I giggle a little bit with I think about what my duties are as a self-employed Wedding Officiant. What exactly is my job description? What do I do every day?
So, what are the duties of a Wedding Officiant? 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.
Other duties of a wedding officiant can include:
Officiating weddings is my business. I legally marry over 500 couples a year. At least half of those weddings are simple 15-minute appointments where all I do is complete the marriage license, watch the couple sign it, ask them if they take each other in marriage and, maybe, take a picture with a phone. Most of the time, the little wedding takes place in a coffee shop. It definitely doesn’t sound like a romantic wedding, does it? (It might if you love coffee!) The other hundreds of couples I marry every year actually want a little, or a lot more than a simple civil ceremony. I perform romantic elopements, formal, traditional wedding ceremonies and everything in between. My job description and duties as a wedding officiant can vary from day to day to day and wedding to wedding.
Let me explain…
Complete the marriage license
Completing the marriage license is the task that gives a wedding officiant the title “Officiant.” You are a making a marriage “officially” legal. In order 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 to actually 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 definitely 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 really 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.
Follow me on Pinterest!
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 absolutely thrilled! Disney quotes are also very popular.
Check out My May the 4th Be With You Nerdy Wedding Ceremony featuring Harry Potter and the Unbreakable Vow, Star Wars and Babylon 5
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 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.
Pro tip: Always pay attention when you work with someone new like a wedding planner. By observing other professionals you can learn from them. Notice what you like about what they are doing and what you don’t like. Then you can adjust accordingly. The more you know, the more you have to offer a couple and you can charge for your knowledge and experience.
Other parts of a wedding officiant’s job description.If you are a professional wedding officiant there are plenty of other things you do every day and qualities you need to do the job well.
Do I have to have a wedding officiant? Yes, you need to have someone who meets the legal requirements to sign a marriage license legally marry you. Once you are legally married, anyone can perform a wedding ceremony with you.
Do Ordained Ministers perform non-religious wedding ceremonies? The Universal Life Church ordains just about anyone for free. They are a legally recognized church and as such, they are free to ordain anyone they like. They do not require their ministers to adhere to any particular belief system. Having the official title “Minister” is all it takes to legally sign a marriage license in many states. I am an online ordained minister and I am happy to marry atheists or anyone else.
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"