wedding officiant tips

What does a wedding officiant do?

A wedding officiant is a person who leads your wedding ceremony. They must be legally recognized to do so by the state in which your wedding takes place. If you are having a religious ceremony, your officiant will need to be qualified in the eyes of that religious organization as well. Some religious groups specify where your ceremony must take place, as well. For example, the Catholic Church requires that your ceremony take place within the church building.

The legal responsibilities of the officiant vary according to state laws. Generally speaking, your officiant's signature on your marriage license signifies that he or she knows of no reason that you are not qualified to be married in that particular state. For example, you are of age or have parental consent, you are not currently married to someone else, or seeking same-sex marriage in a state that does not allow them. Their signature also means that they have witnessed you sharing your wedding vows and have officially pronounced that you are partners in marriage in the presence of witnesses (one or two of whom will also be required to sign your license).

The wedding officiant is very critical in a wedding, and the choice of one isn't a small decision. The individual plays an important role in the wedding ceremony, guiding those marrying with their vows. There're many things to an officiant, such as their responsibilities, the different types of officiants and of course, how they become officiants legally.

Complete the marriage license

Completing the marriage license is the task that gives a wedding officiant the title "Officiant." You are making a marriage "officially" legal. To be legally married and have the legal rights and privileges of marriage, you need to have a marriage license. The marriage license is issued by the state you live in. Once you have the marriage license it needs to be completed by a person who officially meets the requirements of the state to do so – usually an Ordained Minister, Judge, Justice of the Peace, or similar. Obtaining a marriage license just means you are allowed to marry. By completing the marriage license, you are choosing actually to marry and enter into the legal contract.

Civil Ceremonies and Legal Intent

Each state has requirements as to who can sign a marriage license and how they must legally "marry" the couple. Part of the requirements usually includes a wedding ceremony. How big or small your ceremony depends on what you want. If a religious leader is marrying you, they may require you to perform a religious ceremony. A judge or a professional wedding officiant may simply ask you if you are sure you want to enter in the marriage and have you give your verbal consent. Traditionally, the answer is "I do." But I always say "anything in the affirmative will work." Sometimes the answer is "heck yeah!"

Make sure the marriage license is filed properly with the county clerk.

When the marriage license is completed, it needs to be returned to the state. A wedding officiant can do that, but the couple can do it themselves too. Generally, anyone can return the marriage license in person. It can also be returned by mail.

I find it is a good idea to return marriage licenses in person when possible and get to know the people that work in the marriage license office. That way, if you ever have any questions or problems, you have a point of contact.

Writing and Performing Wedding Ceremonies

Writing and performing wedding ceremonies is the wedding officiant duty most people think about when getting married. Wedding officiants perform ceremonies.

A wedding officiant doesn't need to write ceremonies. A priest functions as a wedding officiant and uses the same ceremony from the prayerbook over and over again. A wedding officiant can have a few ceremonies they like and are comfortable performing and just change the names out. A judge will use the same civil ceremony over and over again.

There really is no reason to change ceremonies. It may get boring for the officiant, but it's usually all-new for the couple. I think most people expect to hear "For richer or poorer, in sickness and health, forsaking all others, until we are parted by death." Why mess with perfection?​

Keep up with wedding trends

It is good to keep up with wedding trends when it comes to wedding ceremonies. Couples will spend time on Pinterest or wedding websites, and you will want to know what they are talking about when they ask for something.

Help couples personalize their wedding ceremony

Writing and personalizing wedding ceremonies is something some couples look for. They want to be able to write their own vows or entire ceremony. They may also want to have someone personalize the ceremony with them or for them. As a professional wedding officiant, I offer this service for a premium. It can be fun to get to know a couple and create and perform a ceremony that's meaningful to them. I've created some really interesting ceremonies upon request using quotes from Dr. Who or Harry Potter. I wrote an Unbreakable Vow as part of the ceremony, and the bride was thrilled! Disney quotes are also very popular.

Organizing the wedding party and leading the wedding rehearsal

Traditionally, if the wedding officiant is a minister and marrying you in a church, they will lead your wedding rehearsal. It's a church service, so it's already organized. It's done the same way every time.

Non-religious wedding officiants also organize wedding parties and lead rehearsals pretty much the same way a minister of a church does. The only difference is they use their wedding ceremony script as a guide for what happens during the ceremony and practice that at the rehearsal.

There are many ways to organize a wedding procession. A good wedding officiant will take it as part of their duties to be flexible and work with the situation. Whatever it might be.

