Why do you have to say vows?
Under Australian law you must say particular vows for a marriage ceremony to be valid (i.e. meeting legal requirements. The legal vows are as follows:
"I call upon all persons here present to witness
That I [my full name] take you [partner's full name]
As my lawful wedded [husband/wife/spouse."
In the Australian wedding industry we sometimes call these the "awful vows" because of the propensity for some people to stumble over the "lawful wedded" and say "awful wedded." If you do happen to stumble over these words, you need to repeat them as the words "lawful wedded" must be stated. If you stumble don't panic, I'm here to guide you through it all in your ceremony.
You can supplement the legal vows by saying anything else you'd like to say. It's the perfect time to let the world know how you feel about the person you're marrying, and you can literally say anything you like. But like with most things in the civil ceremony in Australia, you're not forced to say anything else.
Some people struggle with the concept of saying something extra in their vows, and we need to respect that people have different reasons for not saying anything other than the legal vows. Too often observers will comment "oh, we didn't do that at our wedding," when they see something happening that may be unusual or something they haven't seen before. It is rather inconsiderate for people to be commenting on the choices a couple make about their special day.
When do you say vows?
Vows will be said generally at some point after the celebrant has declared their authority (another legal requirement). In my weddings I tend to have the legals commence mid-ceremony after I have declared my authority.
Isn't saying "I do" when asked a form of marriage vow?
Couples need to be aware that while the vows are sometimes preceded by an "asking question" (ie. do you take this person as your husband/wife etc), the asking of that question is not in itself a legal requirement and it is certainly not a marriage vow.
It is a response to a consent question.
In signing the notice of intended marriage you have consented in writing to marry. However, if the question is asked in your ceremony your answer has the utmost importance.
If you say "no" or "I don't know" - even in jest - you are literally indicating that you may have changed your mind and revoked consent. If the wedding carries on the celebrant can face severe penalties for potentially marrying couples where consent has not been freely given. This is a criminal offence.
Ways to say vows
Be creative. Talk from the heart and your words will sing. And you can sing your vows if you feel the need to.
Be outrageous - if you want to. It's your moment in the spotlight.
Be honest. If your partner steals your extra pizza slice every time you might want to tell the world you really don't mind.
Read your vows from specially prepared booklets.
Recite your vows from memory - if you can.
Repeat the vows after the celebrant - that way you don't have to remember anything or hold a booklet.
If you have questions, ask your celebrant for advice and guidance. There are many ways you can do this important section of your ceremony.