After thousands rallied both for and against same-sex marriages, same-sex couples in New Jersey can now legally form “civil unions” as of February 19, 2007. This measure was a step in the direction of gay nuptials. Gay-marriage supporters expressed muted happiness, having hoped for more, yet were pleased to have legislation that begins to extend equality to same-sex couples. For now, civil unions are considered by legislature as a reasonable compromise.

A New Jersey civil union ceremony is very similar to many other kinds of weddings ceremonies. Your New Jersey civil union ceremony may be religious or secular, formal and traditional, or contemporary and unstructured. The makeup of the ceremony will depend on the wedding officiant, house-of-worship, wedding venue, and the couple’s own preferences. All couples in New Jersey must follow the procedures for getting a New Jersey marriage license, and anyone who can officiate an opposite-sex marriage, can also officiate a same-sex marriage.

Below are some things to consider when planning your New Jersey civil union ceremony:

o The Greeting

Your New Jersey wedding officiant will welcome your guests to your celebration of love. Your officiant can also say a few words about your relationship, or about marriage/commitment in general.

o Your Ceremony and Vows

You will want to decide if you and your partner desire a religious or nonreligious ceremony. As in any type of wedding, the ceremony and vows can be as personal or standard depending on your preference. During the vows, the couple declares their intent to be a committed couple. This is your opportunity to make promises about what this commitment means to you both by individually writing your own vows.

o The Readings and Music

Many wedding officiants have a standard set of music and readings that are often used at commitment ceremonies. A religious commitment ceremony will most likely incorporate hymns and scripture readings that focus on love. A secular civil union ceremony will usually also include readings, music, and songs about love: including poems, passages of literature, famous quotes, personal writing, and classic or pop music. It may be gay/lesbian/transgender focused or very general, depending on your personal preference.

o The Ring Exchange

The couple exchanges rings, and the wedding officiant says a few words about the symbolism of what these rings mean. You can craft your perfect ceremony together with your officiant.

o Pronouncement of Marriage

Your wedding officiant will announce to your guests that you are now united/joined/wed, whatever word you prefer to say. Then the officiant invites the two of you to seal your vows with a kiss. Some couples may not be used to kissing in public, and thus decide to keep it a short kiss, or forgo this part altogether. Others will relish the moment to have the opportunity to kiss each other in front of their loved ones, proclaiming their love, and gratitude in having that love.

o The Reception

Couples will most often follow the civil union ceremony with a reception celebration of some kind. As with all weddings, there are no rules as to what this should be. Of course, the location of your ceremony should be a special place for both you and your partner. Nowadays with high gas prices, you may want to consider choosing a central location for all of your guests. Also, make sure the venue of choice is gay-friendly. Call ahead to make sure the venue you choose is comfortable hosting a same-sex ceremony. You can have your reception be very elegant and traditional, or as casual as a backyard barbecue. It may include traditional wedding elements such as the first dance, the cutting of the cake, and the bouquet toss, or it may be an unstructured party event. Whatever you decide, it would be a good idea to have your invitation give some clues as to what will be expected. For example, you can write, “Please join us after the ceremony to toast the happy couple,” or, “A reception at the Country Club will immediately follow the ceremony.”