Even more about Handfasting
In the first two pages, I talked about the ceremony, and gave some ideas on how to pull it together. Now I'd like to talk about how to merge a Pagan marriage with a legal marriage...they're not *quite* the same thing...yet.
In order to be legally married, you must have a marriage license, and in most states, the ceremony that *legally* binds you must be performed by a certified minister or a Justice of the Peace.
If your HP/S/minister says they're certified in your state to provide marriages, double check! Make sure they're not simply registered through an online church, and make sure that your state will accept their certification. You don't want to find out five years down the road that you're not really married. Go to your local courthouse and ask them to check their registers for your minister of choice.
I realize that it may seem as though I am paranoid about Pagan clergy...but please do remember that we do not have a central organization to check on these things, and pretty much anyone can claim to be the Grand High Poobah of Whatever, circa the Dawn of Time (tm). A healthy amount of skepticism is a good thing, really. Always ask for proof of claims... if they're on the up and up, they can provide you with doccuments.
It seems easiest to simply exchange vows in front of a Justice of the Peace, *then* go have a ceremony. The Notary can be your Witness, and it's actually cheaper than dragging the poor ancient Justice out to your wedding site to stand in the sun with all these strange people in costumes. They charge a lot for that sort of thing.
If you can't find a HP/S/minister with good credentials, but don't want a JoP, you can try asking at the courthouse for other choices. Some occupations allow people to perform weddings that you wouldn't ordinarily think of, and the list is different for every state. The most widely known, of course, is a ship's Captain. Also, Governors, city clerks, retired Judges, Tribal Judges, and even whole groups of people can officiate in many states. In the state of Colorado, couples can solemnize their own wedding.
I mentioned before that Handfasting traditionally lasted a year and a day...weeeeeell, that's not *exactly* true. Handfasting started because it took so long for priests to get to some of the more remote villages. Handfasting *traditionally* isn't Pagan, but a sort of pagan-peasant/Catholic compromise. Marriages usually took place at a certain time of year, but priests couldn't always get there in time to formalize the marriage...so people would have a long engagement that involved all the things marriage would. Sometimes after living together, the couples would hate each other and decide not to get married after all. People were pretty relaxed about out-of-wedlock children way back in the day.
So, if you want a *traditional* Handfasting, you would simply declare your intent to marry, move in together, do your thing (nudge nudge, wink wink,) and have a wedding about a year later. This ties in with my next point...
Common Law Marriages
In many states, two unmarried (and unrelated) people of the opposite sex become married by commom law after living together for one year, and/or filing taxes jointly. This may be the rule in your state as well, check with your courthouse. Also check to see if commonlaw marriages entitle you and your husband to the same benefits that regular marriage does. (Hmmm, marriage and marriage lite...nah.) If you don't have the money to put on a ceremony and get a marriage license, you can Handfast, live together for a year, and have the big ceremony after you've filed taxes. You're already married, so you don't need to worry about having a legal license. This can be a problem in the first year, however...you're not yet married, so you can't share health benefits, or some insurance policies. There's also a bad name attatched to common law marriages (never mind that that's how it used to be in the olden days.)
Remember that although Wiccan/Pagan Handfasting is neither legal nor traditional, you can still use it. You don't *need* a legal marriage to Handfast, or just live together. You can use it as a promise to bind you and your intended for a year and a day, or the rest of your lives, without legally getting married...the state can't tell you how to define your relationship with your loved ones. This is why Handfasting is a popular choice with same-sex and poly relationships...you don't need legal sanction to promise to love someone. You don't get the same benefits that legally married couples do, but that's one of the things we're working to change.
Visit Marriage Laws to get a good overview of the laws in your state.
Handfasting I Handfasting II