6 Things to Know if a Friend Is Officiating Your Wedding

How to choose a friend or family member to marry you

Lesbian couple standing at the alter
Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

Getting a friend to officiate your wedding sounds like the best of both worlds – it's a way to save money and a way to include an important friend in a very meaningful way. But getting a friend or family member to officiate isn't all peaches and cream; a professional officiant serves many roles that will now become your responsibility.

6 Steps to Follow

  1. First, make sure you understand all of the roles that officiant fills. They aren't just the person who you stand in front of as you say your wedding vows. That is merely the culmination of their work behind the scenes. They work with you to help craft the wedding ceremony, incorporating traditions and rituals, your personality, and any new ideas you have. If you are getting legally married, they ensure that the requirements are met so that your marriage will be officially recognized by the state. Many officiants also provide pre-wedding counseling. You should also be sure that your friend is the right person to marry you. This person not only should be someone that knows you well, they must be a good public speaker and someone who will take the job seriously. Your officiant should be confident in front of a crowd and be able to do more than just read from a script. During the ceremony, an officiant may be called upon to smooth over any unexpected moments that come up, such as the best man forgetting the rings or a late start. On the flip side, you don't want someone who is such a performer that they'll hog the spotlight. In short, you want someone professional and sincere.
  1. If you're getting legally married, you'll need your friend to be legally licensed to marry you. In many states, this is as simple as getting ordained online through a non-denominational organization like the Universal Life Church, the American Fellowship Church, Universal Ministries, or Rose Ministries. In other states, they may need further certification, or it may not be legal at all. Check with your Secretary of State's office or City Clerk's office. A professional clergy member also makes sure that your marriage license is completed correctly; in this DIY route, you'll need to ensure that everything is signed and filed the right way. A bonus tip: don't choose your friend as an officiant if he can't legally marry his partner – it's so tacky!
  2. You'll also want to know who is writing the wedding ceremony. You may want your pal's help in choosing wedding readings, finding wedding vows, writing the introduction and blessing, and putting together a timeline. Or, you might want to choose all of this on your own and have him or her just read from a script. Neither approach is more correct; just make sure all of you have the same expectations!
  1. Think about what your officiant will wear. Remember that they'll be in the background of your most important photos, so think simplicity and timelessness. Also, don't forget the comfortable shoes!
  2. Be sure to leave enough time! You might think that getting ordained online is as quick as a few clicks of your mouse. But you'll need to do it a few weeks in advance so that the company can send you the supporting documentation. If your city or state requires additional certification - like New York does - you'll need additional time to get to City Hall and cut through red tape.
  1. Consider the alternatives. It's daunting to navigate the legal regulations to ensure that your marriage will be legal. In fact, many couples choose not to risk something so important. Instead, they hire a freelance justice of the peace or clergy member to co-officiate with their friend. Others choose to have a quiet City Hall wedding immediately before their wedding with loved ones, thus avoiding any legality questions. I even know of a couple who found out after the fact that their friend-officiated ceremony wasn't by-the-books so they had a City Hall wedding weeks later. They now have a second secret wedding anniversary that they giddily yet quietly celebrate!