Marriage Laws United States Military Marriages Question & Answer

Military weddings are a privilege of those in the armed forces or cadets. All are formal, with military personnel in dress uniform and commanding officers seated according to rank.

Although, there is no "official" military wedding protocol, military weddings differ from tradition weddings in several ways; the main distinction of a military wedding is that the bride and/or groom, as well as service members in the wedding party, usually wear their uniforms. The type of uniform depends on the style of the wedding, the time of day, the season, and most importantly, the government-issued uniform manual:

Any non-military wedding-party members simply wear traditional wedding clothes of the same level of formality as those in uniform.

Some Suggestions:

  1. Bride and bridesmaids: The bride can wear her uniform (and so can any bridesmaids), but many military brides opt for a traditional white wedding dress. Bridesmaids might wear navy bridesmaids' gowns to complement the colors of the men's uniforms, or any other color dress the bride prefers.

  2. Groom and groomsmen: If any ushers are members of a different service than the groom (Army instead of Navy, for example), they simply wear a uniform of comparable formality to his. The groom and best man do not wear gloves because they will be handling the rings, but the other ushers wear white gloves throughout the ceremony. Boutonnieres are never worn with uniforms; instead, officers wear their military decorations.

  3. Parents: Should the fathers of the bride or groom be active or retired officers, they may wear uniforms. So may mothers, although they usually choose to wear traditional mother-of-the-bride attire.

  4. Guests: Military guests (active or retired) may wear their uniforms or traditional formal attire. For a black- or white-tie affair, put "Mess dress uniform invited" on the invites to request that your guests come in uniform. For a semi-formal wedding put either "Class A uniform invited" or "Service dress uniform invited".


If you marry in a military chapel, the chaplain will perform your ceremony, and when you reserve the chapel you'll arrange a meeting:

Military Chapels

Ceremony Venue

Many military weddings take place at military chapels or on academy grounds (Army, Navy, or Air Force). If you'd like to use another location, run it by your installation.

  1. Most military chapels are like other in-demand ceremony sites -- you need to reserve them at least a year ahead of time, often by applying in writing to the chaplain's office.

  2. All service academies have more than one chapel; at the Air Force Academy, for example, there are Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chapels.

  3. To marry in a military chapel at a service academy, you must be a graduate or one of the following:

    • a dependent of a graduate;

    • an officer or enlisted person assigned to the academy complex, or his or her dependents;

    • or a faculty or staff member, active or retired, or his or her dependents.
There will probably be no charge for the use of the chapel, but a donation to the chapel fund will be expected. The average donation amount is $50-$60.

Military Ceremony Honors

The Arch of Sabers

  1. What most guests at a military wedding are most likely to remember is the "crossed sabers," also known as the "arch of sabers," or the "arch of steel. The word steel, is synonymous for and used to represent either sabers for Navy or swords for Army, Air Force and Marines. Traditionally the bride and groom walk through the arch of swords. That passage is meant to ensure the couple's safe transition into their new life together. The arch of swords is formed by an honor guard made up of members of the military who would normally wear a sword or saber when in dress uniform. Should one of the honor guard also be serving as a wedding attendant, in order to conform to tradition, he or she must be in full uniform. That includes wearing a sword or saber while in the wedding party. No one out of full dress uniform may, when conforming to military procedure, carry a sword or saber. The commanding officer should serve as a resource for the prospective bride and groom for information about who can and who cannot wear a uniform with a sword.

  2. The arch of swords procedure is a simple and elegant one. The honor guard form two lines opposite each other. On the command of "draw sword" or "draw sabers," the steel is raised with the right hand, with the cutting edges facing up. The couple enters the arch, kiss, and then passes through. The newly married couple then salute the honor guard. Members of the honor guard then sheath the swords or sabers and return them to a carry position. Depending on church rules and on the particular branch of service, the arch can be formed either outside or in the foyer of the chapel, synagogue or church.

  3. Yet another tradition relating to the arch of steel is a gentle "swat to the backside" that the bride receives from the last swordsman. Grooms take heed. Should you decide to adhere to this custom, it would be prudent to inform your bride about the possibility so that she isn't unpleasantly surprised. In addition, it is also traditional for the wedding cake to be cut with a saber or other type of military sword.

The Guard of Honour

Although the ushers usually act as sword bearers, other officers may be designated as sword bearers--which would accelerate the arch of swords ceremony following the wedding ceremony. It is customary that six or eight ushers (or designated sword bearers) take part in the ceremony. Although the chaplain's office will furnish swords (sabers for the ceremony, it is customary, such as at West Point, for the cadets to furnish their own white belts, gloves, and breastplates. If the ushers have removed their swords, they now hook them on. In an outdoor ceremony, they proceed down the steps of the chapel where they form, facing each other in equal numbers.

In the Naval Services: The head usher gives the command, "Officers, draw swords," which is done in one continuous motion, tips touching. The bride and groom pass under the arch--and only they may do so-- then they pause for a moment. The head usher gives the command, "Officers, Return (swords brought to the position of "resent arms" swords."

Swords are returned to the scabbard for all but about three or four inches of their length. The final inches of travel are completed in unison, the swords returning home with a single click.

When the arch of swords ceremony is held indoors, it takes place just as the couple rises after receiving the blessing.

All members of the bridal party wait until the ushers swords are returned to their scabbards before the recessional proceeds.

In the Army and Air Force: The Arch of Sabers is carried out when the bride and groom rise from their kneeling position after the benediction, the senior saber bearer gives the command, "Center Face". This command moves the saber bearers into position facing each other. The next command is "Arch Sabers," wherein each saber bearer raises his right arm with the saber, rotating it in a clockwise direction, so that the cutting edge of the saber will be on top, thus forming a true arch with this opposite across the aisle.

After the bride and groom pass under the arched sabers, the command is, "Carry Sabers" followed almost immediately by "rear face," with the saber bearers facing away from the altar, thus enabling them to march down the side aisle. They form again with arched sabers on the steps of the chapel.

The Reception

Finally, always get permission or verification from proper military channels. If the wedding is to be held on base (or military grounds), you should get permission for: photographers, flowers, etc. Please check with your commanding officer, protocol officer or chaplain on the proper protocol that should be followed when planning a military wedding. Not only does each base differ, but also each branch.

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