Marriage Under the Care of the Meeting
It is important for a couple wishing to be married under the care of the Meeting to read carefully the chapter on “Marriage Procedures” in Faith and Practice and to start the procedure in time for all steps to be completed in good order; six to eight months is not too much to allow. The couple declare their intention to the Meeting in a letter addressed to the Clerk. This is forwarded to the Care and Counsel Committee without waiting for the next meeting for business (5/82). At their next meeting, they appoint a Committee on Clearness for Marriage (5/82, reconfirmed 1/93). This Committee – usually two men and two women – meets with the couple, separately and together, to “make inquiry as to the qualifications for marriage, such as clearness from other engagements, to make sure as far as possible that there is nothing to interfere with the permanence and happiness of the marriage, and to offer guidance and counsel” (F&P).
After clarity is reached, the Committee reports to the next meeting for business; the couple should be present if possible. If the report is favorable the Meeting sets a date for a meeting for worship during which the marriage will take place, and appoints four people, suggested by Care and Counsel, as a Committee on Oversight to help plan and oversee the marriage. The couple may suggest the time and place of the meeting, and the names of those they would like to have on the Committee on Oversight. The couple is then free to proceed with its plans. Invitations must not be sent out until meeting for business has set the date↑
Members of clearness and oversight committees do not have to be members of the Meeting, but it is important to have several members who are seasoned in Friends’ practices (4/93).
The couple is responsible for getting a marriage license, which in Massachusetts is obtained from the town clerk in any town, and must be returned to the same town clerk after the wedding. Town clerks have information sheets, which outline the legal requirements, including time limits and blood tests. Massachusetts statutes allow specifically for marriages after the manner of Friends. Licenses in the past have been signed by the Clerk or by members of the Committee on Oversight, but current law requires that one signer must be the Clerk or Recorder, and that any signer must be a resident of the state. The Committee on Oversight is responsible for seeing that all legal requirements are met.
Massachusetts has a unique law called “Designation to Solemnize a Particular Marriage on a Particular Day.” Anyone may legally officiate at a marriage after filling out the proper forms and paying a $25 fee. (Legal information from the Town Clerk of Amherst, 1995).
Some Committees on Oversight have felt strongly that a wedding rehearsal is always advisable, especially when some of the wedding party are not familiar with Friends’ ways (7/88).
Meeting has had some hesitation about overseeing marriages of people who are not members of the Meeting, especially if they are not Friends (5/77). This can only be decided case by case, as the occasion arises. An alternate arrangement might be for the couple to arrange to use the meetinghouse for their wedding, but not to have it take place under the care of the Meeting. In this case, the license would be signed by a Justice of the Peace or some other authorized person.
This subject has had extended consideration at Mt. Toby, as well as in other monthly meetings and in Quarterly Meeting. Ministry and Worship has recommended to Meeting, and the Meeting has celebrated, same-sex marriages under the care of the Meeting, giving the same loving care and consideration as to heterosexual couples. Clearness committees for the marriage of same-sex couples are asked to assist with legal matters such as documents concerning guardianship. The report of an ad hoc committee attached to the minutes of 5/88, suggests queries for use of Care and Counsel and Oversight Committees. A more extended history of the Meeting’s discussions of this matter can be found in Policy Statements of Mt. Toby Monthly Meeting of Friends in the library. Update as of 1/06 – Same sex marriage is now legal in Massachusetts (5/17/04).