Most people remember to book all the essentials for a wedding such as a DJ or the reception venue, but a wedding officiant is one of the most overlooked parts of the whole wedding process. A wedding officiant is important – you can’t get married without one! This may not be an issue if you are getting married at a house of worship; however, the growing trend is couples are choosing to use a friend or a relative as a wedding celebrant (otherwise known as an officiant) instead. Couples going this route don’t want a stranger to marry them – they want someone who knows them well and can customize their ceremony. Others choose to use wedding officiants because they want their wedding ceremony and reception in the same place, the couple doesn’t subscribe to the same religion, one or both of the partners has been married before, or the couple describes themselves as agnostic, atheist, or not affiliated with a particular religion. With this all said and done, is it legal to have a friend or relative preside over your wedding? The answer is: it depends.
The first thing is to call the registrar in the town where the ceremony will be and find out what your friend/family-officiant needs to do in order for your wedding to be legally recognized. This not only varies from state to state, but can also vary by municipality. Even though they have been ordained online, it may not be legal for them to marry you depending on where you live. The other key piece is to apply for your marriage license. Be aware of the waiting periods and expirations dates that go along with it, that it is filled out correctly after the ceremony, and decide who is going to file it – you or the officiant. It is this piece of paper that makes everything legit. While there is no particular wording for the ceremony that is required, what is required is a set of witnesses. The witnesses sign your marriage license stating that you willing chose to marry each other. There is not age requirement to be a witness; the only requirement is that they are competent enough to testify in a court proceeding as to what he or she witnessed.
Unlike a friend or relative who gets ordained just for your wedding, there are advantages to using a professional celebrant. While you may not want a “church wedding”, a professional officiant has the authority and presence of clergy. A professional can also predict “hiccups” because he or she has seen them all. For example, I just officiated a wedding and as the couple was in the middle of their vows, the sky opened up. This flustered the wedding party and guests, but my main concern was finishing the ceremony and getting this couple married! After everyone ran for shelter, without skipping a beat, I gathered everyone in the middle of the dance floor, encircling the couple as we finished their vows and ceremony.
Discuss what you want (and don’t want) with your wedding officiant and the language you would like them to use. Make sure they understand your ceremony goals. Regardless of who is performing the ceremony, you want the wedding to represent you as a couple.
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