"Speak now or forever hold your peace" may be fading from modern wedding ceremony scripts, but not asking for objections doesn't guarantee that you won't get any. It's the last thing you want to hear, but if someone opposes your marriage, they might decide that your ceremony is the moment to speak up. So what if someone decides to speak now? How should a couple handle the combined interruption and objection to their union? Whether it's a jilted past lover or a disapproving family member, it's a situation that's best handled with extreme care.
In this case, an objection is a verbal expression of opposition against a nuptial union with the intent of thwarting the marriage, but its definition has broadened through the years. "My straightforward definition of an objection would be any interruption to the ceremony that prevents the exchange of vows without conditions," explains ceremony expert Fr. Jason Lody. While it can be an unprompted exclamation (as is often portrayed in films), it is traditionally given in response to the officiant's cue: when they turn to guests and say that, if anyone objects to the marriage, they should speak now or forever hold their peace.
Meet the Expert
Fr. Jason C. Lody, FCM is the Minister General of the Franciscan Community of Mercy, and pastor of the parish of Saint Anthony of Padua.
If you're dreading the moment or just curious about how it all started, read on for our complete breakdown of the tradition and expert tips for delicately handling the situation should it arise.
The History of Wedding Objections
The custom of voicing one's objections to a nuptial union became institutionalized during medieval times. It was introduced by the Catholic Church during the 12th century as a means of ensuring the legality of a union before making it official. At this time, people relied on word of mouth and individual knowledge to ascertain whether a couple was eligible to wed. Grounds for objection included factors like a party already being married to another, pre-existing vows of celibacy or commitment to the church, being underage without parental consent, or close blood relations.
The proposed marriage was publicly announced before the intended date, giving the community adequate time to come forth with any information. It was then also asked of those witnessing the marriage in a similar fashion to what we know today. "Since weddings were often done in public venues that sometimes included people outside of invited guests and dignitaries, an opportunity to assure the validity of the request for marriage was allowed before the ceremony would proceed," adds Fr. Lody. "This practice of allowing objections grew once laws were put in place that transferred wealth and land ownership immediately after a wedding." Any objections would need to be given under oath and would result in a suspension of the wedding by the officiant to further investigate the situation.
Nowadays, the tradition is becoming more a figment of Hollywood lore than a ceremonial staple. The custom has largely become obsolete as a result of easily accessible legal records. In fact, most of the legalities of the marriage are established when applying for a marriage license long before the actual wedding day. With all of those factors squared away, there no longer exists a need to prompt a formal objection. "I believe the tradition is fading from popularity because it's an antiquated practice and couples are getting married mostly with good intention," says Fr. Lody. The only oppositions that remain are those of an emotional nature and these are ineffective at disputing a marriage's legal eligibility.
What Happens If Someone Objects at a Wedding?
Since the legalities of a union are pre-established, an objection today would mostly fit the prototype promoted in movies and look less like its pragmatic beginnings. That is to say, it would be less likely that someone would stand and say the bride has been kidnapped and coerced into the marriage and more likely an impassioned emotional plea. And while a dramatic—and ill-timed—declaration of a guest's unending love for the groom makes for a great on-screen plot twist, it can't actually stop the wedding.
The purpose of an objection is to assess the legal eligibility of a union, not the emotional. So unless someone objects with a reason that holds substantial legal merit, little more will happen than a fleeting pause in the ceremony and a significantly awkward moment.
"I tend to deal with things like this, by that I mean awkward situations during a ceremony, with humor, and try to move on unless the objection was extreme," explains Fr. Lody. "I would make sure the couple was okay and try not to draw any more attention to what just took place. I would assume there would be some intervention or support from others in attendance to remove the cause for disruption." So unless the emotional objection were to deter the bride or groom from continuing the union, the officiant would simply acknowledge the objection, realize that it carries no legal substance, and proceed with the wedding.
Wedding Objections FAQs
How Do You Handle a Wedding Objection?
