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Published: Wednesday, Aug. 11th, 2021

Polyamorous Commitment Ceremony: Advice for Officiants on What to Say, Where to Stand, and More

How do polyamorous weddings or commitment ceremonies work? What should you know before officiating your first one?

 

Find out with this helpful advice!

 


Polyamorous commitment ceremonies have all the love and joy of traditional ceremonies, times two --- or three, or four, or more! 

 

They’re beautiful, authentic, and downright fun, and people in the polyamory community make lifelong vows to one another, just like monogamous folks do. 

 

If you’re officiating your first poly ceremony, you might have a few questions. You might wonder if polyamorous weddings are even possible. Well… yes and no. 

 

Sometimes people call these ceremonies ‘weddings,’ but that’s misleading…

 

In the U.S., legal marriages can only consist of two people, and a married person can’t go through another marriage ceremony with someone new (that’s bigamy). So, we recommend that officiants stay far, far away from the words ‘wedding’ and ‘marriage’ while on this topic, to avoid any legal issues. 

 

But poly commitment ceremonies are very possible, and very common!

 

 

And they come in many varieties, just like polyamorous relationships do: 

 

  • Two single people might make a commitment to each other without a legal bond (because of the nature of their other romantic relationships or the monogamous connotation of marriage)
  • Three or more single people might make a commitment to each other as a family 
  • A married person might make a commitment to another partner, or to another couple or triad, etc.
  • A married couple and their partner might make a commitment to each other
  • Two married couples might make a commitment to one another 
  • And so on! Ethical non monogamy comes in an infinite number of loving shapes, sizes, and structures

 

 

A photo of three men smiling and facing the camera, holding a sign that says, They asked, Rev. Scarlett said YES! to be their officiant, Natural Element Ceremonies

Ron, Dustin, and Jae celebrated their commitment with a handfasting ceremony,

performed by AMM's Reverend Scarlett Mullikin of Natural Element Ceremonies.

 

 


To help you create a beautiful ceremony, we answer some common questions below.

 

Scroll down for a sample ceremony outline,

plus tips on what to say and where to stand to give guests the best view. 

 

 

 

Are poly ceremonies legal?  

 

Yes!  We mentioned this already, but it’s so important that it deserves a more detailed answer. 

 

Polyamorous commitment ceremonies are completely legal to perform. That’s because polyamory isn’t the same as polygamy, and these commitments aren’t legal marriages. Only one city that we know of, Somerville, Massachusetts, recognizes legal polyamorous domestic partnerships.

 

Polygamy -- also known as plural marriage, polygyny, or polyandry, is illegal in the U.S. Many religions and cultures have long histories of polygamy (Mormons and Sunnis, for example), but that’s not what we’re talking about here. 

 

Commitment ceremonies are just as meaningful as weddings, however. If you’re officiating for friends, you’ll simply need to be careful about the words you use during the ritual (more on this below). 

 

And remember -- there isn’t any legal paperwork to file. Officiants often sign a decorative commitment certificate instead, as a gift to commemorate the day. 

 

 


Polyamory is on the rise. 

 

Friends, family members, and professional officiants are being asked to perform poly ceremonies more often, because younger generations are increasingly comfortable with being in open, ‘out’ polyamorous relationships.

 

49% of people under 30 say they prefer polymamorous relationships to monogamous ones, along with 30-37% of those 45 and over. That’s nearly half of Gen Z and Millennials, with Gen X and Boomers close behind. (via Pride.com)

 

 

Did you know? 
Polyamory is a type of consensual non monogamy (CNM), also called ethical and consensual non monogamy (ECNM). Within the polyam community, individuals might be primary partners, who each take on their own separate romantic partners (partners and metamours); or relationships might form between three or more people who are all committed to each other equally, or in some other combination (triads or throuples, full or complex quads, etc). People connected by their shared non monogamous relationships, even if they are not directly intimate with each other, are called a polycule

 

 

 

Two women embrace, while a man shakes hands with another at a commitment ceremony celebration

Poly ceremonies are full of love!

 


Ask who’s who… and get on the same page.

 

You might be asked to plan a ceremony for two, three, four, or more people. Working in a group can bring a lot of energy and creativity to the planning process, but it can also take some effort to get everyone on the same page.

 

Avoid confusion by establishing a few details early on:

 

  • Who’s making the commitment, and how are they connected to each other? 

 

  • How will their other partners be involved in the ceremony? Will they help in the planning process, join in the wedding party, or attend as a guest?

 

Spouses and other partners often help with planning, preparing special readings or speeches, or serve as best men and maids of honor. Some will walk their spouse down the aisle to show their support for the new commitment, and others simply attend the celebration as a guest.

 

Ask who will be helping and what they’ll be contributing. Schedule meetings early, and decide who will be your primary point of contact if questions come up. 

 

 

Pro tip: Discuss how decisions will be made during the planning process. Who casts the deciding vote on whether to include an element or not? What happens if there’s a tie? 

 

 


What happens during a polyamorous commitment ceremony? 

 

Commitment ceremonies often follow a structure similar to a wedding ceremony, as outlined below. They usually involve a few stories about the couple, a unity ritual of some kind, and an exchange of vows. 

 

Parts of a commitment ceremony 
(Sample ceremony script outline)

 

  • Procession: The partners walk to the front together, or are ‘escorted’ by a friend or spouse, or start the ceremony at the front of the room, or leave this part out altogether. 

 

  • Invocation: The officiant will greet the guests and introduce the partners and the purpose of the day. They’ll share a few words on the nature of the partners’ relationship, and what this commitment means to them.

