Bride promising to obey until death? Not any more

by Jennifer Cram Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (09/09/2018)
Categories: | Vows | Wedding Ceremony |
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Traditional vows with
                        Obey crossed outOne of the very common questions I field from brides is Do I have to promise to obey? And the answer to that one is that, unless you are getting married in a religious ceremony in a seriously fundamentalist denomination, the bride promising to obey the groom hasn't been a feature of wedding vows for decades. And thank goodness for that. My dark sense of humour conjures up visions of same sex couples tossing a coin or doing rock, paper, scissors at the altar to decide who was going to obey whom!

The other promise that you do not have to make is Until death us do part. 

The legal statement (called vows, but not really vows in the strict sense of the word as they do not include any promises) is a statement firmly fixed in the present moment.  Each of you has to say
I call upon the persons here present, to witness that I [Full Name] take you [Full Name] to be my lawful wedding [husband/wife/spouse].
And that's it. Once you have both said it, you are legally married. So it is in the optional promises that you may, but do not have to make, that time is mentioned.  Technically, and legally, you don't have the option of including a sunset clause in any promises you make because, in the passage from the Marriage Act your marriage celebrant must make before you make your vows, the way marriage is defined by law in Australia, is recited.
Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of two people, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
So why promise until death?

Probably the big reason (or at least the reason most people do) is tradition. We've all grown up hearing those words in wedding ceremony after wedding ceremony. In real life, in movies, on the TV. Like the traditional marriage vows, and the ring(s), it is part of the fabric of our culture.  And we imagine that it has been that way since Adam and Eve. Actually, not. All of these things were added to the marriage ceremony over a period of several hundred years in mediaeval times. Til Death, in the 15th century, four hundred years after the marriage ceremony, as we know it, was first decreed by the Catholic Church. At the time, it made economic sense to include such a clause. On marriage, a woman became her husband's property and needed to be protected economically. And most marriages did not last that long. Death in childbirth was common, and so were all sorts of diseases, so the average life expectancy was 38.

Given that none of the above now applies, in certain circles there has been an ongoing debate about replacing lifelong marriage with fixed-term contracts. Personally, though that may well be more realistic, I don't think it is going to happen, because it would compromise the second most common reason for making such a promise. It is romantic. Promises to stick together, no matter what, sharing the hope that the couple will grow old together, tend to make the tears well up at weddings - and not just in the eyes of the couple.  Parents, guests, and even this particular celebrant have been known to get teary during the vows.

My advice, though, is re-frame the words. Promise something positive. Such as For as long as we both shall live, or All the days of my life.  It means the same, but is a far happier way to phrase your life-long commitment.

Thanks for reading!

Jennifer Cram,
                      Brisbane Marriage Celebrant "Let's talk soon
                      about how you can have the best ceremony
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