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Self-Uniting Weddings: A Look Into PA’s Best-Kept Wedding Secret

A wedding is supposed to be a magical day. One in which you and your partner officially, publicly and legally proclaim your love for each other, surrounded by family and friends. Yet, somehow, it’s turned into one of the most stressful days of a person’s life. You have to pick a venue almost a year in advance, spend an exorbitant amount of money on flowers and attempt to plan a ceremony with competing opinions, all culminating in a day where you see your beloved minimally, because…that’s what a wedding is supposed to be? At least, those picture-perfect ones that are scattered all around the internet. 


But, why can’t you have a stress-free day, spend more time with your partner, and still have the aesthetic wedding of your dreams? Those questions prompted Carly D’Angelo, self-described Scorpio millennial, to launch Wild North Weddings in 2020. This business is dedicated to creating adventurous, unique weddings for couples who want a more relaxed and intimate experience. 

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Self-Uniting Marriages

Now, if you’re looking at these pictures you might be thinking that they’re stunning, but slightly unrealistic. I mean, you can’t just get married in a forest! Except…in the state of Pennsylvania, you can. Legal since 1681 and available in just seven other states, a self-uniting marriage license allows couples to get married without an officiant, although two witnesses are required to make the marriage legal, and is a popular option for couples wishing to elope or have “adventure” weddings. Self-uniting weddings, otherwise known as Quaker weddings, get their roots from the Quaker heritage. Since Quakers were so influential in the state of Pennsylvania, a loophole of sorts was created so those practicing the religion could have legal, non-officiated marriages. The tradition has since become legal in Colorado, California, Maine, Kansas, Nevada, Wisconsin and Washington DC, and is referred to colloquially as a self-uniting ceremony. Pretty cool, huh?


Self-uniting licenses typically cost about ten dollars more than regular marriage licenses, but overall price is dependent on the county you file in. Notably, you can get the license in one county but get married anywhere in the state, which allows some freedom for elopements within Pennsylvania. While the majority of states around the country do not offer a self-uniting marriage license, they all legally recognize them, meaning you can move to a different state and still be officially married. 


It’s typically recommended that you apply for a marriage license a few weeks before your wedding date. First, you and your partner must fill out an application for a marriage license, which is available in-person and on your county’s website online. You will be required to specify which type of license you are applying for–traditional or self-uniting. Then, you must both appear at the county clerk’s office with a physical copy of the application, (you can also fill it out when you arrive). Be sure to take your government issued id with you for the process. After you and your partner have taken an oath swearing all information provided is true, you will receive your license by mail or in-person after a mandatory 3 day waiting period. Your license is then valid for 60 days. Once you, your partner and your two witnesses sign the license after the wedding, it must be returned to the marriage license department within 10 days. After all of that, you’ll officially be married. Phew!

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Hopefully that was the most stressful part of this whole getting married ordeal. Now onto the fun stuff! Since Wild North Weddings strives to make your special day as enjoyable as possible, owner Carly D’Angelo will work with you every step of the way to ensure everything from decor to location is perfect. She’ll begin by sending an introductory questionnaire to clients, gauging what kind of ceremony you’d like, what type of location you’re interested in, and any possible vendors that need to be found. Then, to take the stress off of the couple, she will actually go out and location scout for you, plus gather vendor options and helpful planning tips. As if that’s not enough, she is also an officiant, (a COVID pet project, I was told), so if you do want to incorporate religion into your ceremony, she can officiate. It’s not every day you find a 3-in-1 wedding photographer, planner and officiant!

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While we’ll have to leave the specifics for your day up to you, we do have a few curated tips from Wild North Weddings to help customize your elopement experience. 


  1. 1) The first is to exchange personal, written vows with your partner. This is typically the main thing couples do during their wedding to make the ceremony feel more relaxed and unique. Consider writing them in personalized journals or keepsake diaries to preserve those wedding day feels. Some couples also choose to have family members write letters to be read aloud, a great way to reflect on the years leading up to your special day.


  1. 2) Carly then recommends that couples incorporate any meaningful traditions throughout their ceremony and day. She recalled a client that made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day with their partner, so they made a ceremonial sandwich together before reciting their vows. Another couple loved to rock climb together, so they took their friends rock climbing in West Virginia for their wedding day. If you can’t think of any traditions, consider incorporating the meaningful people (and pets) in your life into your ceremony. Nothing is better than being surrounded by those who love you on one of the most important days of your life. Plus, you can have your pups sign your ceremonial marriage certificate! 


  1. 3) The last recommendation may seem a bit common sense, but is easy to forget when planning for the day. Have activities scheduled for after the wedding! So much energy is spent on creating the perfect wedding that, especially when considering an elopement, you forget the remaining time you’ll have in the rest of the day. A typical self-uniting ceremony will only last for 10 to 20 minutes. If you want a forest wedding, consider bringing hiking clothes to change into, or take a sunrise hike before your nuptials. If you want a more laid-back day, consider going to a drive-in theater for a showing or to a favorite dinner place. 

A wedding day is supposed to mark the beginning of your happily ever after. Yet, nowadays it’s become a stressful day that is more for other peoples’ enjoyment than your own. In Pennsylvania, however, you have the opportunity to reclaim your wedding day, and plenty of resources to help. Get started with PA Wedding Guide and Wild North Weddings today!


If, while reading this article, you found yourself drawn to the aesthetic of Wild North Wedding photography, but still want a larger wedding, don’t worry! While specializing in elopements, Carly still photographs bigger weddings as well, and would be happy to be part of your special day. Learn more about her services and set up an initial consultation via her listing on PA Wedding Guide. 

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