It's a great way to personalize the wedding, but there are several things the officiant will need to do ahead of the nuptials.

By Blythe Copeland
November 09, 2020
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Whether you've always dreamed of having your beloved uncle preside your wedding or think your partner's twin sister would strike the perfect balance of funny-but-heartwarming with her script, asking a family member to officiate your wedding is a meaningful way to personalize your day. "Engaged couples are making it clear that they want their ceremonies to tell an authentic, meaningful story about who they are and what they believe," says Natasha Anakotta, director of marketing and support services at American Marriage Ministries, a non-profit church that offers online ordination. "It's like casting a movie: Sometimes the director just knows that they want Jennifer Garner in their film, and sometimes the couple simply must have the bride's grandfather officiate the ceremony."

But before your grandfather—or anyone else—can perform a legal marriage ceremony, they'll have to get ordained (once they agree to the job, that is). This is possible online through non-profit, non-denominational organizations like the AMM and the Universal Life Church, which ordain thousands of new ministers every year. Neither is affiliated with any specific religion: AMM's theology is based on the idea of marriage as a "sacred union" that is "the natural right of all people, regardless of race, sexual identity, nationality, socioeconomic status, or religious background," and the ULC's overarching philosophy is simple: "We are all children of the same universe." Both the ULC and AMM offer online applications that allow aspiring ministers to get ordained immediately after submitting for no charge.

Applications don't consider a minister's religious background, gender, age, or other qualities; the organizations place no limits on who can get ordained, as long as they do it as a "considered, deliberate, and responsible act," says Anakotta. "We believe everyone should have the right to perform marriage—period." At ULC, the policy is the same. "We believe that anyone who feels so-called has the right to become an ordained minister," says administrator Charlie Kay. "We find that even if people enter the ULC just to perform one wedding, they quickly learn how much deeper and more rewarding this new chapter of their journey really is."

After getting ordained, it's critical for the officiant and the couple to check the rules of the state and county where they're tying the knot for any other requirements: Some will require notarizations or other documentation; some have additional fees. "There are approximately 3,000 counties in the United States and each of them has different rules and regulations surrounding the proper performance and notation of a marriage ceremony," says Kay, "so we highly recommend that the officiant researches the government office that issues marriage licenses in their area to understand what their personal legal responsibilities will be." In addition to the pre-ceremony paperwork, the officiant will need to follow requirements for signing and returning the marriage license. That means they'll need to research and follow the legal requirements set forth by your state, and they'll also need to work with the couple to create a script for a personalized wedding ceremony. This includes the planning of the vows, music, and readings.

"We recommend that the officiant and couple meet well in advance to talk about the kind of ceremony that they want," says Anakotta. "This isn't something you want to scramble to put together the day before the ceremony." Though it's a lot of work, the beauty and sentiment of a custom wedding ceremony can make it one of the most enduring and meaningful parts of your day. "We always think having a personal relationship with the officiant makes the ceremony all the more special and memorable," says Kay.

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