For Better. For Worse.
For Richer. For Poorer. Possibly some of the
most familiar words in the English language.
The "traditional wedding vows".
These words have been said by millions,
hundreds of millions of marrying couples since
they were first included in the religious rite
of marriage 500 or so years ago. With slight
tweaks over the years to reflect changes in
the English language and in social norms, they
been said in religious and secular weddings,
by real marrying couples, and by actors in
stage and screen.
There is nothing wrong with them! For many
people, their familiarity appeals. They cover
the bases in succinct, simple words. In fact,
a large part of their power lies in their
simplicity. And in the fact that, with the
exception of the promise to love, every single
thing that they promise is an observable
behaviour. Something that can be seen to be
They can also serve as a template for a more
personal expression of your commitment to how
you will behave towards one another in your
Vows as a
would you use the traditional vows as a
template for your personal vows?
Rewrite the traditional vows in your own
words. Personalise with examples of what is
important in your own relationship, how you
will demonstrate your love. How you will
cherish one another in practical terms.
(Australian) Marriage Act specifies that
each of you must say to the other
I call upon the persons included in the
ceremony. They 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
It you are being married outside a church
ceremony, therefore, by a civil celebrant or
in the Registry Office or at a courthouse,
you must say this, which means you can't use
the first line of the traditional vows,
I, (First name), take you (First name)
to be my wedded wife/husband
But, as you might notice,
those words are the core of the legal vows
that we say in civil ceremonies. And there
is a good reason for this.
little bit of
History explains why
the legal vows that must be said in Australia
to create your marriage are so similar to the
first line of the traditional vows, the legal
vows said in English speaking countries
everywhere, and to the first line of the vows
still said in Church of England ceremonies. It
all goes back to Henry VIII's break with Rome.
From the time of the Reformation, the Church
of England (the template used for civil
marriage ceremonies which, in the Registry
Office version have always been pretty well
the same ceremony with the religious bits
stripped out), operated under legal provisions
established by the Parliament in Westminster.
And the traditional marriage vows, as per the
Book of Common Prayer, were part of the civil
laws of England. At least, until Oliver
Cromwell abolished them and substituted a
system of civil marriages (An Act touching
Marriages and the Registering thereof; and
also touching Births and Burials,1653
Under Cromwell's Act
- The couple had to appear before a
Justice of the Peace to give at least 21
days notice (3 consecutive Sundays) notice
of their intention to marry
- If either was under 21 they had to have
- Once the required notice period had
passed, and their intentional published on
those 3 consecutive Sundays, a certificate
of Due Performance was issued. Without
that certificate the couple could not be
- The wedding was in the presence of
Justice of the Peace
- The wording in the Act is:
The Man to be married, taking
the Woman to be married by the hand, shall
plainly and distinctly pronounce these
I A. B. do here in the presence of God
the searcher of all hearts, take thee C.
D. for my wedded Wife; and do also in the
presence of God, and before these
witnesses, promise to be unto thee a
loving and faithful Husband.
And then the Woman, taking the Man by
the hand, shall plainly and distinctly
pronounce these words:
I C. D. do here in the presence of God
the searcher of all hearts, take thee A.
B. for my wedded Husband; and do also in
the presence of God, and before these
witnesses, promise to be unto thee a
loving, faithful and obedient Wife.
- The Justice then had to declare
them married by saying No other
Marriage shall be good.
This Act also established the practice of
recording civil marriage details in a
There are three
things that I find fascinating about the
legacy of Cromwell's short-lived marriage
- The trend towards simplicity and reduced
ceremonial, together with the downplaying
of marriage as not a sacrament and not
peculiar to the Christian Church, and
therefore of universal public interest,
formed the basis of the implementation of
civil, registry office marriages as we
know them today.
- Likewise, the conducting of marriage
ceremonies by persons not ordained as
clergy, a feature of registry office
marriages, has continued with the
implementation of the civil celebrant
program in Australia and the push for
independent marriage celebrants to be
authorised to solemnise legal marriage in
England in Wales.
- While, post Restoration, the Church of
England dispensed with the Puritan,
Scots-Presbyterian influenced alternative
vows of Cromwell's Marriage Act, in
reverting to the previous version of the
vows it retained one thing. The
requirement of the bride to promise to
obey. And it wasn't until relatively
recently that most Christian religions,
fundamentalist churches being the
exception, eliminated that requirement.