This trope represents a wedding-like moment that however is not an official wedding.
It can be a very intimate moment shared only between the lovers themselves. There's no one to officiate, no one to witness, and it most definitely isn't recognised by authorities, however, it is very meaningful to the lovers themselves. Their mutual promise is binding. Or the lovers can celebrate their commitment with a grand ceremony with guests, vows, reception, gifts, the whole shebang. The only thing is that the wedding is not really real and has no legal status, however, it's incredibly meaningful to the happy couple and it's also a very important moment for their family and friends. Alternatively, the lovers decide to throw a small impromptu wedding for fun among friends. Someone from the group will volunteer to "officiate" while others will jump in and be happy to play the maid of honour or the best man, basically the whole wedding party. However, it's only symbolic as they are not registered for marriage license, nor is the officiating person allowed to perform the ceremony.
This trope can come about in various ways:
- Perhaps one of them is dying and there's no way they could actually manage to call a priest and get married quickly. But they do want to be married before God, so they exchange their vows.
- Perhaps they both face certain death and hope to be reunited in the afterlife, or at least they think if they have a wedding-like moment, they'll be Together in Death.
- Perhaps they are a gay couple who live in a homophobic society and can't be together openly. However, they want to make their Secret Relationship more significant and assure each other that they consider themselves committed for life.
- Perhaps one of them is not a legal citizen in the country where they live. Or both of them are illegal and must be sailing under the radar.
- Perhaps their parents disapprove of or outright forbid the relationship, especially a wedding, so they do their own private "wedding rites" in secret.
- Perhaps they are underage and too young for a real wedding.
- Perhaps they don't really want to be tied down and have "a paper", but they still want to declare their love in front of their family and friends.
- Perhaps one of them is married already and can't get a divorce.
- Perhaps they want to make a pledge among multiple partners.
- Perhaps they have to keep their relationship secret, but still want to commit themselves to each other in the eyes of their chosen higher spiritual authority.
Whatever is the reason, it will not stand in the way of true love. The lovers want to be together for good no matter what. So they decide to have their metaphorical wedding and after that, they consider themselves as good as married.
The big grand ceremony is often the case of gay couples who want to have a wedding like straight people and the work happens to be set in the time where gay love is no longer persecuted, gay couples can be openly together, however, same-sex marriage is not (yet) a legal option.
Forbidden Love and its subtropes and related concepts may be the reason the lovers can't be together openly. Compare/contrast with My Own Private "I Do", which is a trope about intimate but legal weddings. See also Grand Romantic Gesture, Real Fake Wedding, and G-Rated Sex, where two characters share intimacy in a family-friendly work.
- Horatio Hornblower (Tv 'verse) fic "Nunc Atque Semper" note : Naval officers Horatio Hornblower and Archie Kennedy are incredibly tight and close friends in canon and Archie saved Horatio's life with a Heroic Sacrifice. In this fic, they were gay and considered themselves married. Hornblower's wife Maria is horrified when she finds their rings with engraved messages and other romantic tokens like a book of Shakespeare's sonnets with inscription "Nunc atque semper, A.K. to H.H. 1800".
"They'd exchanged rings. Horatio considered him his husband."
- The Second Try has Asuka and Shinji having the full ceremony complete with exchanging rings and vows, but lacked anyone to officiate or witness it due to them being the only two people alive in a post-Third Impact world (though one could say that they technically had the entire human race as their witnesses due to getting married next to the LCL sea). They're planning on having an official wedding by the time of the epilogue.
- The Merlin (2008) fic "Dragonfasting" reveals that most Dragonlords marry their chosen spouses in a dragonfasting, an ancient rite that requires a dragon to be present when the Dragonlord marries their chosen partner. When Hunith comes to Camelot and learns that Merlin has been bonded to Morgana in a dragonfasting, she reveals that Balinor told her about dragonfasting but they were never able to perform the rite themselves as there were no dragons available, although Merlin assures his mother that after his meeting with Balinor he's certain his father considered Hunith his wife even if they couldn't bond that way.
- TorontoBatFan's Let Me In series has Owen and Abby discuss this idea after Abby turns Owen into a vampire to save his life. Recalling how Dracula films had Dracula refer to the women he turned into vampires as his Brides, Owen suggests that a similar rule could apply to Abby turning him, particularly since they could never get legally married even if Owen remained human since Abby would never look old enough to get married.
