What is a Commitment Ceremony and How to Plan a Commitment Ceremony

What exactly is a commitment ceremony? And how do I plan one? This post covers everything you need to know, including ideas, planning steps, and more!

Same sex lesbian couple having a commitment ceremony with mountains in the background

Updated: April 12, 2023

What is a commitment ceremony?

A commitment ceremony is a ceremony in which two people commit their lives to one another, through vows, exchanging rings, or other similar means. A commitment ceremony is not legally binding and does not affect the legal marital status of the two people.

How is a commitment ceremony different from a wedding?

A commitment ceremony can be very similar to a wedding ceremony in form, but the difference is the legal implications. A wedding ceremony results in the couple becoming legally married once the ceremony is performed, and the marriage license is signed and returned to appropriate local government offices. On the other hand, a commitment ceremony does not result in the couple becoming legally married.

Bowl of burning sage at a commitment ceremony with officiant, bride, and groom in the background

Why couples choose to have a commitment ceremony

There are several reasons why a couple might choose to have a commitment ceremony:

  • Some couples, such as LGBTQ+ couples, unfortunately still cannot legally marry in certain geographic areas outside the United States.
  • It could be a personal decision by the couple to commit to one another but not make the union legal.
  • Couples might decide to have a commitment ceremony if they want to have their ceremony in a fun location such as a foreign country, but just want the ease of taking care of their legal paperwork back home.
  • Legal ceremonies in some geographic areas require certain language/wording or specific instructions that don’t fit with what the couple wants to have as a part of their ceremony. Commitment ceremonies allow couples to avoid this type of red tape.
  • Some legal ceremonies require officiants or witnesses, and a couple might want to have a friend or family member lead their ceremony instead.

Are commitment ceremonies legally binding?

A commitment ceremony is not legally binding.

If you are wondering whether being legally married or not makes a difference to you, here are a few things to consider:

  • There are certain tax implications of a legal marriage to consider.
  • If you are legally married, you can jointly have employment benefits, such as health insurance.
  • There are estate planning and government benefit (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, etc.) implications as well.
  • When you legally get married, you combine your financial assets (subject to prenuptial agreements).
  • There are also decision making benefits or implications resulting from being legally married, such as making medical decisions if your spouse becomes incapacitated. 

Do I need an officiant or witnesses?

Because a commitment ceremony is not legally binding, you do not need an officiant or witness. You could also choose to have a friend or family member lead your ceremony in place of an officiant since one is not necessary.

How to plan a commitment ceremony

A commitment ceremony is generally planned similarly to a typical wedding or elopement ceremony. Elopement ceremonies tend to be simpler than traditional weddings, and commitment ceremonies often follow this simpler path as well. You can find a complete elopement checklist here, but here’s a general overview:

  1. Start daydreaming about what your special day might look like! Where do you want to have your ceremony? What time of year? Who do you want to invite, if anyone? Check out sites like Pinterest for inspiration.
  2. Decide on your perfect ceremony location.
  3. Choose a date.
  4. Hire vendors, such as a photographer, videographer, florist, hair and makeup artists, etc.
  5. Book any travel needed, such as lodging, flights, rental car, etc.
  6. Finalize details for your day.
  7. Enjoy your special day!

Not sure about whether to plan a “just us” commitment ceremony or invite guests?

A common dilemma I see with couples planning an elopement, vow renewal, or any other type of commitment ceremony is whether or not to invite friends and family.

For a lot of couples, the privacy and intimacy of a “just us” day is very appealing. You can be completely free to be yourselves and there are a lot more options for where to go and what to do when you don’t have the think about the logistics of including a larger group.

On the other hand, your friends and family are special to you, and being able to celebrate this special occasion with them also means a lot to you!

If this sounds like you and you’re just completely torn, I’m here to tell you that you actually can have the best of both worlds and do both!

One option is to split up your day, going off by yourselves for part of the day and rejoining friends and family for the rest. The other option is to split your celebration into two days, and this option is becoming very popular with couples. I have elopement packages for both of these options so you don’t have to decide! If you still have questions about how this type of thing might work, feel free to reach out!

