on a couple’s decision to marry or not.

Did you know that only 30 countries out of 195 on our planet have legalized same sex marriage?

Here’s the rundown:

2000: The Netherlands

2003: Belgium

2005: Canada & Spain

2006: South Africa

2008: Norway

2009: Sweden

2010: Argentina, Portugal & Iceland

2012: Denmark

2013: Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, England & Wales, France

2014: Luxembourg & Scotland

2015: United States, Ireland, Finland & Greenland

2016: Columbia

2017: Malta, Australia & Germany

2019: Austria, Taiwan & Ecuador

Multiple Partners (Polygamy)

Current marriage laws in the United States do not allow for marriages with multiple partners. Only the first marriage is recognized and has a legal marriage license. Consider the fact that multiple marriages have been around for centuries – thus, making this heartbreaking for those affected.

Let’s take a quick look at the various types of multiple partnerships:


Refers to one man with multiple wives. This is an accepted norm in Mormon colonies that live in Utah and the neighboring states. It is also accepted in many African cultures and in the Middle East. However, in the United States, usually multiple marriages are not considered legal and the all wives other than the first one will not have any legal rights or benefits that are usually given to legal spouses.


Refers to one woman with many husbands. In certain cultures, this is acceptable and seen as a way to grow the population. In this concept, the woman can control not just the number of children she has but can also use it as a way to improve the survival chances of the children. However, again this concept is not considered legal in the US.

Group Marriage

This is considered to be a blend of polygyny and polyandry where both the man and woman have multiple partners and they all live together as a family. In this type of arrangement, all partners share the responsibility not just with the finances but also with the parenting of the children.

Polygamists can be charged with bigamy depending on the number of spouses they have. However, usually the spouses are aware of one another and live together. On the other hand, bigamy is when the spouse is unaware of other spouses.

In the United States, there is generally no interest in prosecuting polygamists and most communities that practice this type of arrangement are reserved and do not believe in mingling with the society in general. In the U.S., it has been seen that communities that believe in multiple spouses marry the first spouse legally and thereafter the spouses are gradually introduced into the family without a legal wedding ceremony. Therefore, it is difficult for the authorities to prove the charges of bigamy against the person.

Personal Choice

Some may simply have personal reasons for not legally marrying. Perhaps they have been married previously and just don’t want to go down that road again. We all know it is possible to find love again after a failed or disastrous relationship, but everyone has a personal choice in whether they remarry or not.

Whether you are a disabled person, in a same sex or multiple partner relationship, or simply just don’t want to be legally married – BUT you want to commit your life to another person (or persons) – what is your alternative to obtaining a marriage license?


A Commitment Ceremony!


What Is a Commitment Ceremony?

The answer is simple – it’s a wedding without the marriage license! Just like a wedding, the ceremony and celebration can be whatever you want! Some churches may allow you to be joined in their building and many wedding officiants are more than happy to work with anyone who wants to make a life commitment.

A True, Real-Life Commitment Ceremony … Mine!

I have recently taken this path myself. Earlier this year, I separated from my husband and began filing for divorce. I was blessed to reconnect with a former boyfriend from almost 20 years ago, and we rekindled our romance. He had recently become widowed himself.

We knew right away that we wanted to commit our lives to each other, but he was unable to be legally married due to provisions of a trust fund that he inherited.

The Ceremony & Reception Locations

So, we opted for a commitment ceremony with our closest friends and family. We chose Smith Park in Middletown as we wanted an outdoor ceremony and we had guests coming from both Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio. Middletown is named correctly – it is located directly between Dayton and Cincinnati!

Being a wedding planner, I had so much fun planning my own ceremony and reception! I chose some of my closest friends and colleagues to participate – Brenda Pottinger of Pottinger Photography (photos), Michael & Maryam Flack of Flack Productions (video), Christy Kerley of Chrissy Lane Designs (Monogram Design, Invitations, Arch & Draping, Cake Topper, Unity Ceremony Vessels), Ria Roth of Ria Wellness (officiant), The Flowerman! (bouquets and boutonnieres), Shannon Wright of Wright Time, Wright Place Events (ceremony programs and ceremony coordination).

The Details!

My niece, Bianca Mishurda (who is a pastry chef just starting her own business), made our delicious cake – vanilla bean sponge cake with Dulce de Leche caramel swirl filling and bourbon buttercream frosting. Our friend and neighbor, Jan Kettler, made our wine glass centerpieces.

Our unity ceremony was somewhat unique. A song that resonated strongly with me when Doug and I first reconnected was Pink’s “Glitter in the Air.” Doug used to play guitar in a Cincinnati-area classic rock cover band (which is how we met over 20 years ago), and so our unity vessel was made by Chrissy Lane Designs in the shape of the guitar that Doug had way back then. I found biodegradable glitter online, and we filled the guitar while the song played – and then both threw a fistful of the glitter in the air.

Our best friends stood in for us as our Matron of Honor (Julie Kilbarger) and Best Man (Bill Diesbach), and I was so blessed to have my beautiful daughter (Rachel Feltner) and nieces (Bianca Mishurda and Cheyenne Diesbach) carry our unity vessels down the aisle.

Doug and I even walked down the aisle together! We had a touching and heartfelt ceremony, exchanged rings, and were pronounced as life partners! My dream of 19 years came true on that beautiful fall day!

Our small reception dinner was held at Gracie’s Restaurant in downtown Middletown in their private room. We had around 40 guests; everyone was dressed casually and had a great time – and the food at Gracie’s was absolutely delicious!

The only traditional activity during our reception was the cake cutting. We really just wanted to spend the evening celebrating with our friends and family.

If You Can Dream It — You Can Have It!

So, as you can see, a commitment ceremony is really no different than a wedding. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you can dream it. Make it your own, reflect your personalities, and enjoy your friends & family! At the end of the day, that’s what a “wedding” or “marriage” should be about – the unity of your hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. The commitment to each other for life.  A celebration of love!

Planning a Wedding, Commitment Ceremony or Vow Renewal of Your Own?

For more information on how TLC Events & Weddings can help you plan your wedding, vow renewal, or commitment ceremony – or any other life event celebration – be sure to visit the Services page. To reach out with questions or to schedule a consultation, simply complete the form on the Contact page.

With Tender Loving Care,