- Discussed in Avengers: Infinite Wars as part of the triad relationship between Peter Parker, Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee. When Barriss discusses her plans to forge a new lightsaber to reflect the personal growth she's gone through recently, she gives her old one to Ahsoka in a manner that she explicitly compares to a proposal, affirming that Peter and Ahsoka have given her life new meaning beyond the Jedi Order and she wants to dedicate her life and love to being with them (Peter only isn't included in this moment because he wasn't present at the time).
- The Kim Possible fic "Dark Legacy" features Zorpox managing to trick Global Justice into bringing him back. He is later able to use another Attitudinator to turn Kim into her evil side (who adopts the name ‘Sheela of the Leopard People’), and the two subsequently have a wedding with Drakken as the officiator and Shego and Monkey Fist as the bridesmaid and best man (Zorpox having captured all three before the confrontation with Kim). Obviously the marriage would be completely symbolic as Drakken is unlikely to have the authority to perform weddings and Sheela and Zorpox aren’t using their legal names, and it’s ultimately revealed that Kim faked the morality switch so that she could get close to Zorpox and turn him back to Ron, hitting him with the Attitudinator before they can exchange ‘I dos’.
- The Frozen fic "Feel, Don't Conceal" focuses on Elsa and Anna forming a relationship. Since they obviously can't be legally married, Elsa and Anna have a private ceremony for themselves on the top of a mountain on the night of the equinox, both of them naked (Elsa's acceptance of her feelings for Anna has given Anna immunity to the cold), vowing that they will have no secrets from each other and always be faithful.
- In Calamity Jane Meets Doctor Isles, unable to have an official marriage, Jane and Maura have a private ceremony on their first night together in the rebuilt Rizzoli home, exchanging rings and vows with only Bass and Jo Friday as witnesses.
- Cultivating Empathy has Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue unable to officially become cultivation partners due to their political responsabilities. They acknowledge their bond by taking a night off to exchange love tokens — Lan Xichen gives Nie Mingjue his forehead ribbon and Nie Mingjue braids Lan Xichen's hair, two symbols of their respective clans.
- In Luz Clawthorne: Two Worlds, One Family, Luz and Amity have one of these to act as something to keep them close regardless of the hardships ahead of them, and as a promise to one day marry for real. Of course, Luz did have a time trying to explain to everyone that she wasn't trying for an actual teen marriage.
- All My Loved Ones: Two Jewish children David and Sosha are great friends who live with their families in Prague on the brink of WWII. They are supposed to be rescued on Nicolas Winton's trains and travel together to Great Britain. They are inspired by David's sister's wedding and the two of them perform a Jewish wedding ceremony, complete with vows, drinking from one cup and smashing it to pieces. David later tells his mom that Sosha is his wife and that he will take care of her. She tearfully says they might really get married one day, but David insists they already are married.
- In Wet Hot American Summer, which is set in The '80s, Beth the camp counselor marries Ben and McKinley, who are both male and likely underage, to each other in a hippie outdoor ceremony in the woods.
- In Moonrise Kingdom, Sam and Susie, who are both 12, convince Sam's cousin Ben, a teenage senior Khaki scout, to marry them to each other. Ben explains that the marriage won't have any legal standing, but the symbolism is important.
- West Side Story: Tony and Maria play-act a wedding in the backroom of the bridal shop where she works. This mirrors the scene in its source material Romeo and Juliet, where the titular characters actually do get married.
- In The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dr. Frank N. Furter's escorting his creation/spouse Rocky to their "bridal chamber" at the end of "I Can Make You A Man (Reprise)" is played out as a wedding, as a portion of Mendelssohn is played at the end of the song while the Transylvanians shower the "newlywed" couple with rice during their walk down the aisle together.
- In The Normal Heart: Given that Felix was dying of AIDS and he requests that Ned be the executor of his will, he decides to marry Ned with Ben and Emma as their witnesses with the latter also officiating their commitment ceremony although gay marriage wasn't legal or a possible option in the 1980s, where the movie and play are both set.
- Sleeping On Floors: High-School Sweethearts Anthony and Cleo have been together for years, and have always said they would get married someday. But after going on a Road Trip Plot that lays bare the problems in their relationship, they realize they're about to break up. They decide to have their "wedding" right there, tonight, as a sort of one last hurrah. It's a backyard ceremony with vows. There is no reason to make it legally binding, though.
Cleo: We always promised ourselves we were going to get married. So if we are going to break up, then we better do it tonight, right?