Couples having a large, expensive, formal wedding will often hire a wedding planner or day of the event coordinator to organize everything, including the ceremony. In that case, the wedding officiant usually lets them lead the rehearsal and then just goes over their part of the ceremony once the wedding planner has everyone lined up and standing where they need to be.

Types of officiants

When it comes to a wedding officiant, you might want to understand the different types across the United States. Any of them, depending on your belief and choice, can officiate your wedding.

Religious officiants

If you're thinking about getting married through a religious ceremony, a religious leader will officiate the event. This can be a rabbi, priest, pastor, or an Imam. The officiant can be a religious leader and an individual you know well or just selected from a religious institution you're comfortable with.

Note that as you prepare for a religious wedding officiated by a religious leader, you might want to talk with the institution and leadership before booking the officiant for the wedding. You'll know about any restrictions, requirements or fees. Perhaps there are premarital classes, rituals and counselling you must go through prior to exchanging your vows.

Civil officiants

Civil officiants are great if you just want to make your wedding legal. The individual can be a justice of the peace or a judge usually found at the office of the city or county clerk. Of course, officiants of civil weddings vary a lot from one state to the next and can include magistrates of district courts, retired judges, county clerks or public notaries among others.

It might sound an impersonal or formal option to get married, but lots of civil officiants enjoy carrying out weddings and officiating vows; will most likely connect with you very well whether you've met them for the first time or not.

Note that in case you're thinking about getting an officiant to marry you, yet not legally allowed to officiate a marriage in the country or state, you could simply get a magistrate, retired judge or justice of the peace to marry you privately a couple of days or hours before celebrating the wedding. Remember ship captains might not be allowed to officiate a legal marriage, at least in some states and territories. Know if they are allowed in your state.

Professional officiants

Not everyone is comfortable with a religious ceremony. A professional officiant can easily perform your wedding, an individual who actually caters for both spiritual and secular weddings works just fine. As you'll find lots of these professional officiants of weddings adore and enjoy weddings and will bring lots of charisma, grace, personality and positive air to your special day.

Note that if this is the type of officiant you have decided to go with, an experienced one is the most ideal. You can approach the individual for past transcripts and outlines of previous weddings for inspiration in crafting yours. In case you would like your religion incorporated into your wedding without making the ceremony too religious, the professional is malleable enough to do that

Family or friends officiants

As the world changes, and you get to choose how to get married, the wedding officiant is not left behind. You can actually choose a family member or a close friend you trust to be your wedding officiant. They only need to be ordained, which works very well for those looking for someone they can trust and know to perform the most important duties of a very special ceremony. This can be the groom or brides family members or parents, cousins or friends.

Don't forget that to have family or friends get ordained to officiate a wedding you need to dig a little deeper. Know if your state or county allows or recognizes such a thing, particularly if the person is getting ordained online to be allowed to perform the vows on your wedding.

Having a family member or friend officiate your wedding is a growing trend among couples, and one that may be particularly appealing to those who are not affiliated with a church or prefer a secular ceremony. After all, getting a friend ordained to do the job can be as easy as a few clicks online!

The upsides of friends officiating weddings are plentiful: It's more intimate and personal than having a stranger officiate, it's much cheaper than hiring somebody, and it's a very special way to ask in your big day. But the job also comes with a lot of responsibilities and some tricky rules (not the kind you can break). Here's everything you (and your best friend) need to know about friends officiating weddings.

Check If It's Legal to Have Your Friend Officiate in the City, You're Getting Married

Each state, county, or even city has its own rules on who is allowed to make your union official legally. Research the laws of the city or county you'll be married in before you ask a friend to officiate your wedding.

Laws regarding who can officiate a wedding are truly varied: In Colorado, the couple can solemnize their marriage, and in other places (such as certain parts of Virginia) only pastors of certain churches are allowed to perform the wedding — and someone who got ordained online doesn't count. Remember, just because your friend got his uncle to perform his wedding doesn't mean it's allowed where you plan on tying the knot.

Make Sure Your Friend Gets Ordained

If your friend is legally able to officiate, great! The next step, then, is to get him or her ordained. An easy way to do this is to head to, where you can become a minister of the Universal Life Church. There are other options for how to ordain a wedding officiant, as well. Organizations that offer ordination include the Church of Spiritual Humanism, First Nation Ministry, American Fellowship Church, and the Church of Latter-Day Dude. This religion spawned from the movie The Big Lebowski. 

