Are Vows and Declaration of Intent/Consent the Same Thing?
When a couple books a wedding with me I often provide a document that contains examples of different service elements that may be included in the ceremony. We use this document as a starting point for creating a custom ceremony. Within this initial document, I include examples of prewritten vows and consent to be married. In fact, I encourage that both be included in the ceremony. However, there are times, especially if the couple is not writing their own vows when the vows and consent seem very similar. I am sometimes asked if the declaration of consent and vows are the same thing. My normal reply is "it depends".
I find that a simple google search does not answer this question. If anything it may cause more confusion. For me, one of the top search results states, "A declaration of Consent, also known as the "I do's" is when the bride and groom legally agree to be married." which in my opinion is a great way to describe it. That said there are many other search results that imply the declaration of intent/consent is the vows.
A declaration of consent takes place in the form of a question asked by the officiant with a response from each partner. It is a public declaration that both are entering the marriage contract willingly and without coercion. It is an oral expression of the marriage license they signed. It is also the element that gives the traditional "I do" so many expect to say or hear. In some ways, it is the legal language for your marriage signifying you are entering the legal contract of marriage. In some places, the formal declaration of intent is the only required element an officiant needs to include in the ceremony. Wisconsin does not require this ceremony element.
Vows on the other hand are promises you make to each other. In some ways, the vows are the most important element of the ceremony. It is time to express the love you have for each other. Through direct eye contact, you are able to pledge yourself to your partner and your partner to you. It is a time of honesty, humility, and adoration. These words reveal to those present just how critical of a moment this is for you and your partner. This is why I often encourage couples to write their own vows.
There are clear differences between what each element represents in the wedding, but there are times that the vows and intent/consent to marriage are blended together. This is why I say it depends especially if your state does not require you to say some iteration of "I do". This is mostly seen when couples use repeated lines or when the officiant uses a traditional question and response for the vows. Here are two examples.
In both of these cases, the wording used is very similar to wording used for a declaration of intent/consent In my opinion in cases where the language clearly represents a formal declaration to each other and when not required by the state, it may make sense to leave a formal declaration of consent/intent out of the ceremony. However, as noted earlier, I encourage couples to write their own vows, which often do not utilize such formal language. This makes the vows quite distinct from the declaration of consent/intent before the couples share their vows with one another. Further, if a couple uses prewritten standard vows but memorizes them or uses a script, it distinguishes the vows from the declaration of intent/consent since the officiant is not directly involved in the exchange.