So, maybe you two aren't exactly devout church (or temple) goers. Maybe you're both really into your faith, but you've abandoned attempts to blend your Buddhist and Baptist traditions into one ceremony. Or perhaps the pomp and circumstance of a religious wedding doesn't suit your laid-back style. Don't despair. It is possible to have a civil ceremony with much more meaning than your basic "I do." Here's how.
Hire the Right Person
No matter what kind of ceremony you want, there's someone out there able to do the job. If you crave just a touch of religion, consider hiring an officiant from the Unitarian Universalist Association (check out your local white pages or uua.org for more information), whose members draw from many faiths. He or she can include elements of your religions into the ceremony if that's important to you.
Two sources for nonreligious officiants are the American Humanist Association (humanist.net) and the American Ethical Union (aeu.org). Or consider contacting your county clerk's office. They can tell you who else is qualified to perform a ceremony in the area, like judges or mayors—maybe even someone you know!
Before you make your choice, interview your pick to see if his or her personality—buttoned-up, funny, etc.—fits into your vision of the ceremony and makes you and your fiancé feel comfortable.
Scout a Good Spot
One of the benefits of using a civil officiant is that they can marry you anywhere, which means your wildest dreams—tying the knot on a high-flying trapeze or a wild roller coaster—can come true. Once you've pinpointed your dream site, get to work on securing any permits you may need to tie the knot and/or have your reception there. Most public parks, for example, will require some paperwork before they let you use their space.
Set It Up
As with the other ceremony details, going the civil route gives you a blank canvas when it comes to directing what the actual ceremony will look like. Keep all eyes focused on your vows by making the spot where they'll take place a standout.
If you're having an outdoor ceremony, a grand old oak or a gazebo would make an ideal vow zone. Indoors, you could put large floral arrangements on rented columns, or cover rented trees in twinkling lights. (Ask your florist about the rentals.) Standing candelabras twined with roses and ivy also make a grand statement. As for chairs, leave a wide enough aisle for you, your escort, and your dress.
Because you're calling the shots, you can walk down the aisle to anything from Billy Idol's "White Wedding" to Wagner's traditional "Wedding March." You can also play secular music during the ceremony. There are no constraints on your dress or style. The civil world is full of choices—it might be tough for you to narrow them down!
Tell It Like It Is
One of the big pluses of a civil ceremony is that it gives you and your fiancé the freedom to write your own vows. Be sure to talk it over with your officiant first—there may be a few specific words or phrases that you must include to make your marriage legal.
But beyond that, with a civil ceremony, the wording of the vows is all up to you. The basic "I dos" should only take about two minutes—but you don't have to keep it that simple. Consider having a dear friend or family member read a poem or book passage that's meaningful to both of you. If nothing springs to mind, search the work of your favorite writers or the lyrics of your favorite musicians.
And there's always the do-it-yourself road—write your own poems, or read an excerpt from the love letters and cards you've exchanged.