Having a family member or friend officiate your wedding is a growing trend among couples, and one that may be particularly appealing to those who are not affiliated with a church or prefer a secular ceremony. After all, getting a friend ordained to do the job can be as easy as a few clicks online!
The upsides of friends officiating weddings are plentiful: It's more intimate and personal than having a stranger officiate, it's much cheaper than hiring somebody, and it's a very special way to ask in your big day. But the job also comes with a lot of responsibilities and some tricky rules (not the kind you can break). Here's everything you (and your bestie) need to know about friends officiating weddings.
1. Check If It’s Legal to Have Your Friend Officiate in the City You’re Getting Married
Each state, county, or even city has its own rules on who is allowed to legally make your union official. Research the laws of the city or county you’ll be married in before you ask a friend to officiate your wedding.
Laws regarding who can officiate a wedding are truly varied: In Colorado the couple can solemnize their own marriage, and in other places (such as certain parts of Virginia) only pastors of certain churches are allowed to perform the wedding — and someone who got ordained online doesn't count. Remember, just because your friend got his uncle to perform his wedding doesn't mean it's allowed where you plan on tying the knot.
2. Make Sure Your Friend Gets Ordained
If your friend is legally able to officiate, great! The next step, then, is to get him or her ordained. An easy way to do this is to head to TheMonastery.org, where you can become a minister of the Universal Life Church. There are other options for how to ordain a wedding officiant, as well. Organizations that offer ordination include the Church of Spiritual Humanism, First Nation Ministry, American Fellowship Church, and the Church of Latter-Day Dude — a religion that spawned from the movie The Big Lebowski. (Yes, this is legit, but once again, double check your regional laws by calling your county clerk.)
3. Determine If Your Friend Needs to Register with the Court
Once your friend has been ordained, the next step in the process is to make sure all the paperwork and other legal checkboxes, if any, are checked off. Some regions require that the officiant file credentials with the local court and others do not. For example, in California, it is not necessary to register, but in New York City, not only do officiants have to register, they have to appear in person at the City Clerk's office to do so.
4. Work with Your Friend to Write the Ceremony
Many couples will want to work with their officiant to write the ceremony script, and one of the benefits of having a friend perform the wedding is the ability to highly personalize the ceremony. But don't get too carried away with the reminiscing and forget about the legal requirements. In Seattle, for example, a marriage is not recognized legally unless the couple declares during the ceremony that they take each other to be spouses. Once again, work with your local marriage-governing bureau to determine requirements for your area.
5. Discuss What Your Friend Should Wear
You can never plan too carefully, even when it comes to what your friend will wear. All eyes will be on the couple — and also on the officiant who will be standing with them. You don't want your friend to clash with your wedding party, and you don't want them to appear overdressed, or underdressed, compared to the rest of the people in the ceremony photos. For all these reasons, make sure to have a frank discussion about what your friend-turned-officiant will wear on the big day!
6. Practice With Your Officiant Before the Wedding Rehearsal
The dress rehearsal is not the time to do a first dry run of the ceremony, especially if this is your friend’s first time officiating a wedding. An inexperienced officiant won’t know where to stand or how to time things, so it’s important to figure these details out well ahead of time. If you have a wedding planner, ask them to help out and get the officiant stage-ready — otherwise, it’s up to the couple and the new officiant to figure it out … just don’t leave it until the dress rehearsal.
7. Make Sure Your Friend Signs and Returns the Marriage License to the City Clerk
After the ceremony and reception, it is your officiant's responsibility to send the completed marriage license and return it to the state within the required timeline.