Marriage is a milestone in a couple’s life. Most couples elect to have their union solemnized by a priest, a rabbi, a pastor or anyone legally authorized to officiate a wedding.
All states have marriage laws that indicate who can perform a marriage ceremony. Most states recognize ordained members of the clergy and enumerate public officials who are designated to solemnize marriages. There are states that require prior registration and residency. Others require wedding ministers to submit proof of their authorization from their congregation. It is the duty of a wedding minister to be familiar with the marriage laws of each state to avoid violating the Constitution and state laws.
Here are some options you can take if you want to be a wedding minister:
- Ordained members of the clergy can perform wedding ceremonies. It will take years before you can be a wedding officiant. Either you get a bachelor’s degree before you do your seminary studies or enter the seminary right after high school. Whichever option you choose, it will take eight years before you can become an ordained priest.
- If you are a member of a non-denominational congregation, you may be allowed to perform wedding ceremonies. You need to check with the county clerk’s office for the state’s requirement. You may need to register before you can be allowed to do so. Other states will require you to submit a Statement of Good Standing or a Letter of Congregational Authorization.
- If you are a chaplain of any branch of the military, then you can perform wedding ceremonies. As a commissioned officer you are authorized to officiate.
- A ship captain can also be a wedding minister, but only when they are at sea. Ship captains cannot perform wedding ceremonies in the state of New York.
- Public servants such as a Justice of the Peace, a Governor, a Mayor, former judges are legally allowed to perform wedding ceremonies. Rhode Island has a provision allowing current and former clerks or chief clerks of its courts to be wedding ministers.
- Apply and receive training from the Universal Life Church online. You have to fill up their online application, pay the required fee and wait for them to confirm your ordination. Your ordination is valid for life. This is recognized almost in all states, but do check each state’s marriage requirements. New York does not recognize the ordination certificate issued by the Universal Life Church or its affiliates. You have to submit several documents and certifications from the board of trustees, articles of incorporation of your congregation or the location of the house of worship, its reason for founding, size of congregation, etc.
- Massachusetts and some California counties have a provision for a “wedding deputy for a day.” A family member or a friend can file an application 2 months in advance, meet requirements, pay the statutory fees and attend training class. Once your application is approved, you can perform marriage ceremonies under the supervision of the commissioner of civil marriages and perform other tasks that may be assigned for the day.
Simply put, a wedding minister is someone who is authorized to conduct a religious or a civil wedding ceremony. You actually act as the central witness in a couple’s wedding rites. There might be some easy ways for you to officiate in a wedding ceremony but you also have to know the duties and responsibilities of being a wedding minister as well as the legal issues concerning paperwork and licenses.