- In The Hunger Games, Peeta describes to the citizens of the Capitol how he and Katniss have already tied the knot, opting for a simple home ceremony of 'toasting', in which the couple makes their first fire together, toast a piece of bread, and share it. Peeta claims they didn't want to wait for their originally planned big Capitol wedding. He openly states it wasn't an official ceremony as there was no paperwork, but Katniss notes the ceremony's symbolic value, as "no one really feels married in District 12 until after the toasting". Peeta's lying though—they never had any ceremony.
- Glory Road: When Star and Oscar Gordon decide to get married, they take part in a private unofficial ceremony based on an old Earth custom: the bride and groom saying a poem and jumping over a sword together.
- In Declare, Andrew and Helena's fellow spy who poses as a priest enacts a wedding ceremony for them as it looks like all three are about to die in 1961 Berlin. They survive, however, and although they are separated for many years immediately thereafter, Andrew remains true to his "spouse" for the rest of his life.
- In Podkayne of Mars, the local MegaCorp on Venus doesn't bother with registering marriages by its workers, only caring about having new employees being birthed. People view themselves as married though.
- The Wheel of Time: Aes Sedai (the female wizards of the setting) often magically bond a warder — a big strong swordsman to watch their back. Officially, the relationship is supposed to stay professional, but in practice, the empathic link created by the bond tends to lead to emotional intimacy, and they are expected to stay together until death do they part. Becoming sexually intimate or flat-out marrying for real is officially frowned upon, but not exactly uncommon (especially in the Green Ajah). It's not a real marriage, but many end up acting like husband and wife, and young Aes Sendai have lots of romantic notions about it. Some of them do get legally married, although they tend to keep it on the down-low since strictly speaking it's against the White Tower's rules.
- In the Sweet Valley High novel The Wakefields Of Sweet Valley, two characters trapped in rubble after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake exchange wedding vows (and they had come to San Francisco for the purpose of eloping), believing that they're going to die.
- Patience and Sarah takes place in 1810s America. The titular leads are lesbian lovers but cannot be open about their relationship. Even their own family scorns their love. When the two move to New York to be together, Patience internally compares riding on a sled to the boats as being similar to a wedding party. She can't officially marry Sarah, so the sled bells will have to be good enough for them.
- Naked Came the Stranger: Despite sharing a last name, Arthur and Raina Franhop are not legally married. Their marriage was sanctified by a nineteen-year-old Zen reader during a League for Sexual Freedom meeting.
- Forbidden: Teenage siblings Lochan and Maya have been Promotion to Parent for their younger siblings, and have subsequently fallen in love. They cannot legally marry, both on the basis of being underage and it being incest, but they have this moment:
She reaches out for the crumpled sheet at the end of her bed and wraps it round beneath her arms. The white material swirls around her feet, making me smile. I pull on my underwear and join her by the window, kissing her cheek. “I do.”
She looks at me questioningly and then down at the sheet before breaking into giggles.
“In sickness and in health?” she asks. “Till death do us part?”
I shake my head. “Way beyond that,” I say. “Forever.”
- All My Children. Resident psychopath Billy Clyde Tuggle kidnaps Dixie Cooney after becoming obsessed with her and forces her to recite wedding vows. Mercifully, she's able to fend him off when he wants to consummate the "marriage".
- Ally McBeal: Cindy McCauliff (played by Lisa Edelstein) is a transgender woman. She is still legally a man (much is made of her having a penis) and later symbolically marries another guy. Lawyer Richard Fish officiates. Interesting choice, because in Cindy's story arch, Richard was established as particularly homophobic and misogynistic.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003): During the fourth season Laura Roslin experiences a series of visions that end with Bill Adama slipping the wedding ring from his first marriage onto her hand as she lies dying of cancer. In the Grand Finale he does it for real after she succumbs to the disease and passes away.
- Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: Ingrid and Matthew plan their wedding that's supposed to happen in a month. However, Ingrid gets bitten by a rabid dog. When she's dying, she regains some lucidity, and Matthew comes to her to say goodbye. Tearful Matthew holds her hand and says they are married now before God.
- Friends, "The One with the Lesbian Wedding": Ross's ex-wife Carol and her lesbian life partner Susan are getting married. Considering the setting (1990s New York), the wedding is merely symbolic, but no one addresses the point and everybody acts like it's a real wedding. Briefly before the ceremony, Carol and Susan have a big argument and almost break up because Carol's parents refuse to come.