 

  • Vows of commitment: The partners speak to each other from the heart, and may make vows to love and cherish one another, or any other promises they prefer, careful to avoid any mention of marriage.

 

  • Unity ritual or ring exchange: Handfasting is a popular ritual between polyam partners, because hands can be stacked together and tied with multiple cords. Couples might also share a toast, light a candle, exchange rings, or choose another custom to symbolize their bond.

 

  • Pronouncement: The officiant pronounces the partners as committed for life, “for as long as love shall last,” or happily joined, with whatever wording they prefer, careful to avoid any mention of marriage. 

 

  • Recession: The partners kiss and head out towards the reception or party to follow! 

 

 

For a detailed sample script / template:

 

Simple Commitment Ceremony Script
 

 

 

Many people hold hands at a polyamorous commitment ceremony, the photo is taken from above and shows the hands stacked together

Handfasting is a traditional and popular unity ritual within poly communities. 

 


What to say: 

 

Spend time getting to know the partners. How did they meet? What attracted them to each other? What values, experiences, and dreams for the future do they share? What is their relationship like? 

 

Once you know them a little better, start writing the ceremony script! Give guests a glimpse of their love story, and talk about what the commitment means to them. If they want you to, you might also talk about their partnership in the context of their other romantic commitments.

 

An example : 

 

“Thank you all for being here today, to celebrate the spiritual union of these two beautiful souls. 

 

When Tina and Wren met five years ago, they definitely expected it to be a fling, something beautiful and brief. But the universe always knows better than we do... And these two listened.

 

Something sparked when they met -- something beyond this world, this plane, beyond our understanding. A sacred love. That love has grown in every way, filling their hearts and their families to the brim with joy and laughter. They’ve shared everything together -- children, partners, homes, hopes, and dreams. 

 

Today, they promise to share a future.”

 

 


What not to say:

 

Avoid words like ‘marriage’ or ‘wedding,’ and don’t plan an event that appears or pretends to be one. Words like spouse, husband, and wife, are out, too. 

 

This is important, because polygamy and bigamy (going through a marriage ceremony while already married to someone else) are illegal in the U.S. -- bringing potential jail time and fines for both individuals and officiants. So stick with ‘commitment’! 

 

 


Where to stand during the ceremony: 

 

In a traditional wedding ceremony, an officiant stands between two people as they make their vows. This has a certain symmetry, which can be harder to create when there are three or more people being joined. 

 

We suggest practicing several different combinations until something feels right. For example, if a married couple is welcoming a third person into their family, you might stand next to the new partner, to create a visual balance of two and two. If four or more people are making vows to each other, suggest that they stand in a half-circle, clasping hands while facing you and their guests. 

 

Get creative! Always plan to have the shortest people in front, and the tallest in back, and consider asking a friend to watch you rehearse, to make sure everyone is visible during the ceremony.

 

 

a group of smiling men and women in wedding clothes

Make sure everyone has a good view!

Large groups can stand in a half circle or row, facing the officiant and guests.

 

 

Who’s on the guest list? 

 

AMM’s Reverend Scarlett Mulkin, a respected advocate and educator within the ECNM community, and an established professional officiant, tells us that the ‘feel’ of a commitment ceremony -- and who shows up on the guest list -- depends on the closeness of the polycule. 

 

Some partners practice “kitchen table polyamory,” an intimate dynamic in which everyone is so comfortable with each other that they could easily gather around a kitchen table for a cup of coffee or casual dinner. In these cases, you’ll probably see everyone in the polycule on the guest list, along with friends, family, and even extended family members. These can be big, festive events! 

 

Ceremonies for partners who are not ‘out’ as polyamorous in their families and communities, or whose networks are not as close, will have smaller guests lists. These private ceremonies might look a lot like elopements, just with a few additional participants.

 

Ask who’s on the guest list, and how familiar those guests will be with polyamory. Whether you’re a professional officiant or a friend performing the ceremony, this information can help you tailor your ceremony script to the occasion. 

 

 

 

What can guests expect? 

 

If you’ve been invited to a commitment ceremony, you can expect an event very much like a wedding. 

 

There will be speeches and heartfelt vows, happy tears, hugs, and probably a dessert table. 

 

You’ll see parents and children, childhood friends, and deeply committed spouses. You’ll see people promising to love and care for each other, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until death parts them. You’ll see emotional maturity, a sexy outfit or two, and maybe even some impromptu dancing (with a side of champagne). You just won’t see any paperwork. 

 

Wear something stylish, ask if you can bring a gift, and prepare to have a wonderful time! 

 

 

A group of young men in jackets and wedding outfits hug and smile

Have a wonderful celebration!

 


 

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Handfasting

From Ancient Rituals to Modern Ceremonies 

 

Cover image of the Handfasting book, reads: Handfasting : From Ancient Rituals to Modern Ceremonies, with a dark blue background, stars, and two hands clasped with a handfasting ribbon, light by the moonExplore the origins of ancient Paganism and learn how to incorporate the magic of handfasting into your own wedding or commitment ceremony.

 

This deep dive into one of the most exciting trends in weddings is inspired by love stories that reach far back into the misty origins of human history, when Druids and Priestesses dispensed esoteric wisdom, cast powerful spells, and magic and nature were one-and-the-same.

 

Written and illustrated by Jessica Levey, this book is full of whimsical drawings and carefully crafted stories and imagery that are your ticket to your own adventure.

 

 

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