Commitment ceremony ideas

If you’re looking for some ideas for what to do during your commitment ceremony, here are several that you might want to consider:

  • Exchanging vows
  • Exchanging rings
  • Writing letters to one another and reading them aloud
  • A first kiss
  • A celebratory toast or other celebration after, such as a picnic or meal together
  • An adventure together
  • Sage smudging
  • Hand fasting
  • Unity ceremony, such as lighting a unity candle, wine blending, tree planting, etc.
  • Religious rites
  • First dance together
  • Involving friends and family, either who are or are not physically present. Check out this post for more ideas.

Or check out more commitment ceremony sets here!

Photos above from Etsy product listings

Commitment ceremony script and vows

If you choose, you can make your commitment ceremony very similar to a wedding ceremony. Your commitment ceremony script would include the following elements:

  • Welcome and greeting to the guests
  • Readings by the couple or chosen special guests
  • Your vows to one another
  • Exchanging of the rings
  • Declaration of the commitment by the celebrant
  • First kiss
  • Conclusion of the ceremony

Although this is a typical script for a wedding ceremony, you can choose to include or exclude whatever parts you wish. You can choose to write your own vows, or find meaningful ones on the internet that speak to you and your partner. 

If you’re looking for some examples of specific wording to use, this post and this post have some great examples.

Bride and groom having their commitment ceremony in the mountains of Colorado

Commitment ceremony FAQ

Does commitment ceremony mean marriage?

Although a commitment ceremony can be very similar to a wedding ceremony, commitment ceremonies are not legally binding like a marriage.

How does a commitment ceremony work?

A commitment ceremony can be very similar to a traditional wedding ceremony, including the exchanging of vows and rings, and a first kiss.

Who can perform a commitment ceremony?

Since a commitment ceremony is not legally binding, you do not need an officiant. Anyone can lead a commitment ceremony, including a friend or family member.

What is the purpose of a commitment ceremony?

A commitment ceremony is held for two people to commit to one another, similar to couples getting married. Couples might choose to have a commitment ceremony for a number of personal reasons, or they may not legally be able to get married (such as a LGBTQ+ couples in certain parts of the world).

What is the difference between a civil ceremony and a commitment ceremony?

A civil ceremony is a legally binding ceremony, but is not religious. A civil ceremony is often performed in a courthouse or similar location. Commitment ceremonies are similar to wedding or elopement ceremonies, but they are not legally binding.

What do you say at a commitment ceremony?

Since a commitment ceremony is not a legal binding ceremony, you can really say whatever you want! Typically, a commitment ceremony is similar to a traditional wedding or elopement ceremony, and includes elements such as the welcome and greeting by the celebrant, readings, exchanging of vows and rings, the declaration of the committed couple by the celebrant, the first kiss, and the conclusion of the ceremony.

Are you planning a commitment ceremony?

I’m more than just a photographer. Helping couples create their dream day is what I do best!

Get in touch and let’s chat about your vision!

Or check out more elopement planning resources…

Elopement Photographer Kim from Wild and Found Photography

Hi I’m Kim, a Denver, Colorado based photographer specializing in Adventure Elopements in Colorado and worldwide! Photographing couples on the most special day of their lives is a true honor for me. But I’ve made it my mission to take it one step further than that. When you work with me, you’re getting more than just a photographer. I’m here to help you with all of the planning resources you need to have the most amazing elopement day ever! That includes everything from assistance with location ideas, timeline planning, and lots more free resources. So you can forget the work, and focus on having fun!

This post contains affiliate links. While I may receive a small amount through affiliate links, it is always at no cost to you and all opinions are entirely my own.