- Gentleman Jack features Ann Walker and Anne Lister taking Communion together on Easter and subsequently considering themselves married and moving in together. Since same-sex marriage wasn't legal in 1840s Britain, this is the closest they could come. The real-life Ann and Anne really did this, and there's a plaque commemmorating this at the church where they did so.
- The Golden Girls: Blanche's gay brother Clayton plans a commitment ceremony with his boyfriend Doug. Blanche has a hard time adjusting to the idea. It appears she would be ok with him being gay if he were also celibate. However, when Clayton makes it clear he will choose Doug as his family over Blanche if she doesn't accept them, she makes her peace with it and assures Clayton she will consider Doug her brother-in-law.
- The Good Place, "Chidi's Choice": Jason and Janet decide to get married. Janet is a walking talking user interface for the celestial mainframe and Jason is a guy who died. Eleanor and Tahani attend the wedding and voice both their concerns and objections, as well as appreciation of their unusual romance. The two exchange marriage promises and Janet declares them married. In a later episode, Janet says it was not a legal ceremony, but they consider themselves married.
Michael: And by the way, Janet is not your wife, or your soul mate. There's a Janet in every neighborhood.
Jason: Well, I'm in love with this Janet. We did a bunch of amazing, awesome stuff which almost turned out to be sex, and we were married in a legal ceremony.
Janet: It was not legal.
- Grey's Anatomy: In season 5, Derek and Meredith are married this way. Initially, they had planned a big wedding but then decided to give it to Izzy and Alex, since Izzy had cancer and Meredith didn't want a wedding anyways. Their plan was to go to the courthouse for a quick and legal wedding, but they end up being too busy for even that. They quickly write their vows onto Post-It notes, and from there consider themselves married, referring to each other as husband and wife going forward. In season 7 they finally have a courthouse wedding, but only because they are trying to adopt a child and being legally married would help with the adoption process.
- Guiding Light. Held prisoner by local psycho Brent, Super Couple Lucy and Alan-Michael recite wedding vows, believing that it's only a matter of time before he kills them.
- The Handmaid's Tale: Kit and Fiona are two women sent to work themselves to death to colonies and they are in a relationship. Kit is very weak, on the brink of death, and Janine organizes a wedding for them. The ceremony is presided over by another prisoner, Sally, a female rabbi. It is their last moment of happiness before Kit dies. The next morning Kit’s body is buried in the graveyard. Gilead ruled all same-sex marriages void and the authorities certainly don't recognize such unions as legal, but the wedding ceremony was very meaningful to all prisoners who witnessed it.
- The Haunting of Bly Manor: After she and Jamie have lived together for some time, Dani gives her a ring and says that although they can't formally get married (as same-sex marriage isn't yet legal during the time period), she still wants to spend the rest of her life with her. They later enter into a civil union and Jamie still wears the ring years after Dani's death.
- Interview with the Vampire (2022): Near the end of the series premiere, Lestat de Lioncourt turns Louis de Pointe du Lac into a vampire, so now they're forever linked together through a vampire bond. Their Relationship Upgrade scene plays out like a macabre wedding. They're on the altar steps of a church with two (dead) priests present (including Father Matthias, who officiated Grace's wedding). Lestat proposes to Louis with "Be my companion, Louis. Be all the beautiful things you are, and be them without apology. For all eternity." Louis accepts and kisses Lestat. They then exchange blood in lieu of vows and rings. As much as two men can be in 1910, Lestat and Louis consider themselves to be married. They later go to Lestat's townhouse (which is now also Louis' home, much like how The Edwardian Era bride moves into the groom's residence after they tie the knot) to consummate their union, with Lestat holding Louis in his arms in a Bridal Carry as he walks up the stairs.
- Replacing Chef Chico: Since gay marriage isn't legal in the Philippines, the drag queen officiant of the "wedding ceremony" at Hain in the seventh episode has to clarify that the ceremony isn't legally binding, but it means a lot to both men.
- Roseanne: Scott and Leon are getting married (symbolically) and Roseanne volunteers to plan their wedding. Leon is shocked by Roseanne's taste as there are drag queens, male strippers, and pink decor everywhere. He attempts to run away (he already left Scott at the altar once 5 years ago) and even claims he isn't really gay as he hates shopping, he's insensitive, he hates Barbra Streisand and he votes for Republicans. He tries to kiss Roseanne but that only confirms that he's gay and goes through with the wedding. With the tacky decor toned down, Leon and Scott exchange their vows.
