"Can I have a surprise wedding?" This is a question I have been asked a number of times over the years.
The answer is yes, provided certain conditions are met.
Here are some facts about Surprise Weddings that may surprise you.
1. Marriage in Australia must be between two consenting adults so don't try surprising your partner with a wedding they aren't expecting.
Where this is announced in front of an audience, in particular, you're placing undue pressure on your partner to agree to get married. This is called 'duress' and the celebrant should not perform the ceremony under these circumstances even if the party planning the wedding has completed the legal paperwork within the appropriate timeframes.
Consent by the second, surprised party has not been freely given nor has the person been given time to process the implications of entering into a marriage. This is further exacerbated if the surprised party has been drinking, as you then have alcohol-impaired decision making at play, too.
2. A surprise wedding can be a surprise for your guests, absolutely. There are many ways in which you can plan your 'deception' to bring your guests to the occasion none the wiser that they're actually coming to a wedding.
3. You can add an element of surprise to your surprise wedding by letting fate or serendipity choose your official witnesses.
You need to have two official witnesses to the wedding and the only criteria for those are that they need to be:
over the age of 18,
of sound mind,
not under the influence of alcohol or anything else at the time of the wedding, and
agreeable to the request to be a witness, as you can't force someone to do this.
To choose the witnesses, you could employ these techniques:
ask close family or friends after the wedding announcement is made.
play a game of 'witness lotto' where adult guests are issued with a raffle ticket on entry to the party under the guise of a lucky door prize giveaway.
ask the crowd if anyone is celebrating a wedding anniversary or birthday that day.
I conducted a surprise wedding at this location in the NT in 2017.
4. Serendipity could also be used to select participants for particular elements in your surprise wedding if you decide to include a reading or ritual, or indeed, to select your wedding party attendants.
You could use the elements described earlier to select participants to deliver a reading or participate in a ritual, or to stand up there with you as your wedding attendants.
Leaving the choice to fate makes it very clear that you're not playing favourites and everyone eligible to participate has an equal chance of being selected.
5. Surprise weddings may bring surprise reactions, so be prepared for this.
People you invite may not come for whatever reason and then be annoyed when they find out later that they missed your wedding. Too bad, so sad!
Some people may not support your decision to get married and voice concerns about it. Remembering that marriage must be between consenting adults, the thoughts and opinions of others have no bearing on your ceremony.
At no stage in the ceremony is the question asked if anyone objects to the marriage - this is done in British weddings under the 'banns' ritual, but it's not done here.
6. Under no circumstances can you surprise your proposed wedding celebrant with a surprise - for the celebrant - wedding.
There are mandatory timeframes required for completing and lodging legal paperwork, checking documents and your eligibility to marry, and developing the ceremony in advance of the event. This doesn't just miraculously happen - it takes a lot of work to do this.
So you can't just rock up and expect your celebrant to just marry you without the groundwork being done first to make it happen.