Selecting your wedding officiant is an important decision – after all, they will have a huge influence on the tone of the ceremony. You'll want to make sure that you find someone who is willing to perform the kind of ceremony you are envisioning, or who has a style and belief system similar to your own. And of course, if you want to make it legal, you'll need to make sure that they are legally able to marry you in your state.
The first thing you and your intended bride or groom must do is decide if you want a religious or secular ceremony. This highly personal decision will obviously impact who will marry you.
Finding a Secular Officiant for Your Wedding
You have a few different options if you want to find an officiant for a secular wedding. A justice of the peace, officiant at city hall, or even a friend or relative can perform your wedding ceremony.
A Justice of the Peace
Contact the county clerk's office where you will get your marriage license. They should have a list of local Justices of the Peace who are willing to perform wedding ceremonies. You can, of course, look in the phone book, but it's better to get the referral from someone who knows for sure that they are legally certified. Start by calling the ones close to you to get a sense of their personality, then ask if you can meet with them to get a better sense of the kinds of weddings they perform.
At City Hall
Here, finding the person to marry you is typically easy. You'll need to make an appointment and be willing to be married in a speedy fashion – no long drawn-out sermons here! Call your local city hall and they'll tell you everything you need to know.
A Friend or Relative
This is fast becoming a popular option, as couples look for a more personal element in their ceremony. In some states, such as California, a friend can get a one-day designation of Deputy Commissioner of Marriages to perform weddings for $51. Others have chosen to get ordained on the internet through the Universal Life Church, but before you choose this option, you'll want to talk to your county clerk's office or Secretary of State's office to make sure that it is recognized in your state. Furthermore, make sure that the person you are choosing understands the seriousness of the task you are giving them. You won't want a friend making inappropriate jokes at one of the most important moments of your life.
Finding a Religious Officiant for Your Wedding
If you already have a family clergyperson, or you're getting married in a house of worship, your choice is relatively straightforward. I suggest still meeting with that person to discuss the questions below and making sure you're comfortable with them.
Otherwise, you'll need to decide first what denomination best fits with your beliefs. Once you've done that, contact your local house of worship to ask if their religious rules allow them to marry people in secular settings. You might attend some worship services to get a sense of different officiants' styles, then meet with them to make sure that they are available on your date, and amenable to the type of wedding you envision. Like any important job, don't just give it to the first interviewee! Talk to a couple different people and choose the one that you are the most comfortable with.
Questions for a Religious Officiant
To help gauge if an officiant is right for you, consider asking them the following questions:
- How much are we allowed to customize the ceremony? Can we write our own vows?
- Will you marry us even if we are not current members of your church/synagogue/etc? How do we become members?
- If we are of different faiths, or one of us is not religious, is that a problem?
- One of us is divorced, does your religion allow you to marry us?
- Are we required to attend any classes or counseling before the wedding?
- Will our non-religious friends be allowed to participate in the ceremony, including giving readings, singing, or (if appropriate) taking communion?
- How will you be dressed for the ceremony?