Commitment ceremony cover photo


  1. I am officiating a commitment ceremony. Would you please send me some ideas about how to start and finish it?

  2. Hi Kim WOW Your article is just what I was looking for! My fiance’ Gary is 64, will turn 65 Oct. 6th. I am 68. We met March 14 2020 on a dating site. Our first date went great, we then fell in love, got engaged on his birthday and then I moved in with him Oct 28 2020. As of April 2021, we bought our house and have been planning our wedding,
    Yesterday, Gary told me about his chat with Medicare Rep. Turns out that with Gary’s health issues (Chronic Leukemia), the price of his medications will go up significantly should we marry. That was hard to take. So we were thinking, the wedding is off. We have both been married a few times before but still wanted to marry. We do feel married already and for Gary to be able to afford his meds is very important. He is doing Great and we want to keep it that way! SOOO…
    I was trying to find other ways for us to celebrate our love thru a ceremony and I found your article and I am THRILLED!
    You provided all the info I needed for us to go ahead with the Commitment Ceremony. It won’t be a legal ceremony but a very meaningful one just the same.
    Thank You Kim for all the information! I am eager to share all of this with Gary! We feel we have finally found true love with each other. That God has brought us together at the right time in our lives! And now with your information, we will proceed to have a Commitment Ceremony on our planned wedding date. It won’t be legal but it will be binding to us!
    I wish you the best!
    Cindy Catone cid5013@yahoo.com

    1. Cindy wow! I am so touched by your story and so glad to hear you’ll be able to celebrate your love together in a way that is meaningful to the two of you. I wish you two all the best and for your and Gary’s continued health. -Kim

  3. So my story is similar to the one Cindy posted. I am 65, my man is 62 both widowed me 6 yrs, he 3. Been fully committed to each other for 2 yrs ( just by our words to each other) I’m a devout Christian, he is a Christian as well ( not as devout as I am)
    I’m feeling quiet convicted over our physical relationship. And want something that would be pleasing to God and release me of these convictions. We neither desire a legal marriage (which to both is us is a financial contract) we both have children, both have our own substantial income and do not need or desire that fr the other. We don’t want any legal hassle of combing assets etc. in your opinion would a committee ceremony officiated by an ordained minister be satisfactory in Gods eyes as a marriage. BC I am Christian I get a lot of flack from friends and family who think I’m living in sin. I’m not clear on how the Bible views folks our age and with our history. I’m not seeking anyone to just agree with me that a commitment ceremony is accepted by God I want advice based on biblical scripture. Any advice Yuit can give me would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Lorilyn

      Thanks for commenting! I am sure there are many others out there in your situation too.

      As I am not a religious person, I will abstain from offering religious advice. But I did grow up in a religious household, so my thought would be that you might consider talking to your pastor about it and see if they can offer any advice for you. Would your church allow you to have a ceremony to marry you in the eyes of God, even though it wouldn’t be legally and financially binding? This is something your pastor might be able to answer for you. Another thing to consider would be that you could talk to a lawyer about a prenuptial agreement that keeps your financial assets prior to the marriage separate and maybe there is a way to keep future earnings separate? This is a question for a lawyer, rather than a photographer, obviously. Anyway, I hope you find these ideas helpful for you! I wish you and your partner the best of luck!

  4. Hello Kim. My fiancé and I are of a different breed 😆 we are engaged to get married but both of us are on disability. Getting legally married would mess up our benefits that we both receive so we are looking into a Commitment Ceremony. I live in Kansas and he lives in Oklahoma but would be moving up here soon. We’ve been talking for about 3 years and just got engaged July 2022. Since we’re on a tight budget it’s going to be tough to get what we both want. We want a Winter Solstice Ceremony but that’s the 21st of December I think. I have a superstition about odd days (ever since childhood) so we’re planning 12/22/22 for our ceremony. I’m still wanting to find someone that can do a handfasting for the ceremony and we would say our own vows. Should we get invitations to the ones we want there? I’d like to have a photographer as well (hint hint). Can we change our last name or is it just simpler to keep our last names as is??

    1. Hi Kristy! Thanks for commenting and sharing your story! It does sound like a commitment ceremony is a great option for you two and your current situation. I love the idea of a Winter Solstice Ceremony but if the 22nd works better for you that sounds like a good idea. I know that whether you include guests or not is a very personal decision, and there are many pros and cons to consider. I do have a post on eloping with family & friends that talks about what to consider as well as some creative ideas for including guests in non-traditional ways (including some when your loved ones cannot or will not be physically with you). I think since you won’t legally be married by your commitment ceremony it’s probably easier to keep your current last names, but of course that is up to you! In terms of a photographer, I would be very honored to be considered for your special day and would love to chat more with you! You can check out my elopement photography packages here, and when you’re ready you can reach out via my contact form here on this page for a free initial consult call to chat more about your day! Thanks again for commenting, and I hope to hear from you soon!

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