In many wedding ceremonies, there’s an element called the Signing of the Registry. This is when the couple sign their marriage license with two witnesses and the officiant.
When I started out, my first questions about wedding ceremonies in general were, “Who sits during the Signing of the Registry? And when?”
Does everyone sit down? Only one half of the couple? What about the witnesses? In what order do they sign?
As it turns out, there are a few ways to do it. Here are 5 options I recommend (and 1 that I don’t!) for who sits – and when – during the Signing of the Registry.
Let’s just get this on the table (See what I did there? It’s a pun. About the… signing table. Okay, moving on.): the order in which everyone signs.
Most jurisdictions (provinces, states, counties, etc.) require the signatures of the couple, two witnesses, and the officiant on the marriage license.
So in what order do those five people sign?
Regardless of all the seating options you’ll read below, the order goes like this:
- The Bride (if applicable)
- The Groom (if applicable)
- The Maid of Honour (or bride’s witness)
- The Best Man (or groom’s witness)
- The Officiant
If it’s a same-sex wedding, there’s no “hierarchy;” Groom #1 simply goes first, then Groom #2, and then Groom #1’s witness, and then Groom #2.
Two Chairs or One
When I have my “wedding workshop” with the couple a few weeks before the wedding, I ask them if they prefer to have two chairs at the signing table or just one. Some have never thought about it. Some have a strong opinion.
So that’s what we’re going to be working with: two chairs or one. And those two options determine who sits, and when.
Let’s go through the choices we have depending on which of the two options we’re working with.
Seating Option 1: Two Chairs
A) Only the couple sit.
I’m gonna show my cards here (Another table pun! They’re everywhere!) and say this one is my favourite of all of them. I just prefer when the couple can both sit; they’re on the same level during the signing and can laugh and chat.
So when we all move to the signing table, the couple sit. They stay seated the whole time enjoying their first moments as a married couple, and their witnesses sign standing.
B) First the couple sit, then the witnesses.
A slightly more traditional way to do the two-chair variation is: both pairs take a turn. The couple sign, then get up and stand beside the table, and then the two witnesses take a seat and sign.
When all the signing is done, we move back together to the centre to wrap up the ceremony.
This choice gives the witnesses a bit more of a moment in the spotlight. It’s an elegant way to honour them if the couple would like.
Seating Option 2: One Chair
A) Only the bride sits.
This style is quite common. If there’s only one chair and one person to sit, then it’s gonna be the bride.
The “pro” to this style is that the bride is given the focus; it’s fitting to the whole “queen of the day” thing, if that’s what the wedding is going for. It’s usually the bride’s big day!
The “con” here, in my opinion, is that the couple are sort of “separated” by the height difference as he’s standing and she’s sitting. So, often, the groom isn’t quite sure what to do with himself after he puts his signature on the paper. His bride is sitting and his witnessing friends or family members are busy signing.
But… viva la tradicion!
B) Only both members of the couple sit in turn.
Another alternative is to have each member of the couple sit and sign one-at-a-time. If there’s a bride and groom, she goes first, then him. If it’s two brides or two grooms, it’s not a given. Rock/scissor/paper, anyone?
Then the witnesses sign standing.
A pro here is that each half of the couple are given equal merit as they sign. A con is that the chair is empty when the witnesses sign.
C) Only the Bride and the Maid of Honour sit.
This one has a traditional and chivalrous flair, as well – the whole “ladies sit” thing. And it’s quite lovely, actually.
So when we all get to the signing table, the bride sits, and she remains seated when the groom signs. Then the bride stands and yields her seat to her Maid of Honour (or other female witness). The Maid of Honour stays seated while the male witness and the officiant sign.
Not Recommended (!): Everyone takes a turn
I did this at one of my first weddings, and I’m still a bit embarrassed about it. Not that anything terrible happened! It went smoothly. In fact, maybe that’s what makes it more embarrassing in my memory and makes me cringe a bit: everyone just went along with what decided, and it was a bit, well… awkward.
The bride slid into the chair, signed, then got up and stood next to the chair. Then the groom slid into the chair, signed, then he got up and stood next to her. Then the Maid of Honour did the same, and then the Best Man. Then me.
The signing took a long time, and it was a lot of chair-involved movement. Reflecting on this when the ceremony was done, I realized I needed to look into this a bit more. When I did, I discovered the more smooth and practical options above.
There’s no need to do musical chairs as all the guests look on. We’re looking for the most elegant seating process here, with the most simplicity.
Each of the variations and options above achieve just that.
What about we officiants? Do we sit?
Because we officiants sign after everyone else, we’re not a part of the melee of signers sitting and standing in front of us. But we are right by their side pointing out where they need to put their X.
So when it comes to our turn, I’d say do whatever feels best. If the chair is vacant because we’ve asked only the bride and Maid of Honour to sit respectively, then it might be natural to slide into the empty seat.
On the other hand, if the bride, or the Maid of Honour, or both witnesses are still sitting in the signing seats, I think it’s best not to shoo them out of the chair. In that case, I’d just sign standing, then invite them to get ready to resume their places at the front.
As with all these elements, you might be asking, “Are there even more options?” I don’t know, maybe. But when we’re presenting options to our couple, we don’t want to overwhelm them with choices.
So in the wedding workshop, when I find out which they prefer – one chair or two – I talk them briefly through the two or three considerations and they usually have a gut sense of what feels right for them.