How is a commitment ceremony different from a marriage ceremony?

You might have come across the term ‘commitment ceremony’ during your wedding planning journey. But what does it mean? What is a commitment ceremony and how does it differ from a marriage ceremony?


A commitment ceremony is very similar to a wedding ceremony. The only real difference between the two is that one is legally binding while the other is not. A commitment ceremony stands as a public affirmation of a couple’s commitment to one another, without it being recognised by the law.

A commitment ceremony is typically performed by a celebrant, and it includes the exchanging of vows and rings between the couple, and often readings, poems, and any desired rituals the couple wishes to include.

But why?

Commitment ceremonies are usually chosen by couples who cannot marry by law.

Unfortunately, Australia is still yet to legalise same-sex marriage, and therefore theoretically same-sex couples cannot get married. However, there’s nothing that says they can’t have a wedding!

Commitment ceremonies are a great way to have all the frills and fun of a wedding even if you can’t legally get married. Celebrants who perform commitment ceremonies are typically waiting on the edge of their seat for marriage equality to reach Australia, so they’re likely to happily process your marriage documents the minute it becomes legal.

This means same-sex couples can have a wedding – even with a wedding ceremony! – and class themselves as married even if the law doesn’t recognise it as a legally-binding marriage.

There are also other reasons why couples may choose a commitment ceremony over a legally-binding marriage ceremony. For instance, a couple who have both been in marriages previously may choose to demonstrate their love for one another through a commitment ceremony. Additionally, those who want to include rituals in their ceremony that a certified marriage celebrant is not able to perform may choose to have a commitment ceremony instead.

It’s a way to profess your love for one another – whether it’s in private or before family and friends in a wedding atmosphere – without the complicated paperwork.

How to organise it

If you want to hold a commitment ceremony rather than a marriage ceremony, you’ll have to do some research and find a celebrant who is willing to perform it for you.

While it may seem like “Duh! Any old marriage celebrant can do it!” some celebrants are traditional in their practice, and prefer to stick to performing legally binding wedding ceremonies. It’s best to be upfront and transparent about your wishes, so the celebrant you choose knows straight away that they’re performing a commitment ceremony and not a marriage ceremony.

After you’ve organised your ceremony, the rest is up to you! Whether you wish your commitment ceremony to be part of a full-blown wedding day, or if you’d prefer it to stand alone in a private setting, the choice is yours!

Be inspired by real newlyweds featured in our Real Weddings section!

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