While your natural instincts may be screaming for a gut reaction, try to remain calm and pause the ceremony. If you believe the objection requires a conversation with that person, gently take them to the side for a private discussion. Emphasis on private—there's no need to inflame the already precarious scenario by opening up a public forum. Once in a private setting, acknowledge the party's objection with appreciation but reinforce the relationship with your partner. Perhaps something along the lines of "We appreciate you sharing your concerns, however, we feel differently." You're not obligated to justify your decision to get married, but instead should calmly thank them for their concern (whether it's that they don't think your marriage will last or they think you should be with someone else) and move on.
Don't draw too much attention to the situation once you've returned to the altar. Ask your officiant to make a brief apology for the interruption (no additional details necessary) thank everyone for continuing to support you as you join together in marriage, and then proceed. If anyone brings it up at the reception, simply say that it was an unfortunate and poorly-timed interruption, but that you feel more solid and secure in your decision to marry your spouse than ever before. Try not to let it get to you, and instead enjoy the celebration—if the happy newlyweds are having a fabulous time, guests will follow suit.
What Precautions Can You Take Beforehand?
While there is no way to predict a guest's impulsive response, there are precautions that can be taken to deter an awkward situation from arising. If you sense that someone may have some qualms with your impending union, it's best to have a private discussion with them. Perhaps you can air out any concerns and continue with the events as planned or you may come to realize that they stand by their convictions and decide that it's best to delicately rescind their invitation (preferably in person along with an explanation of your motives). "Be mindful of who you are inviting," advises Fr. Lody. "Don’t invite anyone who you might know to be a potential disruptor. This includes drinkers. If someone likes to enjoy a few drinks before the ceremony they may be more inclined to cause a disruption, either intentionally or not."
If you're still uneasy, it may be best to not serve any alcohol until after the ceremony so everyone is thinking clearly.
What If I Have Objections to a Wedding?
Contemplate your motivations and dig deep to get to the emotional stimulus here. Are you really averse to this relationship or are you just afraid to lose your BFF? If you find that your opinions are coming from a selfish standpoint then perhaps it's best to keep them to yourself or discuss them with an objective professional, like a therapist.
However, if you believe that your convictions are salient, or widely shared by others, then it's best to politely voice your concerns to the couple (or the half closest to you) in private and well in advance of the ceremony. After the discussion, you must trust the couple to make their own decisions and respect their choices. "If you’re invited to the ceremony and have an objection, just don’t go," advises Fr. Lody. "This is a day of celebration and should be seen as such. If you have any reason to not celebrate or share in the joy of the day, stay away from the celebration sites."
Can Someone Object at a Different Time?
"It would need to be an extraordinary circumstance," says Fr. Lody. "We live in an age where marriages are not happening (mostly) hours after meeting. So as much as one may disagree with the wedding, the reasons they have for objecting might not be of any significance other than they just disagree with the wedding." If there is a legal basis for your objection, you can notify the proper authorities or discuss with the courthouse that issued the marriage license.
Can You Skip "Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace"?
If you are members of an Anglican or Episcopal church, there’s a chance your marriage ceremony will include the tradition. But do you have to? Your ability to edit the ceremony script will depend on your congregation, how conservative it is, and how flexible your officiant is. Talk to your priest early on about how much input you can have in what phrasing is used. If you aren’t comfortable with the options offered, you can find another officiant or seek out another church altogether.
If you are able to adjust the script for your ceremony, you don’t need to skip this section entirely. Instead, replace it with a new ritual that’s supportive and inclusive. The Declaration of Consent formally includes a line asking your guests to support the two of you in marriage, so you could emphasize that by asking your guests to help you through any trying, difficult, or emotionally challenging times you might face.
Not having a religious ceremony? This line is one you can absolutely skip, no questions asked. You can also put a secular spin on the above sentiment of asking guests to support you. Including your loved ones in your vows builds a community of support around your marriage, and is a touching way to include all of the people you care about in such a special moment.