Separating church and state … from “I do”


My friends Tony and Catherine decided a few years ago that they wanted to marry themselves ... not just each other.

Tony and Catherine entered into legal wedlock, without clergy or judicial presence, by conducting the ceremony themselves, which is also known as a self-uniting marriage, where the couple are married without a third-party officiant.

Colorado law allows such couples to perform their own marriages. The two simply indicate this on the marriage certificate, and sign where the clergy or judicial officer would, and then sign again as “bride” and “groom.” Witnesses aren’t even necessary either, but the newlyweds do need to return the marriage certificate for recording no later than 63 days from the date of solemnization.

Tony and Catherine first obtained a marriage license at the Division of Motor Vehicles, and then wrote and exchanged their own vows in the presence of family and friends, which constituted their entire self-uniting ceremony.

Another couple who are friends of mine had a Hindu ceremony some months later — which they considered to be spiritual rather than religious — to allow others to celebrate with them after they had legally self-solemnized their marriage.

However, self-marriage participants don’t need any kind of ceremony at all — no judge, no clergy, no justice of the peace. They can sign the marriage certificate right in the building where they got their license and file it immediately with the clerk and recorder.

I’m intrigued with this concept of a self-uniting marriage, and why it makes such a profound statement. For example, for a couple to write their own vows is nice, but not unique to self-marriage. And it’s not just the novelty of having a simple ceremony like Tony’s and Catherine’s; with costs spiraling out of the realm of reality, and the increasing stress of planning a big wedding these days, many couples are scaling back. Even celebrities are eloping.

Tony and Catherine chose self-marriage because they wanted their union to be civil instead of religious, and with as little judicial involvement as possible. As Tony says, though, they had to involve the government because they filed their signed marriage certificate with the state. And, of course, the “legal” part of “legally married” includes, at a minimum, the oversight of the judicial system for the benefit and protection of all parties. This entrance of the state also occurs after a religious ceremony, too, and self-uniting marriages need not be secular, by any means. But I like that the state comes in after the fact, recognizing what the two people in the marriage have already made happen.

Colorado is one of only two or three states that recognize a self-solemnized ceremony. This doesn’t mean the marriage is not valid in other states, although insurance companies and such might require a certified copy of the marriage certificate.

But what I find particularly moving about two people such as Catherine and Tony who choose to enter a self-uniting marriage is that they are establishing — confirming, really — that the path they are about to travel is truly in their hands.

Do you think that assuming the responsibility for your own union is a good way to declare your intentions for a life together?

I do.

Andrea Doray is an author who writes about what people say—such as “I do”—and how they say it, at Contact her at


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