I am a professional Wedding Officiant and it’s literally my business to officiate your wedding ceremony. Knowing and proving that I’m legally qualified to officiate a wedding ceremony is an integral part of my business. I also think I have the best job in the world and I love to talk about it!
So, who can officiate a wedding ceremony? In order to officiate a wedding ceremony, you need to meet the requirements put for by the state in which the marriage is being performed. In all US states, a Judge, Justice of the Peace, Ordained Minister or other religious leaders can serve as a wedding officiant. Always check your local laws to be sure.
I think the most important thing to consider is why do you need a wedding officiant? Too often, couples stress thinking the person who performs their wedding ceremony needs to sign their marriage license. They don’t want a stuffy judge performing their romantic wedding ceremony and they don’t want a religious ceremony so a minister isn’t an option either. Once you understand what makes your marriage “official” you can make the best choice for you to not only be legally married but have the wedding ceremony you want!
Why Do You Need A Wedding Officiant?
Getting legally married involves a marriage license which is a contract between you and the state. A wedding officiant is someone who is legally qualified to sign the marriage license with you. A wedding officiant can perform a very simple ceremony in order to legally marry you. It only has to involve one question that you both have to answer. “Do you take this person to be your spouse?” This is your basic, just make it legal, courthouse-type wedding. I’ve officiated over 3000 weddings and half of those involved just signing a marriage license. Once you are legally married, you can engage in any sort of wedding ceremony you like and just about anyone can perform a wedding ceremony from a script.
Here is a list of possible people who can officiate your wedding.
Online Ordained Ministers
Getting ordained online to marry someone is probably one of the most popular trends in weddings today. I am ordained online and it’s all I need to officiate weddings in Indiana. I’ve built a very successful business based on my online ordination. I meet the legal requirements to sign a marriage license and I can perform any type of ceremony a couple wants. Most of the weddings I perform are non-religious.
Being ordained online does not automatically make you able to legally officiate a wedding ceremony.
I live and work in Indiana. If I want to go to another state to officiate a wedding ceremony my online ordination may not be enough.
Please make sure you check your local marriage laws to be sure. Some states require you to have an actual church or congregation.
I’ve separated religious leaders from online ordained ministers because there is a legal difference. Generally, a religious leader is who you traditionally think of when you are getting married.
Your parish priest or pastor.
It could be your chaplain if you are in the military or police force.
A Rabbi, Imam or another religious leader can also officiate your wedding.
A medicine man or Shaman can officiate a wedding as they are leaders in Native American religions.
I have found that some couples who are married in religious and cultural ceremonies will seek another person to sign their official marriage license. I’ve officiated legal weddings for couples after their traditional Muslim or Buddhist ceremonies. I’ve officiated a wedding more than once for a Christian couple that had a church ceremony but their pastor refused to sign the license.
Any Judge – elected or appointed – can officiate a wedding ceremony. This includes small claims courts, magistrates and a Justice of the Peace. If you want to get married during regular business hours you will generally have to make an appointment. Some courts have certain hours during the week set aside to perform basic civil ceremonies, others might work you in between other scheduled court cases. Judges can officiate wedding ceremonies outside of regular business hours. For some judges, the only time they may have available is outside of regular business hours. They will generally charge you for their time and effort so it can be pricey. Some people prefer to have a completely non religious wedding ceremony and a judge, at any price, is the best option.
Mayor or Governor
A Mayor can officiate a wedding ceremony in the town or city in which they are Mayor. This can definitely come in handy if you live in a small town where there aren’t many couples getting married. Having the Governor marry you is far less likely. I love to officiate wedding ceremonies so I can imagine it must be a nice change of pace for Mayor or a Governor to take time out of their normal, stressful job to do something as wonderful as officiating a wedding.
It would seem logical that a lawyer could perform the legal task of officiating a wedding, however, that is not always the case. In many states, a lawyer can get permission from a judge to officiate a wedding ceremony if they aren’t allowed without limitations under the general law. Some couples are entering into a marriage contract very purposefully. Marriage can change many things in your life from a legal standpoint and depending on your personal situation, signing a marriage contract may or may not be the best thing to do at any given time. If the lawyer helping you with your situation is not able to officiate your wedding ceremony they may have someone else within their practice that can. It may be more expensive than other wedding officiant options but it may be worth the money to you to make sure everything you need to get done is done right and with the discretion you might need.
Many people think of a legal document being given an official stamp so it would make logical sense that a notary can officiate a wedding ceremony. That’s not the case in most states. The official stamp is put on your marriage license by a government official after you file your completed marriage license. Notaries are able to officiate weddings in Florida, South Carolina, and Maine.
The state of Indiana allows certified Secular Celebrants to officiate a wedding ceremony. Many people get ordained online in order to meet the legal requirements to be able to officiate a wedding ceremony yet they perform completely non-religious wedding ceremonies. It’s very common for atheists. The Center for Inquiry in Indianapolis wanted to differentiate themselves as Secular Humanists. They fought in court and won the right to certify their own non-religious celebrants to legally officiate weddings in Indianapolis.
Can you officiate your own wedding? The state of Colorado allows couples to officiate their own wedding ceremony and legally sign their own marriage license.
Who else can officiate a wedding ceremony? In some counties in California, you can be deputized for a day to officiate a wedding ceremony. There are great stories of couples who had their friend marry them on the beach… so romantic!
Can an ordained minister marry in any state? While ordained ministers are allowed to marry couples in every state there may be further qualifications you need to meet in order to marry a couple in a state in which you do not reside. Check with the local authorities that issue the marriage license you will be signing.
How do I get ordained online to perform a ceremony? The Universal Life Church and other online churches will ordain you online instantly and for free! You will have to pay a fee to have an official certificate printed and sent to you if you want or need official proof of ordination but some states will accept the information printed off the confirmation email they send when they approve your ordination. Many states don’t check the authenticity of your ordination at all.
What does it mean to solemnize a marriage? Solemnizing a marriage is performing an actual marriage ceremony. While a wedding officiant needs to sign your marriage license they also need to officially, and ceremoniously ask you if you consent to the marriage. It’s as simple as asking “do you take this person to be your spouse.”
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"