What Is a Wedding Officiant
According to Wikipedia:
“An officiant is someone who officiates at (i.e. leads) a service or ceremony, such as marriage, burial, or namegiving/baptism. Officiants may be ordained by any denomination as members of their clergy, or by secular/Humanist or Interfaith/Interspiritual religious bodies. Officiants differ from Chaplains in that Officiants serve the unaffiliated public at large, while Chaplains are usually employed by an institution such as the military, a hospital or other health care facility, etc. The term “Officiant” also includes Justices of the Peace, celebrants, notaries, and other people empowered by law to perform legally-binding private ceremonies.”
So, in basic terms, a wedding officiant is the person who leads your wedding ceremony. They must be legally recognized to do so by the state in which your wedding takes place. If you are having a religious ceremony, your officiant will need to be qualified in the eyes of that religious organization as well. Some religious groups specify where your ceremony must take place as well. For example, the Catholic Church requires that your ceremony take place within the church building.
The legal responsibilities of the officiant vary according to state laws. Generally speaking, your officiant’s signature on your marriage license signifies that he or she knows of no reason that you are not qualified to be married in that particular state. For example, you are of age or have parental consent, you are not currently married to someone else, or seeking a same sex marriage in a state that does not allow them. Their signature also means that they have witnessed you sharing your wedding vows and have officially pronounced that you are partners in marriage in the presence of witnesses (one or two of whom will also be required to sign your license).
In the past, most weddings were conducted either by religious clergy or civil officiants such as judges, justices of the peace, and ship captains. In recent years, it has become popular to have a friend or family member be your wedding officiant. This is accomplished by going on-line to sign up for ministerial credentials with a religious group such as the Universal Life Church that offers them without any requirements of training, dogmatic beliefs, or religious/spiritual practice. Their only requirement is that you ask to be ordained. According to their website, they have granted over 20 million ordinations to date. On-line ordinations take advantage of the separation of church and state by limiting the legal right of the state to challenge the religious organization’s authority and rules regarding to whom they grant ordination credentials. Some states and local jurisdictions, however, are beginning to challenge the legitimacy of on-line ordinations, so be sure to check out any controversy in the jurisdiction where you plan to be married.
Whether you are choosing to have a friend or family member officiate or are looking for a seasoned officiant, be sure to consider how their personality style, personal beliefs, and understanding of their role will influence your ceremony. Typically, your wedding officiant will have the greatest influence in setting the tone of your ceremony, so choose wisely.