Quakers marry by declaring their commitment to each other before God. The practice has been, at heart, the same since the 1650s.
For the right joining in marriage is the work of the Lord only, and not the priests' or magistrates'; for it is God's ordinance and not man's; and therefore Friends cannot consent that they should join them together: for we marry none; it is the Lord's work, and we are but witnesses.
George Fox, 1669
Marriage is viewed as a joyful act of worship, the decision by two people to take each other freely and equally as life-long partners. However, it is not a decision that is to be taken lightly, as it is a commitment to be made solemnly.
Never marry but for love; but see that thou lovest what is lovely. He that minds a body and not a soul has not the better part of that relation, and will consequently lack the noblest comfort of a married life.
Between a man and his wife nothing ought to rule but love... As love ought to bring them together, so it is the best way to keep them well together.
William Penn, 1693
Quakers believe that when two people commit themselves to each other, they do so for a lifetime. Those in a marriage must support their partner and work to overcome difficulties. Divorce is the very last resort and is often harmful to those involved, which may include children. However, it is recognised that ultimately, some marriages are unsubstainable and that divorce or separation is the most loving way forward.
We recognise that many homosexual people play a full part in the life of the Society of Friends. There are homosexual couples who consider themselves to be married and believe that this is as much a testimony of divine grace as a heterosexual marriage. They miss the public recognition of this in a religious ceremony even though this could have no legal significance.
We have found the word `marriage' difficult but we are clear that we have a responsibility to support all members of our meetings and to uphold them in their relationships. We can expect that some committed homosexual couples will ask their meetings for a celebration of their commitment to each other. Meetings already have the means whereby meetings for worship can be held for this purpose but we recognise that many find this a difficult matter. The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends.
Meeting for Sufferings, 1987
In general, Friends are wholly accepting of homosexual relationships, and it is a minority that has difficulty with them. If British law allowed it, I suspect that there would be strong support in the Society for allowing homosexual marriages. Currently though, homosexual Quaker couples have the alternative option of holding a ceremony at their meeting celebrating their commitment to each other, similar to a marriage, but without legal status. Homosexual marriages have been conducted by American Quakers due to loopholes in the law there which have since been closed.
To choose as a life partner one who shares your interests and enthusiasms, who makes a good friend as well as a good lover - whose personality and freedom you respect, who shares the belief that marriage is a religious act, and that the love that unites man and woman is part of the great love of God - these are some of the foundation stones of a happy marriage.
Ruth I Midgley, 1950
Marriage is a context for a relationship, not a guarantee of its quality. The choice of a partner and the decision to marry are crucial, and meetings may be able to help in the process of discernment and the counselling of couples.
Quaker Faith and Practice 22.33
Before a marriage takes place, the Registering Officer of the Monthly Meeting at which the couple wish to marry meets with a couple. This is to ensure that they understand the nature of Quaker worship, and the Quaker testimony on marriage, simplicity and avoidance of ostentation. A Meeting for Clearness may be conducted at the wish of the couple, the registrar, or the Meeting. This is not a test, but rather an opportunity to explore the nature of the commitment that is being contemplated. A Meeting for Clearness is often conducted if either of those wishing to marry is not a member of the Society of Friends, or is remarrying.
A Quaker wedding happens much like a normal Meeting for Worship. If you attend one, you will not necessarily be expected to wear special clothing; what you normally wear will do fine. And the wedding will likely be held in a normal Quaker meeting house. This is in accordance with Quaker deemphasis of outward symbols. My father is fond of recalling how he and my mother went to their wedding in Manchester on a bus.
Once those present are sitting in silence, the wedding has begun. There will often be ministry by those present. When the couple to be married feel that the time is right, they stand. The woman says
Friends, I take this my friend <name> to be my husband, promising, through divine assistance, to be unto him a loving and faithful wife, so long as we both on earth shall live.
and the man says
Friends, I take this my friend <name> to be my wife, promising, through divine assistance, to be unto her a loving and faithful husband, so long as we both on earth shall live.
The order is not important. Certain variations in wording are allowed, and there is a Welsh version that can be used where Welsh is spoken. (See QF&P 16.36/37.) After the Meeting is over, those present sign the Marriage Certificate as witnesses.
If you are interested in Quaker marriage, the great book I Take Thee, Serenity, by Daisy Newman, is the fictional account of how a young non-Quaker couple discover Quakerism and have a Quaker marriage.