Groom Duties

How To Become A Wedding Officiant

Photo by Alyssa Morgan Photography

Most of the time, if you hear someone ask “Will you marry me?” it means one thing: you are being proposed to. But the English language is a tricky thing, so it’s possible to hear these words from someone who has no desire to become your spouse. They want you to marry them to someone else. In other words, to be the officiant at their marriage.

Isn’t that something only priests or rabbis or imams are allowed to do? Judges, ship captains, that type of person?

Actually, no. Getting ordained online is easier than you think, and you don’t even have to believe in anything (except the future success of the bride and groom). Just follow a few simple steps and you get to say stuff like “if anyone has any reason these two should not become man and wife, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

While we’re not here to say anything negative about your faith and traditions, the bare-bones truth is that priests are people that have never been married themselves, and rabbi/synagogue weddings may not be the religious tone you want for your wedding. City Hall may be secular, but can also feel less intimate. Luckily, it’s never been easier to register as a wedding officiant.

Step 1: Get 0rdained 

If you aren’t a ship captain or a qualified public servant, you’ll probably have to get ordained as some sort of faith-based official. We’re assuming you don’t have the years of study and practice that are needed to become a priest, so you’ll need something a bit more ready-made. Why not have a little fun?

The tried-and-true route is the Universal Life Church. You can become a Reverend in a matter of minutes, from the comfort of your living room couch, joining the ranks of ULC ministers like Conan O’Brien, Lady Gaga, and The Rock. But there are other, more unusual, options as well.

There are a slew of online sites that allow for near-instant ordination, including organizations like the Church of Spiritual Humanism–which embraces all faiths–and The Temple of Earth–which rejects them. But our favorite new religion is Pastafarianism, whose members pray at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and (we assume) take communion with ravioli. They call it ‘solemnizing the marriage,” but that doesn’t mean you have to be so serious about it.

Step 2: Do your research

Just because you did the hard part of going online and becoming a minister in the Church of Awesome Satanic Rock Bass Players, does not mean you are kosher from a legal point of view, as the laws not only vary state-by-state, but within different municipalities. If you get this part wrong, your friends will not be legally married and a whole slew of serious issues will arise.

So start with a little local research. A good place to start is, which includes a state-by-state database of marriage regulations. But always confirm these regulations by going to the official sources: the actual website of the local government where you plan to conduct the ceremony.

Step 3: Fill out the proper forms

Marriage laws are governed at the state level, not the federal level, so your first task is to call the registrar in the city or town where your friends are getting married and find out what is required to make the nuptials legally binding. You may have to fill out a bunch of paperwork and bring that to the City Clerk’s office.

Step 4: Help plan the service

While the ultimate form of the ceremony will be up to the couple, you will probably be asked to weigh in (and you should at the very least offer to help). If you are old friends with one or both, try to incorporate something personal to them or to your past histories together. 

A couple of other things to remember when planning the ceremony:

  1. Savor the moment, but also keep things moving: you want the ceremony to move slowly enough that the couple will have great memories, but not so slow that the guests get restless. Which will happen sooner than you think;
  2. Remember to incorporate the parents (after all, they’re probably paying for all this); 
  3. The ceremony isn’t just the vows: it’s everything from the processional to the vows and exchange of rings and the recessional (when everyone starts heading for the bar);
  4. If you make a speech, don’t make it about yourself. Keep it short and about the couple.

Step 5: Dress the part

While you have been given the honor of officiating, and you may decide to dress as an admiral, you are not really the captain of the ship (unless you really are already a ship captain.)

You’ll need to fit into what the couple is planning. Find out if they want you to read Pablo Neruda, or shout some favorite lines from Lil Wayne; whether they want to smash a wine glass, or get married in the bathroom of the dive bar where they first made out. Remember: this is not your show. You are here to serve.

Step 6: Fulfill your legal responsibilities

Sure, it’s fun to become an ordained minister and to anoint the bride and groom’s heads, but don’t forget you do have real responsibilities here. In order for a marriage to be legally binding, you must:

  1. nail the Declaration of Intent. That’s usually when you ask some variation of “Do you take this person to be your lawfully married…”;
  2. make the Pronouncement, where you announce to everyone gathered that the couple is now officially married;
  3. fill out the marriage license—it will be your job to make sure the document is delivered to the correct authority after the ceremony before it expires.  

Step 7: Look official 

You need to buy a leatherette binder. This may seem like a small detail, but it will make a huge difference. When you actually give the wedding vows, it won’t look dignified if you reading from a crinkled up piece of yellow legal paper. To hide that, buy a simple black binder and print your remarks in a large typeface, so you can still read them when the tears start flowing. 

Also, if you are planning to have pyrotechnics, it would be wise to wear goggles and a mask so you don’t begin choking when the smoke machine kicks in. (We assume you have already rented the smoke machine.)

Bottom Line

When you officiate at a wedding ceremony you can make it as dignified or weird or romantic as the couple desires. Just make sure it’s legally binding.

Join The Plunge (Don’t Worry: It’s Free)

Even More Groom Duties