How to Become a Marriage Officiant

An officiant marrying two women holding bouquets.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been asked to officiate the wedding of a friend or family member. It seems that this is very much an up-and-coming trend. (And who knows, maybe it’ll lead to a fun little side gig in the future?)

Believe it or not, becoming an officiant in the States can be rather easy. However, it’s not something you should leave until the last minute because the process can take time. You need to plan ahead. So, if you’re serious about taking on the responsibility, here are some basics you should know.

(Disclaimer: because international laws vary quite widely, this article will solely focus on the USA.)

Do Your Own (Legal) Research

For starters, you should register in the state you reside in, but each state requires different qualifications. Some might need you to take a course, while others might need you to be part of the local clergy. But if you’re lucky, the entire process can be done entirely online. However, the couple that’s proposed to you may not be aware of local laws, so it’s always best to do your own research before you accept. Do it early, too! While some states can register you as an official officiant quickly, others might take their time.

You shouldn’t just focus on your residential state laws, either. If the couple in question is getting married in a different state, you have to double-check the laws of the wedding location, too. Just because you’re qualified to be an officiant in your home state, doesn’t mean you can perform a wedding outside of it. In some cases, you might still need to be approved in the second state or city, and possibly even the venue!

Get Officially Ordained

A wedding officiant wearing dark colors and holding a book.

While this may sound intimidating, it’s generally straightforward. In fact, as mentioned earlier, it can be as simple as filling out a form online. And it can be completely free!

The first step in getting ordained will be finding an organization that will make you legitimate. In order to do this, though, the organization has to be legit as well. This means a bit more research on your part, which could be just checking if they’re registered under 501(c)3.

There’s more to it, however. It is ideal if the organization lines up with our beliefs and values. For example, if you are not religious, seek out a non-denominational source. In addition, not all organizations are recognized across state lines, even if your state allows you to officiate outside its borders.

And again, it is important to look up local laws, as you might not be able to become an officiant in your state unless you’re a civil servant or a member of the clergy. If that’s out of the question, you might be out of luck. But if that’s not the case, there are a number of non-denominational organizations that will not only grant you the right, but help you along the way. The American Marriage Ministries (AMM), aside from being a go-to for getting ordained, comes highly recommended for giving insight into the legality of things and providing useful tips to guide you through the process.

Prep and Plan

A man marrying a bride and groom in a field overlooking a river.

Once all the paperwork is done and over with, the next step is to start planning for the wedding itself. Being an officiant is more than helping the couple recite their vows—there are other duties involved!

As an officiant, you are expected to take on a handful of duties including preparing the ceremony. Meet up with the couple far ahead of the wedding to understand their vision for their special day. Ask if they’ll be following a traditional script or reciting their own vows, what kind of formality they expect, what you should wear, and what part they expect you to play during the ceremony.

After the plan is in place, make sure you spend a good amount of time writing the script and outlining the ceremony process. Depending on the couple, you might also be expected to take on a few minor tasks such as asking the guests to be silent and turn off their phones, or requesting the guests to sit and stand as appropriate.

And, of course, make sure to practice, practice, practice! And always have a backup plan even if you think you have the script memorized. Pro tip: never read from a phone or tablet—always have a paper print out.

Know the Pre/Post-Nuptial Responsibilities

On a side note, a hired officiant may also be liable for a few added tasks before and even after the ceremony. This is why it’s wise to have a proper meeting to chat about what’s expected beforehand. For starters, it is often the responsibility of the officiant to make sure the couple gets their marriage license approved—which might mean getting a blood test in some states for both parties. And should the ceremony take place, the officiant should also be there to see the union signed, stamped, and verified by witnesses, as well as make sure everything is filed correctly and on time.

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