The Legal Vows - A Must Do Requirement with Leeway for Personal Choice

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant ©
Categories: | Vows  |  Wedding Legals |
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                              of legal marriage vowsTo be legally married in a civil ceremony in Australia you must both make the legally required statement we tend to refer to as the legal vows. This is the statement that creates the legal contract of marriage between you, and immediately changes your status from not married to married.

So it can come as a surprise that there is leeway for choice.

What the Marriage Act says


Subsection 45(2) of the Marriage Act specifies that each of you must say to the other

I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, A.B. (or C.D.), take thee, C.D. (or A.B.), to be my lawful wedded wife (husband or spouse)’
or words to that effect.

These words are the minimum words which must be exchanged by the couple to ensure that they fully understand the nature of the ceremony and that they are marrying each other, so they
  • Must be included in the ceremony
  • Must be said by each of the marrying couple to one another
  • Must be said in the presence of an authorised celebrant, who is not a minister of religion
  • Must be said also in the presence of two adult witnesses
But there is leeway for personal choice, strictly within the meaning of "words to that effect" of course.

Words to that effect


Words to that effect, in the legal sense, means words that mean exactly the same. What that comes down to is that there is ONE acceptable alternative version, the one that I tend to use because the language feels more natural in a modern wedding.

I ask everyone here to witness that I, A.B., take you, C.D., to be my wedded wife (husband or spouse).

Other word substitutions


  •  instead of husband or wife or spouse you may use partnerin marriage (NB, not partner on its own)
  •  instead of thee you may use you
  • you can change persons here present to everyone here or everybody here or everyone present here or everybody present here
  • you may leave out either ‘lawful’ or ‘wedded’, but not both

What about your names?


Your full names must be used at least once in the ceremony to enable you to be identified to everyone present. The simplest course of action, to my mind, is just to say your full names in the legal vows.

But what if you are usually known by a nickname of some sort?  That's simple too. You can add your shortened names or nicknames the names used in the vows. For example
‘...I, Elizabeth Jane Smith (Libby.), take you, John Andrew McKenzie (Jock)...’.

What if you are unable to speak?


It there is a exceptional medical reason for one or other of the couple marrying being unable to speak, then it is legally acceptable for them to communicate the vows by another means that is understood by the other party to the marriage, the celebrant, the two witnesses and everyone present.

If you normally use sign language to communicate, you may do so, but an interpreter should be present.

What if you do not speak English?


You will need an interpreter. This also applies if one of your witnesses does not speak the language in which the ceremony is conducted.

* What is different if your celebrant is a minister of religion?


If your authorised celebrant is a minister of religion, the ceremony must be solemnised according to any form and ceremony recognised as sufficient for the purpose by the religious body or organisation of which he or she is a minister. The rules applying to a non-religious (civil) ceremony therefore do not apply.

Related Information

Thanks for reading!

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                        Jennifer Cram Brisbane Marriage Celebrant
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