Declaring Your Intent to Marry Under California Law

In a Christian wedding ceremony, there may be as few as one vow or as many as three vows, perhaps more. Typically, these vows consist of Asking Vows, Repeating Vows, Ring Vows, etc. California’s Family Code Section 420 (a) states “No particular form for the ceremony of marriage is required for solemnization of the marriage, but the parties shall declare, in the physical presence of the person solemnizing the marriage and necessary witnesses, that they take each other as husband and wife.” The operative word that I wish to discuss is, “declare” (i.e.,…but the parties shall declare….).

Black’s Law Dictionary defines, “Declare”: (1) To make known, manifest or clear; (2) To signify, to show in any manner either by word or acts. The dictionary does give further definitions. On occasion, the bride, the groom or both will exchange Personal Vows – vows they have personally written and which vows each wishes to communicate to the other. These vows are written from the heart and without the aid of Black’s Law Dictionary or the Family Code in hand. In fact, the personal vows may not have been seen by the minister / officiant (i.e., not a good idea, but….). Had they been reviewed by the officiant, (s)he may not have wished to interject legal content.

I recently officiated at a marriage where the bridal couple exchanged personally written vows. Without my mentioning legal content to the couple, I felt that both sets of Personal Vows met the intent and construct of the California Family Code. All was going along perfectly, until the groom started to say his personal vows.

Through tears of joy, the groom chose to whisper his vows into the bride’s ear. Even I, as the officiant standing but 2-feet in front of the bridal couple, could not hear a single word. And, most certainly, the witnesses (i.e., the best man and maid of honor) could not hear a single word.

Question: Did the presentation of the groom’s Personal Vows rise to the level required by Section 420(a) of the California Family Code?

In my opinion, the presentation of the personal vows failed to meet the required standard. That is, in my opinion, the groom did not make known to the minister and necessary witnesses that he takes the bride as his wife. Although the groom knew that he was to speak his vows loudly for all to hear, it didn’t happen.

In my case, we did not have a problem. I typically use both Asking and Repeating Vows. Whenever Personal Vows are introduced into one of my ceremonies, such vows generally replace the Repeating Vows section. And, although there are times when I may have only Asking or Repeating Vows, not both, I always have Asking Vows whenever Personal Vows are offered.

This is the one time that having Asking Vows, in addition to the Personal Vows, paid off. As the bridal couple, I urge that you consider asking your officiant to review your Personal Vows in the context of the overall ceremony. As an officiant, you may consider preparing your ceremony to accommodate the situation discussed above.