- Shameless (US): Kevin drunkenly proposes to Veronica, but then he later has to tell her that he never bothered divorcing his first wife. She doesn't really care, and they end up having a wedding anyways, both to appease Veronica's mother, and also to receive wedding gifts. It wasn't legal, but they went on to have twin daughters and are still together.
- Six Feet Under:
- Father Jack is under threat of being dismissed from his position because he has performed a symbolic wedding ceremony for a lesbian couple in his church.
- David and Keith attend a metaphorical wedding held by David's gay friends Terry and Paul. They registered for gifts, have a grand outside ceremony, and enjoy partying with friends.
- Before David and Keith go to Terry and Paul's thing, they discuss whether they should symbolically get married too. David thinks it would be great to have some kind of ceremony, but Keith insists it's not needed because they are practically married already, being in each other's will, etc. Shortly after this, David starts referring to Keith as his husband. (In the finale it's revealed that David and Keith get legally married in 2009.)
David: Maybe we should get married.Keith: So we can have people going on vase-buying errands for us?David: No. So we can say all those "forevers" and "no-matter-whats".Keith: You're in my will, I'm in yours. We basically are married, even if the law refuses to recognize it. But then again, I refuse to recognize most of the Bush Administration. I guess it all evens out.David: I still think some sort of ceremony in front of all our family and friends would make it more real.
- The Wheel of Time (2021): When Siuan forces Moiraine to make an oath upon the Oath Rod that will bind her against returning to the White Tower, Moiraine rephrases the oath in such a way that it sounds like a wedding vow instead, though the core of the instruction remains intact. This is reflective of their long-term clandestine relationship.
- Final Fantasy XV ends with Noctis and Luna at what would have been their wedding ceremony, representing them being Together in Death.
- Ky and Dizzy from Guilty Gear refer to themselves as a married couple, but were never able to officially tie the knot because Dizzy lacks any legal identity as a Gear and had to fake her death.
- In Umineko: When They Cry, George and especially Shannon seem to consider Shannon accepting George's proposal (which was done privately in a gazebo on the Ushiromiyas' main estate) as good as an actual wedding. In George's case, it seems he mostly sees the wedding as just a formality of the underlying promise to each other. Shannon's reason is far darker. She is terrified of admitting to George that because of an injury she suffered as a baby, she is at a minimum infertile and was likely born the opposite gender she identifies as. She also, in dealing with past heartbreaks, is either dating or in love with two of George's cousins, though not necessarily in the same guise. She ultimately wants someone to accept her as she is so she can devote herself to them, but fearing that no one will, she considers the proposal with George to be the wedding because she can't bear to have the actual wedding take place and let destiny fall where it will. Largely for this reason, after the proposal, she tries to conduct a Murder-Suicide on the entire Ushiromiya family.
Shannon: George-san and I swore our love to each other. As proof, I accepted the ring... With that, our eternal vows were completed! No matter how you torture us with your wicked magic and your malice, you cannot disgrace that for all eternity!
- In The Autobiography of Jane Eyre, Ed Rochester wants to be with Jane forever and persuades her to have a symbolic wedding, with white dress and reception and all that stuff. Jane is thrown off balance a bit that he didn't ask her to marry for real, but she agrees to go through with it. Just before the ceremony, Jane finds out he's already married. His wife has serious mental issues and he doesn't want to (or can't) get divorced. Jane decides to leave him although it breaks her heart. She is able to empathize with him to a degree though.
- The Owl House: At the end of the Grand Finale, Raine moves into the Owl House to live with Eda. The subsequent Time Skip shows them wearing eachothers' earrings as a sign of their relationship. While it is left vague if they have actually married or not, they are effectively living a married life. When fans queried Dana Terrace about whether actually married, Terrace said that they did not.
- In the 1840s and 1850s, slaves were not allowed to marry legally, so couples would announce their commitment to each other by jumping over a broomstick together in front of witnesses. "Jumping the broom" became slang for marrying in the South, and the practice is observed in some African-American weddings today.
- In queer culture, such weddings are called "commitment ceremonies" if they hold no legal recognition but the couple still wants to affirm their love for each other. The term has largely fallen out of favor these days, however, as most countries progressive enough to let LGBTQ+ people live openly have increasingly started recognizing same-sex marriage.
- A heterosexual couple can have a commitment ceremony if they can't get married legally due to repercussions that would ensue (e.g. losing an inheritance or benefits if they were to marry), but would marry under other circumstances.
- A heterosexual couple can also have a commitment ceremony if they want to pledge their love before those they care for, but feel that they "don’t need a piece of paper."