Marriage has always been regarded by Friends as a
religious commitment, not a civil contract. George Fox said,
"Marriage is the work of the Lord, only." It is an awe-inspiring,
lifetime commitment between a couple and God, without need for priest or
magistrate. Quaker marriage is a testament to that belief. The marriage
ceremony is a meeting for worship during which the couple reverently speaks
simple vows in the presence of the Spirit and those who prayerfully sustain
them in undertaking their commitment.
From the very early days, the Religious Society of
Friends stressed the need for serious consideration prior to marriage, the
clearness of those wishing to marry from all other engagements, the public
announcement of the intention to marry, and the significance of the meeting for
worship in which the declarations were made. The couple was held to high
standards of love, fidelity, and discipline, bearing witness to the presence of
the Spirit between them.
Our practice today must attest to the same high standards
for our committed relationships. Although the standards for marriage remain
essentially the same as they were among early Friends, the cultural and social
contexts in which we live have changed dramatically. We joyfully acknowledge
the sustaining, enriching presence of loving unions among us, and we want the
meeting's strength to reinforce these commitments.
We intend, through the care and ministrations of our
meetings, that strong, resilient marriages and other committed relationships
will flourish. We are encouraged to
grow in both our virtue and our capacity to love by the
testing, against the world and each other, of those weaknesses which by the
grace of God we can convert into strengths, and by the finding of those
strengths and beauties in each other which we hardly dared suspect were there.
But these are the rewards of unfolding years; years, not weeks or months. The
glory of a great marriage lies in the surprises which loving support,
acceptance, and graceful forgiveness can bring forth..
R. B. Crowell, "Words at a Quaker Wedding,"
Friends Journal, 11/74
Under the Care of the Meeting
Before taking the couple under its care, a meeting, through
a clearness committee, counsels with the partners, seeking to discern their
clearness about what they are undertaking. If the committee so recommends, and
the meeting agrees, the couple is taken under its care. This can be understood
as an affirmation that a loving community stands ready to take action as
necessary to support the well-being of the two partners, of the relationship
itself, and of any children who may be, or may become, involved.
Monthly meetings within Intermountain Yearly
Meeting vary in their concept of marriage and acceptance of same-sex
unions. A few are able to find clearness to oversee only heterosexual
relationships; many find clearness to oversee both same-sex and heterosexual
unions. In both situations, it is the strength and quality of the loving spirit
between two people that concerns the meeting.
Request to the Meeting
When two people wish to have their relationship taken under
the care of the monthly meeting, they write a letter to the clerk of that
meeting stating their intention and requesting that the meeting begin the
clearness process. In the good order of Friends, a period of at least three
months is usually needed between the sending of the request and the date of the
marriage. It is expected that at least one of the partners be a member or
regular attender of the meeting. If one of the partners holds membership in
another monthly meeting, a letter of clearness or release should be obtained
from that meeting.
In cases where the individuals are neither members
of the Religious Society of Friends nor regular attenders at meeting for
worship, the meeting may choose to assist the couple in having a celebration of
marriage or other committed relationship after the manner of Friends. This
could include having a clearness committee and/or an arrangements committee,
but this relationship would not be considered to be under the care of the meeting.
When a request for oversight of a couple's
relationship is received, a clearness committee is appointed by the monthly
meeting or by its Committee on Oversight. It is important that members of the
clearness committee be willing to devote the time necessary to give prayerful
consideration to the right course of action and be amenable to providing
counsel in the future. Clearness committees often meet more than once. The
committee members should be well grounded in Friends' practice.
The couple and the clearness committee meet in thoughtful
and prayerful discussion to seek clarity about God's will regarding the
proposed union. Specific queries or topics may be presented by the committee or
the couple to give direction to the discussion, or discussion may arise out of
worship. It is important that those participating in the clearness process
approach each meeting with open hearts and minds, that sufficient time be
allotted for thorough understanding and seasoning, and that any encumbrance be
explored to ensure that both persons are free of conflicting obligations.
Thoroughness in the clearness process can be valuable to the couple in helping
them examine the strength of their commitment to a lifelong relationship with
Because practices differ from state to state, it is
especially important that both the committee and the couple recognize and
understand the laws, statutes, and regulations regarding marriage in their
state so that the legal standing of their relationship will be clear. After
meeting with the couple, the clearness committee meets separately to share
their impressions or concerns about the proposed union.
Topics Suggested for Discussion During the
The topics listed below tend to arise naturally in the
course of clearness committee meetings. It is preferable that prospective
partners broach them themselves; it is also well for the committee to have
topics in mind and to see that they are covered.
and Acquaintance. How well acquainted are the partners? What are their
common values? How do they adapt to differences between them in
background, religion, temperament, and interests? Can they react to their
differences with humor, mutual respect, patience, and generosity?
