Could a Tandem Wedding be Your Thing?

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © 10/10/2021
Categories: | Wedding Ceremony | Wedding Legals | Wedding Planning |
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Line drawing of
                        bride and groom on a floral tandem bicycleIf you Google "tandem wedding" or "tandem weddings" you'll be served pages and pages of listings about bikes. Despite the cute graphic (I couldn't resist the play on words) a Tandem Wedding has nothing to do with a bicycle built for two!

What is a tandem wedding?

A tandem wedding is a legal wedding ceremony that is officiated by two people. They have complimentary roles, with one of them being responsible for the legal aspects of the ceremony, and the other being the person who is responsible for the non-legal aspects of the ceremony. 

Two officiants or two ceremonies?

To be legally married, you must have an authorised celebrant, or clergy person authorised to solemnise marriages, do all the legal paperwork and conduct a legal ceremony. Involving a dear friend or relative is fine, however, for any part of the ceremony that isn't a legal requirement.

So you basically have a choice
  • two ceremonies held at different times - a legal marriage and a non-legal wedding, or
  • a tandem ceremony

How does a tandem ceremony work?

In a tandem ceremony, a person of your choice officiates all the non-legal parts of the ceremony but the authorised celebrant is responsible for ensuring that your marriage is legal.

So, the authorised celebrant
  • takes care of all of the pre-ceremony legal paperwork
  • provides the marriage certificates you sign on the day
  • on the day, identifies themself to your guests as the authorised celebrant, makes the statement required by the Marriage Act, and ensures that your vows meet the legal requirements.
  • signs your marriage certificates
  • submits your marriage papers for registration of your marriage

Who can be involved in a tandem ceremony?

Obviously, you need an authorised celebrant. Who the other person is is entirely your choice. My very first wedding was a tandem wedding - and I was not the authorised celebrant. The daughter of a work collegue dearly wanted me to be their celebrant, but I was still waiting to be legally authorised. That was back in the "old days" when there was a cap on numbers of appointments every year, so while I'd completed the training, I was still waiting. And it took two years. Tandem weddings were rare at the time, so there was a lot of discussion about who could do what! Since then, as the authorised celebrant, I've worked with clergy, with experienced celebrants from other countries, and with friends of the couple.

Types of tandem ceremony

Well before the civil celebrant program started, tandem religious weddings were happening.
  • An interfaith wedding, where the couple wish to involve the clergy from both religions. Some religious denominations are very open to this, some are not. [If this is your wish and you come up against barriers, it might help to know that you can have a religious marriage ceremony, according to the rites of that faith, even if you are legally married. Just as long as the clergy person is aware that you are legally married and no legal paperwork is done]
  • A religious wedding, where the clergyperson is not authorised to solemnise legal marriages (not all are) so a civil celebrant is present to fulfil those requirements. In this case, the ceremony would follow the liturgy of the particular denomination, but the civil celebrant would identify themselves and ensure that the civil legal requirements of the monitum and the legal vows were included in the ceremony
  • A wedding where the couple would like a friend or relative to conduct a non-religious ceremony and a civil celebrant is present to fulfil the legal requirements. 

Who creates the ceremony?

Generally speaking, your friend does. But creating a unique and personal ceremony that flows well and also meets Australian legal requirements requires some skill. I see part of my role in a tandem ceremony as a coaching one. So I will work with your friend and, if they wish, coach them in delivering the ceremony, too.

What if something goes wrong?

The Attorney-General's Department has made it quite clear that, regardless of who is officiating the bulk of the ceremony, it is the authorised celebrant who carries the can if something happens that puts the legality of your marriage at risk. The authorised celebrant must step in and take over if things go awry, for example if questions arise about your consent, if your vows don't meet legal requirements, and so on. Careful preparation will avoid this.

Is a Tandem Ceremony a way to save money?

Probably not! For the authorised celebrant, a tandem ceremony requires more time and more responsibility because the celebrant is responsible for what another person does, so it is in every one's interest for the celebrant to invest time before the ceremony making sure that the legal requirements are understood. It also requires a deal of coaching, extra meetings, and so on. In the scheme of things, any "discount" on the cost of a celebrant is going to be a infintesimal proportion of your whole budget. So best to just focus on what your decision about a tandem wedding will deliver for you. That could be priceless!

Don't forget to have a rehearsal

In a tandem wedding pre-wedding consultation between those officiating the ceremony is absolutely critical. A formal rehearsal to smooth out any bumps and make sure everyone is on the same page, is equally important. Speaking from experience, not only is the rehearsal a great way to consolidate the partnership between them, they can be great fun. And it may be the only opportunity for your two officiants to meet face to face if your friend has had to travel some distance for the occasion.

Related information

Thanks for reading!
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