As a professional wedding officiant, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about getting married. There are wedding traditions and there are modern trends. But when you break it down, getting a marriage license and signing your name on the bottom line is what it’s all about. A wedding is one day, a marriage and all the legal rights and ramifications last a lifetime.
So, do wedding officiants have to be ordained? No. Wedding Officiants do not need to be ordained. A Wedding Officiant is a person who is legally qualified to perform a marriage. Every state in the US has options for religious and non-religious individuals to perform marriages. Those options include, but are not limited to, ordained ministers and judges.
I’ve found that when most people think about a traditional wedding ceremony, they think about it being performed by a Christian minister, even if the couple is not religious. For some reason, many of those same people look at a civil marriage, or civil ceremony performed by a judge as being something completely different and sometimes less than. That is definitely a train of thought along the bible-belt, that somehow, your marriage should be ordained by God or at least approved by a person who claims to represent God as an ordained minister of the church. In the end, the reality is, everyone is legally married and both types of marriages have an equal chance to last a lifetime. There is no need to be apologetic about not getting married in a church!
The latest trends in finding a wedding officiant – Online Ordination
Hire a professional Wedding Officiant to marry you.
If you want a traditional wedding but do not currently belong to a church, the easiest solution to the problem is to hire a professional wedding officiant. Professional wedding officiants are generally online-ordained ministers who will perform any type of wedding that you like. You can rent a chapel or a church for your ceremony, if that’s the look and feel you want for your ceremony, but you can control the content of your ceremony. No long sermons are anti-feminist scripture quotes required. You can hire an online-ordained minister to perform a completely non-religious wedding ceremony. Many old churches are being renovated as wedding venues so you can have the charm of the church without the need to adhere to any religious rules.
Have a friend get ordained online to marry you.
This is probably the last thing I want to tell you to do as a professional wedding officiant because it’s bad for business! But the fact of the matter is, your wedding ceremony can be a very meaningful experience and the person stand there with you as you make your marriage vows may be very important to you. (I say “may” because to some people, it really doesn’t matter. And that’s OK.) You have the ability to qualify a person who is important to you to officiant your wedding and it may be the best idea for you.
I recently received an inquiry from a couple looking for someone to officiate their wedding because their personal pastor was no longer able to make it that day. I always address those requests a little differently. The priest I wanted to perform our wedding wasn’t able to marry my husband and I and we had to settle for another priest. It turned out to be a disaster! I want to make sure any couple I marry never feels like that. I know I’m their second choice and I want to make them feel like I can be part of their A-list. The ability to have someone close to you get ordained online to marry you can really change the dynamic of your wedding ceremony for the best.
Are all ministers ordained?
Interestingly enough, no, they aren’t. Not all ministers are formally ordained. The state laws allow the leader of any sort of religious congregation to marry you. Some large national and international churches ordain their own ministers to perform their religious rites and sacraments. On the other hand, there are small churches all over the united states that are completely independent of any large church organization. Rabbi’s are ordained and Imam’s are not. Both can perform marriages.
What is the different between an ordained minister and a minster that is not ordained?
Ordained ministers of large churches perform marriages with the guidelines of the church that ordains them. A Catholic priest is ordained by the Catholic Church to perform the religious rites and sacraments as they are outlined by the Catholic Church. I’ve been ordained online by the Universal Life Church Monastery that believes in the absolute freedom of religion. They provide me with a legal ordination to meet the requirements of the law but don’t tell me how to practice my religion.
Pastors and Ministers that are not ordained follow their own interpretation of the bible. Non-ordained ministers may lead a congregation that works together in deciding what they believe and how they will practice their religion. There are many little churches and congregations all over the United States that exercise their own freedom of religion. Their pastors may only be part-time or even unpaid. These church leaders may still perform a marriage and sign a marriage license as a wedding officiant.
If you are online ordained, check your local marriage laws, you may actually need to be a leader of a congregation in order to legally perform a wedding.
Always check with your local marriage authority for up to date information!
Wedding Officiants that aren’t ordained
A Wedding Officiant is anyone that meets the requirements of your state marriage laws to legally perform a marriage and sign the marriage license. These can include judges, magistrates, Justice of the Peace, County Clerk’s, Mayors, Governor’s, notary’s or, in some states you can sign your own marriage license.
In what states can a notary perform a marriage?
Florida, South Carolina, and Maine all allow a notary to solemnize a marriage. Basically, what a wedding officiant does is verify you are who you say you are and confirms your consent to marry. They witness you signing the marriage license, that was issued but the state, and sign the marriage license with their personal information swearing that the license was truthfully completed. That’s exactly what a notary does.
"A Notary Public is an official of integrity appointed by state government —typically by the secretary of state — to serve the public as an impartial witness in performing a variety of official fraud-deterrent acts related to the signing of important documents."
