Unions of Marriage or Commitment
A Brief Overview
The Friends' procedure for marriage is designed to extend to the couple the loving concern of the Meeting in this important venture, to determine, so far as possible, that there is nothing to interfere with the permanence and happiness of the union, and to enable the couple then to have a meeting for marriage with dignity and simplicity. The couple's request for marriage under the care of the Meeting reflects their recognition of an ongoing relationship with the Society of Friends.
Marriage, undertaken with divine assistance and solemnized in God's presence with the support of the Meeting, is recognized at FMW as appropriate for committed couples regardless of gender.
While membership in FMW or the Religious Society of Friends is not a requirement for marriage under the Meeting's care, some relationship with this Meeting and the Society of Friends is a prerequisite.
Couples who do not wish to legally formalize their unions, or those engaged in other types of family formation, may choose to request commitment under the care of the Meeting. Like marriage, commitment is undertaken with divine assistance and solemnized in God's presence with the support of the Meeting. The procedures for making the request, reaching clearness, planning the meeting for commitment, and the meeting itself, are virtually identical to those for marriage.
For more information on both marriage and commitment under the care of FMW, see the FMW Marriage Procedures Manual.
The procedures are as follows:
Making the Request
- Couples are encouraged to make their request to the Meeting at least four months prior to the date of the meeting for marriage or commitment, and six months prior to it if possible.
- A request should be made in writing, signed by both members of the couple, if possible, stating their intention to be united, and asking that the union be under the care of Friends Meeting of Washington. This letter should be addressed to the Meeting in care of the Clerk, who will then forward it to the Marriage and Family Relations Committee.
- The Marriage and Family Relations committee appoints two members to meet with the couple to learn of their clearness for union, usually through a series of queries and contemplation.
- This Clearness Committee also explains to the couple the procedure for a Quaker union, the guidelines for holding a meeting for marriage at FMW, the timetable for approval, and any legal requrements. Information resources are available to assist same-gender couples in achieving the protections, privileges and responsibilities that are autometically conveyed by law to different-gender couples.
- The Clearness Committee makes a recommendation to the Marriage and Family Relations Committee. If they support the proposed union, the full Committee brings the request to the next Monthly Meeting for Business. The request must then be held over for one month before the marriage can be apporved by the Meeting for Business.
Planning the Meeting
- An Oversight Committee is appointed to help the couple plan the meeting for marriage. It includes at least one member from the Marriage and Family Relations Committee.
- In the years to come, this committee will continue to serve the couple as a resource for support, information and clearness as needed.
The Meeting Itself
- The meeting for marriage is essentially a meeting for worship. The couple walks together into the meeting in recognition of the fact that they are free to give themselves to each other. The custom of not "giving the bride away" was adopted in the early days of the Society of Friends, which recognized the status of women to be equal to the of men.
- In an atmosphere of quiet and relative simplicity, they will, after a suitable time, rise and taking each other by the hand, first one and then the other, promise with divine assistance to be loving and faithful to one another for as long as they both shall live. No third person pronounces them husband and wife, mates or partners because Friends believe that God alone can create such a union and give it significance.
- Neither a bridal party nor an exchange of rings is necessary to Friends procedure, although both may be included.
- A Friends marriage certificate is signed by the couple.
- The meeting continues with a period of worship during which time friends and family may share their prayers and messages for the couple.
- Afterward, all who have been present are asked to sign the marriage certificate as evidence of the fact that they are witnesses to the beginning of the new relationship.
- Members of the Marriage and Family Relations Committee serve as legal witnesses for marriages under the care of the Meeting in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Several members of the Meeting have been empowered by the courts of Virginia to serve as legal witnesses for marriages held under the care of the Meeting in that state. Click here for a copy of the D.C. Marriage License Application.
Other Marriage Arrangements Possible at FMW
The Marriage and Family Relations Committee occasionally arranges a meeting for worship to hold in Divine Light a new union between members of the Meeting community which is not, for one reason or another, under the care of the Meeting. This is called a "marriage in the manner for Friends." The Committee also appoints welcome committees for the new couples coming into our community. Either of these arrangements can be discuessed with the Clerk of the Marriage and Family Relations Committee.
The Meeting House is available for other marriage ceremonies for a fee. Please contact the Meeting office for information about this.