Determine If Your Friend Needs to Register with the Court

Once your friend has been ordained, the next step in the process is to make sure all the paperwork and other legal checkboxes, if any, are checked off. Some regions require that the officiant file credentials with the local court and others do not. For example, in California, it is not necessary to register, but in New York City, not only do officiants have to register, they have to appear in person at the City Clerk's office to do so.

Work with Your Friend to Write the Ceremony

Many couples will want to work with their officiant to write the ceremony script, and one of the benefits of having a friend perform the wedding is the ability to personalize the ceremony highly. But don't get too carried away with the reminiscing and forget about the legal requirements. In Seattle, for example, a marriage is not recognized legally unless the couple declares during the ceremony that they take each other to be spouses.

Discuss What Your Friend Should Wear

You can never plan too carefully, even when it comes to what your friend will wear. All eyes will be on the couple — and also on the officiant who will be standing with them. You don't want your friend to clash with your wedding party, and you don't want them to appear overdressed, or underdressed, compared to the rest of the people in the ceremony photos. For all these reasons, make sure to have a frank discussion about what your friend-turned-officiant will wear on the big day!

Practice With Your Officiant Before the Wedding Rehearsal

The dress rehearsal is not the time to do a first dry run of the ceremony, especially if this is your friend's first time officiating a wedding. An inexperienced officiant won't know where to stand or how to time things, so it's important to figure these details out well ahead of time. If you have a wedding planner, ask them to help out and get the officiant stage-ready — otherwise, it's up to the couple and the new officiant to figure it out just don't leave it until the dress rehearsal.

After the ceremony and reception, it is your officiant's responsibility to send the completed marriage license and return it to the state within the required timeline.

The roles of the officiant

The diverse legal roles an officiant plays vary from one state to the other. The most important thing is that with the signature of the officiant on a marriage license, the individual declares that he has found no reason to object to the marriage. It means the officiant understands those getting married have zero reasons as stipulated by the state law that would hinder them from becoming man and wife. It means that the marrying couple is of marrying age, parents have consented if required, not married to other persons, those same-sex marriages take place in that particular state, among other concerns.

The signature is also a testament that they're a witness to the sharing of vows and pronounce you as marriage partners before other witnesses with two or so required to sign the marriage license.

The officiant also needs to file and complete the paperwork after the ceremony for the vital records office and make document copies to be sent to the groom and bride as keepsakes.

The officiant is also a part of the wedding planning process. You might want a personalized wedding ceremony, a unique event. Therefore the individual needs to be alerted to prepare accordingly. Depending on the type of officiant, he/she should be able to incorporate personal tastes and choice of vows, for instance.

The officiant also appears at the wedding rehearsal party or dinner and has the role of supervising the ceremony and meeting requests suggested. With the rehearsal, the couple can make adjustments as the officiant practices execution of the vows. The marrying couple can make the right suggestions and raise concerns if any.

It's also worth noting the officiant duties begin way before the day of the wedding as they guide or take the bride and groom through counselling, marital classes, among others, as required.

When it comes to becoming or making a person an officiant of your wedding understand the law in your respective state that applies and if the individual has to be a practising religious leader in an institution or congregation. Always know if the religious organization is allowed to ordain a wedding officiant or if being ordained online is really acceptable.

Above all else, your wedding officiant should be able to serve as your go-to person for all your questions and concerns about your ceremony. Choose someone who can serve you well and help you keep on top of all the details. While your ceremony may last only fifteen to twenty minutes, there is a myriad of big and little details that when handled well can add up to exactly what you wanted, but when overlooked can result in a clumsy and disappointing event.

Frequently Asked Questions

The main duty of a wedding officiant is to make your wedding official by fulfilling the requirements set forth by the marriage laws in the state in which you are being married. This includes witnessing the couple deliberately give their consent to the marriage and signing the marriage license.

However, that's only part of their job. An officiant, whether secular or religious, works with the couple in the months before the wedding day to craft the ceremony, which may include personal vows, readings, music selections, and more. They may also provide premarital counseling.

You cannot get married without a wedding officiant. Judges, Ministers and other people who legally sign marriage licenses are acting as a wedding officiant when they marry you. ... Every marriage needs a marriage license and every marriage license needs to be signed.

Members of the clergy, judges, justices of the peace, and some notary publics are all qualified to perform weddings. Each state has its own rules about this, which can vary widely. In some states, mayors can perform the ceremony.

clergy person (minister, priest, rabbi, etc.) is someone who is ordained by a religious organization to marry two people. A judge, notary public, justice of the peace, and certain other public servants often solemnize marriages as part of their job responsibilities.

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