One of the most famous lines that wedding officiates used to say during their speeches is the notorious, “speak now or forever hold your peace.” In many fictional films, it leads to an intense moment where a love-interest in the audience objects to the wedding in order to sweep the bride or groom off their feet and away from their almost-spouse. However, it’s more than just a polite chance to allow the wedding party or audience to intervene for the couple’s wellbeing or their own obsession. Do you know what happens in real life when someone objects at a wedding? For the most part, the line has become irrelevant in wedding speeches, although objections can still happen. However, they don’t hold as much legal or social weight as they used to.

The history of wedding objections

Back in the day, wedding objections were both more common and more significant. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic church attempted to extend some flexibility to make marriages easier amongst Christians. While this seemed like a positive way to keep people from having pre-marital sex and committing a sin, it led to some serious issues. Pope Alexander III decided that all marriage required was a couple proclaiming that they were married out loud to one another. This level of flexibility allowed for some illegal, sinful, and inappropriate marriages to occur. The Catholic church soon decided to come up with terms of objections, creating ground rules for marriage that didn’t previously exist. Anyone could get married beneath Catholic law, except for people who would be committing major sins and illegal acts in doing so.

Objections at weddings were chances to call out an illicit activity that would occur as a result of a marriage union. It was judged on the basis of what would be viewed as illegal or sinful in the eyes of God, making wedding objections a highly Christian practice which was particularly common with Catholicism. The Christian’s Book of Common Prayers included the earliest form of “speak now or forever hold your peace” in the marriage liturgy section. In the eyes of the Catholic church, a number of factors could call for nullification of a wedding. If the bride or groom were underage, already married, related to their future spouse, celibate, not baptized, kidnapped, forced to marry against their will, or had murdered the former spouse of their fiance/fiancee (yikes!), then the marriage could be seen as legally and morally unjust. The Catholic 1215 Fourth Lateran Council proclaimed, “we decree that when marriages are to be contracted they must be announced publicly in the churches by the priests during a suitable and fixed time, so that if legitimate impediments exist, they may be made known.” So, what did this mean in terms of wedding objections?

Wedding objections in the Middle Ages

After the banns were announced, those responsible for future weddings were forced to ask for objections twice: once during the Sunday service at which a couple’s wedding was announced, and once during the wedding. Asking for objections at the Sunday service before their big day gave the engaged couple and their community a chance to announce any objections quietly and prevent the uncomfortable experience of calling off a wedding on the couple’s wedding day. While it could be awkward to have to double-check that a relationship wasn’t illegal or religiously immoral, the Catholic church wanted to ensure their rules for marriage were enacted and that no immoral weddings could occur on their watch.

If someone did object on legal grounds, such as a bride or groom’s preexisting marriage or an inappropriate age gap, the wedding officiate would have to halt the wedding immediately to investigate. While this may have been a bummer for the nearly-wed couple and their audience, it sometimes saved brides and grooms from weddings which were unjust or against the law. The objector to the marriage would have to swear to their testimony on the Bible, too, ensuring that they weren’t lying about their claims in the eyes of God. In the present day, these types of wedding objections may feel like Medieval practices, yet there are some religious groups who still require a reading of the banns during wedding services held in their places of worship. However, for the most part, wedding objections have died off as adequate means of calling off a service.

Modern day wedding objections

These days, wedding objections aren’t the norm. In fact, most 21st officiates don’t even call for audience objections during their speeches. In some churches and religious spaces, it’s still required for the wedding officiate to ask about objections during the ceremony for the wedding to be valid in the eyes of God. However, audience protests aren’t popularized. In order to object to a wedding and successfully shut it down, there must be a legitimate legal reason why a couple can’t wed. A wedding being a “sin” isn’t enough to call off a wedding ceremony. The conditions of shutting down a wedding must be established on purely legal grounds, such as the wedding involving a minor, a family member, a kidnapping, or polygamy. Since most legal issues are ironed out before weddings begin, it’s not common for objections to occur, or for ceremonies to be shut down as a result of objections. “Speak now or forever hold your peace” is a phrase that is now fairly antiquated, although it remains important in some religious settings. In some places, particularly in Europe, even modern-day weddings can be considered null by the church if the banns aren’t announced by bishops during the wedding. However, if someone tries to object at your wedding on the grounds of disliking your spouse or being in love with you, you don’t need to worry that your wedding will get terminated. Modern-day objections hold little to no legal power in the eyes of most wedding officiates.