Beliefs, Feelings, Aspirations. Do they see commitment or marriage as
a spiritual relationship? How do they propose to meet their religious
needs? Does each seek to understand and honor the religious beliefs of the
and Fulfillment. Do they think of themselves as trusted and equal
lifelong partners, sharing responsibilities and decisions? Are they
supportive of each other's goals for personal growth and fulfillment?
Living. Have they considered how they will deal with issues and problems,
which are bound to arise during the course of the marriage? Are they able
to talk with each other about their sexual expectations? Have they
discussed and worked through questions regarding the use and management of
money? Have they considered ways to resolve anger when it arises within
the relationship? Have they thought about differing needs for time alone
as opposed to time together? Have they explored their attitudes towards
holidays and gift giving? Have they discussed the surname each will use?
Are they prepared to seek creative means of resolution when their problems
with Others. Have they considered whether they desire children—the
problems as well as the joys children would bring, and the
responsibilities for nurturing and guiding them? How do they view their
relationships with each other's families and their obligations toward
society? How will already-existing relationships be treated: with
ex-spouses and children, old friends, ex-parents-in-law, ex-grandparents-in-law?
Are they prepared to honor that of God in all of these relationships?
with the Monthly Meeting. How do the partners expect the monthly
meeting to support their relationship? What do they expect their
relationship to bring to the monthly meeting?
of Prior Commitments. Do they have personal or financial obligations
that need to be met or discharged? Are they aware of each other’s
financial obligations, and have they discussed and reached agreement on how
these would be met during the relationship? Are they aware of the need for
changing names on documents, creating new wills, and making other
arrangements for existing legal documents to reflect the new relationship?
of Others. What are the views of their families and friends toward the
prospective marriage or commitment? Are there ways the meeting can help
the couple deal with these views?
Celebration. Is the couple acquainted with and accepting of the
form and implications of the Quaker celebration of marriage? Do they wish
to join themselves in a religious commitment to a lifetime together? Do
they welcome the oversight and support of the meeting community? It
may be that unity in reaching clearness to move forward is not readily
found. The committee and the couple may choose to continue seeking clarity
about God's will in this matter, or they may choose to lay aside the
request for a while or permanently.
When the couple and the committee are clear that the
celebration or wedding should go forward, the clearness committee reports
either to the Oversight Committee or directly to the monthly meeting for
business, giving its recommendation and asking for the approval of the monthly
meeting. Some monthly meetings choose to hold such matters over for a period of
time, for seasoning. Once the request has been approved, the monthly meeting
(or its appropriate committee) appoints an arrangements committee, taking into
consideration the couple's suggestions about its composition.
Following the loss of a partner, the decision to undertake a
new marriage or other committed relationship requires great faith, strength,
and courage. The new relationship may be taken under the care of the meeting
when a suitable period of time has elapsed after the loss, when consideration
has been given to ensuring the welfare and legal rights of all children
involved, and when it is felt that the circumstances of the new relationship
are likely to make it successful and fruitful in spiritual happiness.
The processes of request, clearness, and oversight of the
new relationship are identical to those outlined for first-time marriages and
committed relationships. During the clearness process, however, special
consideration is naturally given to issues pertinent to the changed
circumstances. Where children or other relatives are involved, it is advisable
for the clearness process to include them in some of the discussions. It is
important that all parties hold one another in the Light.
This committee, appointed by the monthly meeting or its
appropriate committee, works with the couple to ensure that the couple's
desires are met regarding the ceremony and that it is accomplished with
simplicity, dignity, and reverence. The date, time, and place of the
celebration are announced, and Friends are invited. (A small monthly meeting
may choose to have one committee serve as both the clearness committee and the
Responsibilities of the Arrangements Committee
for Weddings and Ceremonies of Other Committed Relationships
- To see
that the ceremony is accomplished with dignity, reverence, and simplicity.
meet with the persons being joined together to discuss plans for the
ceremony, including the choice of persons to (a) explain the format
of a Quaker wedding near the beginning of the meeting for worship so
that attendees unfamiliar with the practice are informed; (b) to carry a
small table and the wedding certificate and pen to the couple for their
signatures; (c) to read the certificate; and (d) to close meeting.
- To see
in advance that all legal requirements are met and that the couple has a
marriage license, if that is their wish. The marriage license may need to
be altered to reflect Quaker practice.
facilitate the signing of the marriage certificate by all those present at
the meeting for worship.
- To see
that the marriage license is signed, usually by the clerk of the meeting,
and that the document is filed with the county clerk or designated
monthly meeting minutes the celebration of each marriage or committed
relationship at its business meeting. It is suggested that appropriate
records be maintained in the meeting’s archives.
