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We all know how easy it is to become an officiant for your friend’s wedding, right? Just a couple taps in your phone’s browser and you’re ordained! Well, turns out that route might not result in a legal marriage, which can wreak havoc on your friend’s life. Here’s how to become an official officiant, and what to say when you’re marrying two people you care about.
As The New York Times points out, some states don’t recognize marriages performed by ministers without congregations and other states have unclear laws around religious officiants who are ordained online. This includes ordainments from sites, like Universal Life Church and American Marriage Ministries, which we often hear about as quick ways to get certified. So, to be safe, go a solidly legal route.
Go Through the Government
Your friend has few ways they can go if they want to make sure their marriage is legal.
- Have a civil ceremony at the courthouse prior to their wedding ceremony, and then have you perform the wedding ceremony (which will be more for show than actual legal marriage).
- You become the deputy marriage commissioner for a day, if the county they’re getting married in allows it. Here’s San Francisco’s requirements as an example. Google the city or county’s name plus “performing marriage” or “county clerk’s office”, and click on choose the result that looks most like it is the city you’ll be marrying your friends in (it probably have a .gov ending on the URL). This should get you the info you need on being certified to perform your friend’s marriage.
As in most situations, there are other workarounds, like having an ordained minister perform the actual marriage part of the ceremony and you share a personalized speech beforehand, but the above options allow you to perform the marriage vows themselves. You may have to spend a little more time and energy on paperwork and a visit to the county clerk’s office, but it’s worth it in the long run. If none of these appeal to you or your friend, you can always check state laws to see what is and isn’t allowed (but a heads up that some of these laws can be pretty unclear).
Give the Perfect Speech
Once you have the legal side of things figured out, you can start working on what you’ll actually say to bring your friend and their partner together. Professional speechwriter Bob Lehrman says you should keep in mind that you’re not just going through the motions of a ceremony, you’re creating memories for the couple, and everyone at the wedding. Lehrman sums up your speech’s goal:At the end, you want people from both sides coming up, wiping tears off their cheeks and telling you not how great you were — but how great the ceremony was.
As you write your speech, and practice it, keep a few things in mind:
- Use body language to emphasize what you’re saying. Practice which gestures will go with which parts of your speech so that you have a choreographed presentation that comes across well.
- Focus on the couple. As Lehrman puts it, “People don’t want to sit through a lot of blather about the meaning of marriage. They would like to hear about the meaning of this marriage.” So include a story or two about the couple, with the goal of shedding light on how great they are and inducing warm and fuzzies for the audience.
- Diffuse tension. Acknowledge differences in culture, tradition, religion, or other things that might be causing a divide between families or guests. The key is to bring it back around to what unites the couple, and the families.
- Give people an idea of what’s coming. Lehrman suggests helping people understand what is happening during the ceremony (especially if they’re not familiar with certain traditions) by creating a roadmap. He gives an example, “So we’ll begin with the Hindu ceremony in which…” If you’re not sure what will happen in the ceremony, or the significance of traditions included in the ceremony, ask you friend for an outline of events so you can do your own research and confirm what you find with them. They might also have a family member they can connect you with who is familiar with ceremony traditions.
Whatever you decide to include in your remarks, give the couple a preview at least a month in advance so they can flag anything they’re not comfortable with and you have time to adjust. After all, this is their day.
Update 7/12/2017, 10:20 AM: This article has been updated with more specifics on working with local government to get legally certified.