Finding a wedding officiant can be a chore for those who don’t belong to a particular religion, don’t believe in a god or gods so would rather not be married by clergy, find the idea of choosing a spiritual minister out of the phone book kind of weird, or don’t have the faintest notion of where one finds a justice of the peace. Heck, even the unaffiliated but still religious couple may be in for a rude awakening when they look for someone to perform their wedding ceremony.
Keeping that in mind, I’m not surprised that the number of couples looking to traditional clergy when choosing a wedding officiant is dropping. According to the Wedding Report, clergy performed 70 percent of all weddings in 2008. In 2009, it was down to 62 percent, and apparently even more brides and grooms are now thinking outside the box when it comes to finding a wedding officiant.
What’s outside that box? For many brides and grooms, it’s friends and family! Instead of looking through the phone book when it comes time to decide who will coach them through their wedding vows, they’re looking no further than the contacts lists in their cell phones.
Now what I am not talking about in this post is online ordination, which is one of those things that makes the headlines every so often. I am totally ordained with the ULC, as is everyone I know, but I know for a fact that many, many county clerks will straight up laugh a ULC certificate right out of the courthouse. It’s even apparently on the books as verboten in NYC! So, yes, there is quickie ordination, but there’s also another option.
What I am talking about is having a friend or relative perform a wedding ceremony without going through all the hoopla of convincing some bored bureaucrat that his or her certificate from Rose Ministries or the Ministerial Seminary of America or the Church of the Latter-Day Dude is real and legal. In other words, no ordination necessary! (Provided you’re in the correct locale, of course.)
Brides and grooms marrying in states like Massachusetts, Alaska, or California, or Fairfax County in Virginia, can have their favorite orators register with the state for a kind of day pass that allows them to legally perform a wedding ceremony on a particular date. There may be other states and counties that allow this but don’t publicize it, so it pays to call up to courthouse and ask about it. And if you live in Colorado or Pennsylvania, you can perform your wedding ceremony without any officiant – which, of course, doesn’t bar you from having someone else act as an unofficial officiant.
Let’s say that you’re not getting married in Colorado or Pennsylvania, but you are marrying somewhere where laypeople are permitted to officiate at civil wedding ceremonies. How does your relative or your friend go about applying for the title of deputy marriage commissioner or whatever they happen to call it where you are? To answer that question, let’s have a look at how one would go about it in my lovely state of Massachusetts!
According to Massachusetts General Laws Ch. 207, S. 39 (blah blah blah) the Governor can designate “non-clergy individuals to solemnize a marriage.”
- Applications must be mailed at least six weeks prior to the date of the wedding. Please do not submit applications more than three months in advance.
- Applicants are generally allowed only one designation per calendar year.
- Completed applications must be submitted with a $25 processing fee payable to The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Applications approved by Governor Deval Patrick will be forwarded to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office for processing.
- The names of the applicant, Party A, and Party B must be typed or printed as you wish them to appear on the certificate that will be issued by the Secretary of the Commonwealth. This information must coincide with the names printed on the marriage license. Please use current legal names for Party A and Party B, even if one of the individuals intends to change names following the wedding. Illegible applications will cause a delay in processing.
- A letter of reference attesting to the applicant’s high standard of character is required of all applicants, excepting judges and elected officials. The letter of reference may be written by anyone besides Party A, Party B, or the applicant. The letter must be signed by its author.
- The Secretary of the Commonwealth will issue a Certificate of Solemnization to all approved applicants approximately four weeks prior to the wedding date.
Sounds easy enough, though I do wonder just what goes into a letter of reference meant to prove someone’s high standard of character would contain. I personally love the notion of having a friend or relative officiate at a wedding – if my paternal grandfather had been alive when I got married, I would have asked him to perform the ceremony (he was a minister) – and I wish more states and counties offered what Massachusetts calls a One-Day Marriage Designation.
Not everyone agrees with me, however. In an NPR story of the new trend of relatives and friends solemnizing marriages, the Rev. James Wind, president of the Alban Institute, a research firm focusing on religion, has this to say:
When we do a wedding ceremony, there’s a set of values that has been carried along for centuries in these religious communities that are resources for making this very important relationship, a bedrock relationship in our society, for making this work.
And Larry James, an ordained non-denominational minister and president of CelebrateIntimateWeddings.com, said this in a blog post about the dangers of asking a friend to perform a wedding ceremony:
Although it’s an honor to perform a wedding ceremony, presiding over a friend or family member’s wedding has its pros and cons. There are not many benefits to being married by a family friend. Someone who becomes a wedding officiant for a one-time-only wedding ceremony can cause a bride and groom a lot of stress during the planning of the wedding. The only upside could be that they may do it for free. Free may be inviting but you usually get what you pay for. If money is an issue, cut down on some of the other wedding services, such as favors, etc., then hire a professional.
What do you think? Are we really moving too far from tradition or is this kind of thing really a disaster waiting to happen? Wait, wait, before you answer… it’s looking like yours truly will be performing a wedding in October, right here in Mass. with a one-day pass. That’s right! Never teh Bride is going to be a deputy marriage commissioner!