The Couple's Responsibilities
read about, understand, and follow the marriage procedures of the
Religious Society of Friends.
refrain from sending out wedding invitations until the clearness process
call together the arrangements committee, discuss their plans in a timely
fashion, and keep the committee informed.
- To have
the marriage certificate prepared in time for the ceremony.
obtain a state marriage license, if that is the couple’s desire, and to
ensure that all legal requirements are met.
Traditional Friends Ceremony
The meeting for worship for the celebration of a marriage or
a committed relationship gathers in silence at the appointed time. The meaning
and procedure of the meeting for worship may have been explained in the
invitations or it may be explained early in the meeting itself. Out of the
silent worship, the couple will rise and, taking each other by the hand,
declare in words to this effect, each speaking in turn:
In the presence of God, and before these our Friends, I
take thee, ____________, to be my (wife, husband, partner), promising, with
divine assistance, to be unto thee a loving and faithful (husband, wife,
partner), as long as we both shall live.
In the presence of God, and before these our Friends, I
commit myself to thee, ____________, promising, with divine assistance, to be unto
thee loving and faithful, as long as we both shall live.
After these declarations, the certificate is signed by the
couple and is then read to those gathered by a person appointed for that
Worship continues, often with rich vocal ministry,
and is closed by someone appointed to do so. After the close of worship, all
those gathered for the meeting for worship, including the children, sign the
Variations upon this procedure may be used by the couple
with the approval of the arrangements committee.
Marriage ... is for life; and the wedding is a
declaration that it is so....To turn a wedding into worship is to recognize
that marriage is bigger than we are; that it is not just a pleasant arrangement
we have made for our own convenience, but a vocation into which we have been
drawn by nature and by God.
Harold Loukes, 1962, Faith and Practice, Britain Yearly
The Traditional Friends Marriage Certificate
WHEREAS, A.B., of (city or town) ____________,
son/daughter of C.B., of (city or town)____________ and D., his wife, and E.F.,
of (city or town)____________, daughter/son of G.F., of (city or
town)____________ and H. ____________, his wife, having declared their
intentions of marriage with each other to ____________ Monthly Meeting of the
Religious Society of Friends, held at (city or town) ____________, (state)
_________, according to the good order used among them, and having the consent
of parents (or guardians), their proposed marriage was allowed by that Meeting.
NOW THESE ARE TO CERTIFY to whom it may concern, that
for the accomplishment of their intentions, this _______________ day of the
________ month, in the year of our Lord ____, they, A.B. and E.F., appeared in
a Meeting for Worship of the Religious Society of Friends, held at (city
or town)_______________,(state) _________, and A.B., taking E.F. by the hand,
did, on this solemn occasion declare that he/she took him/her, E.F., to be
his/her wife/husband/partner, promising, with divine assistance, to be unto
him/her a loving and faithful wife/husband/partner so long as they both shall
live (or words to that effect); and then, in the same assembly, E.F. did in
like manner declare that he/she took him/her, A.B., to be his/her
wife/husband/partner, promising, with divine assistance, to be unto him/her a
loving and faithful wife/husband/partner so long as they both shall live (or
words to that effect). And moreover, they, A.B. and E.F., according to the
custom of marriage, did, as a further confirmation thereof, then and there, to
these presents, set their hands.
AND WE, having been present at the marriage, have as
witnesses set our hands the day and year above written.
Variations on the traditional certificate may be prepared
by the couple in consultation with the arrangements committee, or preprinted
traditional forms may be ordered from the Philadelphia Yearly
Meeting Office, 1515 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Commitments Outside the Care of the Meeting
If a member is married or celebrates a commitment outside
the care of the meeting, the Oversight Committee should arrange for
someone to visit the new couple as an expression of the meeting’s interest in
them. It is assumed that the member will continue to be active in the meeting
and that the non-member partner will be made welcome and invited to attend
for the Relationship
Friends are reminded that the meeting's oversight and care
of a relationship does not end with the celebration but endures throughout the
life of the relationship.
The clearness committee should plan to meet with the
couple approximately a year after the ceremony to confirm the committee’s
continuing interest, care, and availability.
Meetings have an important role in nurturing, supporting,
and celebrating the couples under their care. In a loving community of persons
of similar religious values, couples can be sustained and guided in their
efforts to build an enduring relationship. Communication among the members of
the meeting is vital. Celebrations, workshops, and supportive discussion, as
well as meetings for worship, are important for couples in all stages of their
relationship. Couples often appreciate the feeling of oversight that the
meeting offers when times are easy; they are encouraged to access the oversight
process during difficult times.
