Updated: Legal Marriage vs. Marriage Ceremony, published November 23, 2020
A bride-to-be posted a great question on Ask a JP because it gets at one of the most commonly confused facets of getting married: the distinction between the legal and the ceremonial. When we think of weddings, we tend to think of the legal and the ceremonial as being intertwined and integral to each other. While this is typically the case, it doesn’t have to be.
Here in Connecticut we have very specific laws about who is eligible to marry, who may officiate a marriage, and other technical details associated with the marriage license process. Yet when it comes to what is needed for an officiant to celebrate the marriage, no such laws exist. In practical terms this means that once I’ve checked that your paperwork is all in order, you can have a “ceremony” as simple as “Do you want get married? Yes. Congrats, you’re married!” Anything beyond this for a ceremony, as far as the state is concerned, is really irrelevant to the legal status of your marriage.
Just saying you’re married in Connecticut doesn’t mean you’re married, no matter how much pomp and circumstance surrounds your declaration, unless you have all your legal ducks in a row. On the other hand, you can be legally married with a level of ceremony that barely fits the definition of what a ceremony is.
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Matt Loter is a JP from New Haven, Connecticut.