Maybe you're planning an interfaith wedding, or perhaps you're just not religious at all. Or maybe this is your second or third or sixth marriage. Or it's possible you're just a big Friends fan and were wondering whether, following in Joey's footsteps, one of your (hopefully more responsible) pals could become a minister via the Internet. Whatever the case may be, you're thinking it would be more appropriate and more intimate to have a friend or relative—and not a priest, rabbi, or even a justice of the peace-betroth you.
Well, you'll be happy to know that it is possible, and in most cases quite easy and inexpensive, to have a friend or relative legally preside over your wedding. Just remember that before proceeding, it is important to contact your local registrar or courthouse to find out the local laws on the matter.
Congratulations! You're a minister
Perhaps the easiest way to become a legal officiant is to get ordained online through a religious body like the Universal Life Church. Granted, this may sound suspicious, but in most cases it's perfectly kosher. Though there are a number of churches that will ordain you online or via snail mail, it's probably best to stick with the Modesto, Calif.-based ULC, which is the definite leader in the field, claiming to have ordained 400,000 people in the past five years. The church is less than picky-it has ordained animals and dead people and, yes, even dead animals. And although ordination is free, the church does flog products like its Ministry in a Box ($99), which includes your credentials, suitable for framing.
Although critics charge that the ULC is nothing more than an ordination mill, the church is credible in the eyes of the law. According to Brother Daniel Zimmerman, who runs the official ULC Web site ulc.org out of Tucson, ministers of the faith can now legally conduct weddings in 49 states. "If you've been ordained by the Universal Life Church, you're equal to Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and the pope," Zimmerman sermonizes. "You can...take care of spiritual needs from the womb to the tomb, sperm to the worm, erection to the resurrection." Good to know in case any of your buddies need you to help with their souls as well as their ceremony.
There are a number of other, unofficial ULC sites that offer online ordinations, including ulc.net, where I applied for membership. The process took all of a minute—I just entered my name, address, and e-mail address and clicked the "Ordain me" button—and five hours later I received an e-mail welcoming me to the flock. Feel free to drop me a line (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) if you're looking for someone to take care of your spiritual needs.
So, are there any alternatives to joining the ULC? Some states do offer other options:
The one-day pass
Perhaps your prospective officiant doesn't want to be a minister all his or her life. At least three states—California, Massachusetts and Alaska—will designate a person the equivalent of a justice of the peace for a single day. In California, your officiant will briefly possess the high-falutin' title of Deputy Commissioner of Marriage.
Notaries public are allowed to join couples in holy matrimony in Florida, Maine, South Carolina and one Louisiana parish, according to Consuelo Israelson, production editor at the National Notary Association. Aside from fees, there are residency requirements and other hoops to jump through (including exams in Maine and Louisiana). The NNA's site, nationalnotary.org, is a good place to begin.
Look for loopholes
Ask your county's relevant official if there are any alternatives to the options mentioned above. For instance, in Pennsylvania a couple can apply for a Quaker marriage license, regardless of whether they're actually of the Quaker faith. Once you get the license, you just need two friends to witness the exchange of vows in order to make the marriage valid. That way, you can let whomever you desire officiate.
Finally, keep in mind that the person performing your ceremony will most likely have to provide some documentation, such as a completed marriage certificate, to the local government after the ceremony. Make sure your friend is on top of this, lest your marriage be rendered null and void.