Although it is true that Friends sometimes have a strong
sense of privacy that makes them reluctant to bring forth personal problems,
individuals and couples are encouraged to seek the care of the meeting in times
of conflict. The meeting provides guidance and support for the couple and any
children, including possible referral to trusted professionals for additional
assistance. Couples are urged to go to the Oversight Committee, their clearness
committee, or a person whom they particularly respect, to seek together a
solution when they have difficulties or unresolved conflicts.
Periods of Difficulty
We would counsel Friends to take timely advice in
periods of difficulty. The early sharing of problems with sympathetic Friends
or marriage counselors can often bring release from misunderstandings and give
positive help towards new joy together. Friends ought to be able to do this,
but much will depend on the quality of our life together in the Society. If
marriages among us fail, we are all part of that failure. We need to be more
sensitive to each other’s needs, knowing one another in the things which are
material as in the things which are eternal.
Marriage & Parenthood Committee, 1956
Faith & Practice, London Yearly Meeting, 1972
Although marriages and other committed relationships are
intended for life, with deep sorrow we acknowledge divorce among members.
Meetings hold both parties tenderly and give special care to the children
affected in these separations. No marriage or other committed relationship
should be terminated lightly or quickly. If, after thoughtful and prayerful
consideration and a period of seasoning, the couple finds that serious
contemplation of separation or divorce is advisable, they are encouraged to
seek clearness through their meeting’s Oversight Committee. (In the event of an
abusive relationship, a partner may decide that immediate separation is
necessary.) A dissolution moves forward when the couple, the clearness
committee, and God’s leading make it clear that the marriage or other committed
relationship no longer exists.
When two members are faced with separation or divorce,
one or the other, or both, may feel alienated from further participation in
meeting. If there has been an active clearness process, the sense of alienation
may be lessened and separation may proceed with tenderness and charity. A
worship service on the occasion of the dissolution of the marriage may be made
available to seek God's grace for all and to acknowledge the marriage and its
termination within the loving community of the meeting. This gives meeting
members an opportunity to deal with what is often a major change in the
structure of their community. It alerts them to the needs of the divorcing
members and their children, if any, and gives the divorcing members an
opportunity to share their pain with the community and for the community to
share its grief as well.
Queries Related to Separation and Divorce
does the meeting acknowledge Friends who are contemplating divorce?
is the meeting's role in caring for Friends undergoing separation or
divorce? Does the meeting reach out to both of them?
Friends mindful of the meeting’s responsibility to pay special attention
to the children of separating parents, at a time when parents are perhaps
less able than usual to nurture their children? Is the meeting mindful to
be attentive to the needs of adult children when their parents divorce?
separation/divorce has become a legal fact, how does the meeting publicly
acknowledge and deal with it?
- Is the
meeting mindful of the lengthy disruption and readjustment period involved
in divorce? Does the meeting follow up with the divorced parties six
months or a year later?
Renewal of Vows
On occasion, after years of marriage or having been joined
together outside of the meeting, a couple may desire to renew their vows in the
presence of the Divine and the loving community of their meeting. A couple can
request a Clearness Committee to explore the health of their relationship
and to chart their future. The celebration is a wonderful opportunity for the
meeting to express its loving support of the couple in a specially called
meeting for worship.
We thank God, then, for the pleasures, joys and
triumphs of [life together]; for the cups of tea we bring each other, and the
seedlings in the garden frame; for the domestic drama of meetings and partings,
sickness and recovery; for the grace of occasional extravagance, flowers on
birthdays and unexpected presents; for talk at evenings of the events of the
day; for the ecstasy of caresses; for gay mockery at each other’s follies; for
plans and projects, fun and struggle; praying that we may neither neglect nor
undervalue these things, nor be tempted to think of them as self-contained and
Faith and Practice, London Yearly Meeting, 1959
I sing the praise of danger, for we chart
A dangerous course, who would be man and wife:
Danger that conflict may decay to strife,
Or lambent passion harden into art;
Danger that sneaking death too soon may part
One from the other’s lingering earthly life,
Danger from tottering ladder, glancing knife,
Insidious germ, or too much burdened heart.
But what is danger? Freedom’s eldest son,
That marks us off from angel and from beast,
For they live most who cling to life the least
And gain the most who give what they have won.
Safety is for the slave, not for the free:
So will I walk with danger, and with thee!
Kenneth Boulding, Sonnets on Courtship,
Marriage and Family, 1990
* Recognizing that (1) some meetings in
Intermountain Yearly Meeting do and others do not accomplish marriages
between same-sex individuals, (2) the legal status of these relationships may
change over time, and (3) there are many committed relationships between
individuals of different sexes that are not marriages, this title is intended
to include all such unions.