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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s secret wedding had no witnesses -- Let’s talk marriage laws!

Published Monday, Mar. 8th, 2021

Cover image via Reuters, PageSix

By Jessica Levey



Without getting into all the details that came up during Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah this week (and there were many), we want to mention one thing that was especially interesting to us…  


According to the young royals, there were no witnesses to their top-secret backyard elopement in 2018, which happened three days before their public nuptials. As the Prince describes it, the ceremony included only him, Meghan, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. 


This sounds dreamy, to be honest. But as some critics have pointed out, the lack of witnesses presents a small problem… The Church of England’s rulebook for clergy states that for a marriage to be valid, 


“Two or more witnesses must be present at the marriage. There is no restriction on
the number of witnesses, nor is there an age limit but they must be able to
understand what is taking place and testify if necessary as to what they have seen
and heard.”

Of course, we can’t say what this detail means for Meghan and Harry, as marriage laws in England are much different than they are here in the US. 


But we can talk about what would have happened if the royal couple had married in the States, and offer insight into what witness requirements mean for couples planning their own backyard elopements and intimate ceremonies!


Would the royal elopement, with no witnesses, be valid here in the States?



It depends! Some US states require one witness, some require two, and some require none. And some states will even let couples solemnize the ceremony themselves! 


A tiny elopement like Meghan and Harry’s would not have been recognized if it was performed in a state requiring two witnesses, such as North Carolina, Arizona, or Washington. The couple would have to have a new ceremony -- one that checked all the boxes for legal marriage in their state!


Visit our Witness Requirements on Marriage License to find out the requirements in your state. 



It’s also possible that the non-traditional couple knew that their first ceremony might not be strictly legal, but wanted to hold a private ceremony for themselves anyway, in order to share vows and sentiments with each other that they felt were too intimate for a worldwide audience. 


If that was the case, it would certainly make the young couple on-trend! 


Sequel weddings -- small, intimate ceremonies followed by a larger celebration later -- have been a popular choice during Covid. These ‘second ceremonies’ allow a couple to get married now, but celebrate with large groups later, when social gatherings are safer. 


And sequel weddings have been around for far longer than the pandemic, as a way for couples to have the ceremony of their dreams and a ceremony more suitable for extended family and friends (just as Meghan and Harry seem to have done!). 


Cover image via PageSix.



Read more about small weddings!




Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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