A License to Self-Unite: Why We Decided to Marry Ourselves

(Photo courtesy Julie Parr)

First, I was a single person. Then, I was a mother. Next, I became a homeowner. Finally, I became a wife. As you can see, I didn’t become “wife” in the order that most people would expect.

It’s a long story. The short version is that my husband and I met, dated, broke up, got pregnant, had a baby, lived apart, had other relationships, rekindled our romance, went to therapy, lived together, co-parented a child and then finally, and only when we had decided that we needed to move to another city together for work, got married.

It was a functional decision, one based in the idea that we should be more committed if we were going to tough it out through an enormous change, like moving to another state. Plus, we’d already survived more ups and downs than most newlyweds.

And we didn’t get married in the traditional sense.

If you happen to be from Philadelphia, then you may have heard of the “self-uniting license.” It exists in Philly because of that city’s relatively large population of Quakers, who do not believe that you need an intercedent to be able to speak to God. Quakers speak directly to their higher power at their meetings and to each other, and there is never a need for a religious officiant.

We weren’t Quakers, but we also weren’t terribly religious. And we certainly were of the belief that we were capable of making the decision to marry each other without having to be blessed or ushered by any figure of authority. We decided that a self-uniting license was the perfect option for us.

At $90, it was a full 11% more expensive than a regular license, but we figured that without a full-on wedding, we were saving at least $25,000 and perhaps as much as $2.8 million had we gone the Kim-and-Kanye route. We felt pleased. Neither one of us had ever fantasized about weddings. He didn’t feel the need to parade me in front of a crowd with a DJ announcing my new status “the new Mrs. Will B___________!” Having to wear a cocktail dress — let alone a wedding dress — induced a panic attack in me.

So we showed up at City Hall with our son, who was toting a comic book. We sat with the clerk, assured him we weren’t cousins and were sent home with a piece of paper that we needed to be signed by two witnesses. We chose our parents, completed all the paperwork and mailed it in.

Two weeks later, we received our marriage license.

Becoming a wife, as it turned out, was one of the easiest things I ever did. I didn’t change my name, alter my bank account, or even need to get a new passport photo. Five years later, we are settled in our new city, have new friends and our son barely remembers a time when we weren’t together. And I always think of our story of becoming husband and wife as one of the signs that we are right together. Who else but each other could have tolerated our oddly unsentimental way of uniting?

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