The National Notary Association
Notaries are often used as part of the marriage license process in extenuating circumstances, but other states do not allow them to perform marriages. A notary can get ordained online to perform a marriage.
Judges are allowed to perform marriages
Judges are not ordained, they are generally appointed or elected officials. Their job description includes the ability to perform marriages. Judges, magistrates and Justices of the Peace are the officials that perform civil ceremonies in courtrooms all over the US. Sometimes, they offer their services outside of the courtroom and will come to your formal wedding and perform a wedding ceremony there for a fee.
When I live and work as a wedding officiant in Indiana, judges generally no longer perform marriages during regular business hours in a courtroom. They can perform marriages, just not during regular business hours in most counties. This has made getting ordained online and going into the business of being a wedding officiant to perform simple civil ceremonies very popular.
County Clerk’s Can Perform Marriages
County Clerk’s issue marriage licenses and are also allowed to perform marriages in some states. Check with your county clerk to ask if they provide that service. If they don’t, they will be able to tell you who will. Just because a person is allowed to perform a marriage, it does not mean they will. They are not required to perform that wedding on demand.
Self Solemnization – You can be your own wedding officiant!
A wedding officiant technically solemnizes a marriage. That means they perform a ceremony and sign the marriage license. Some states allow you to self-solemnize
If you live in Colorado or choose to get married in Colorado, they give you the option to sign your own marriage license as the officiant.
A marriage may be solemnized by the parties to the marriage.
A self-uniting marriage is very similar to self-solemnization but has its origin in the Quaker religion. Quakers do not have actual ministers, ordained or otherwise. However, each state will allow A Quaker wedding to be legally solemnized in regards to how Quakers perform weddings. Basically, the couple desiring to marry gather with their group of fellow Quakers. They then wait for the spirit to “move them” and they feel deeply within themselves that the two people are meant to be married. A leader at the gathering can sign the marriage license.
Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have larger Quaker communities and have officially acknowledged their form of marriage as self-uniting or self-solemnizing. Those states have taken their marriage laws further to allow anyone to self-unite in marriage. The option may vary by county in both states. Always check with the county clerk issuing your marriage licenses for their specific laws.
Here is a link to Wisconsin law and a link to Pennsylvania Marriage Law. How the laws are written online may not be up to date.
If you are interested in the possibilities of a self-uniting marriage check out this article I wrote: Can a Wedding Officiant Marry Themselves?
Deputy Marriage Commissioner for a day
Several of the 58 counties in California allow you to become a deputy for a day to perform a marriage. It involves a small fee and a short course. You do not need to be ordained to do this. ALWAYS CHECK WITH THE COUNTY ISSUING THE MARRIAGE LICENSE IF THIS IS AN OPTION. (If it’s not an option, you can get ordained online and legally perform the marriage in CAlifornia – No fee or class required.)
Counties in California that allow you to become deputy for a day.
The reason many couples might not want an ordained minister to marry them is that they are Secular Humanists or Atheists. I’m an online ordained minister that is very happy to perform a completely non-religious wedding ceremony. The term “ordained” is religious in nature and therefore not something an atheist might want to be associated with their marriage. In that case, Secular Celebrants are options. The Humanist Society is one resource. http://thehumanistsociety.org/celebrants/listing/.
Where I live in Indiana, You can become a secular celebrant or find one through The Center For Inquiry. The petitioned the court to gain the right for secular celebrants to perform marriages in Indiana. You can view their information here: https://centerforinquiry.org/secular_celebrants/
Lawyers as Wedding Officiants?
Couples do get married in lawyers offices. My next door neighbor is a lawyer and he has performed marriages. In his case, he received permission from a judge to perform the weddings. He was not able to do it simply because he is a lawyer. He was being kind to friends. Judges are lawyers, so in the capacity of their position as a judge, they can sign a marriage license. I have another friend that has married several of her friends. She got ordained online in order to do so.
Online Ordination is just paperwork.If you, or someone you know, is looking for a person to marry them and they are nervous about becoming ordained, it’s really quite harmless. Online ordination is really just a piece of paper they give you to fulfill the requirements of the law. Unless you need to register with your ordination certificate locally to legally perform a wedding, no one will know. There are plenty of people who get ordained because it is fun, funny or both! They may never go to church, say a prayer or perform a wedding.
Can you become a wedding officiant online? Check out this article for a full explanation of becoming a wedding officiant through online ordination: Can You Become A Wedding Officiant Online?
Can you get married without a wedding officiant? No, you cannot get married without a wedding officiant. Check out this article to find out why: Can You Get Married Without A Wedding Officiant?
Victoria Meyer, founder of Marry Me In Indy! LLC has been a wedding officiant in Indiana for over 9 years and married over 3000 couples. She shares her experiences and is happy to be your "Wedding Officiant Insider"