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Types of Officiants for Weddings

Karen Frazier
Man adjusting bow tie of male partner in front of priest during wedding ceremony

Choosing a marriage officiant is an important decision, and there are a number of different types of wedding officiants. From friends who have been ordained on the internet to justices of the peace or members of the clergy, you and your soon-to-be spouse have many types of officiants to choose from to fit the theme and tone of your wedding.

Religious Wedding Officiants/Members of the Clergy

Because many cultures and religions consider marriage a religious ceremony, officially ordained ministers from virtually any religion can legally perform wedding ceremonies. These include priests, rabbis, ministers, parsons, imams, or other licensed and ordained religious leaders. If you are marrying in a church or if you want your wedding ceremony to be religious in nature, then choose a member of the clergy from your religion to perform your wedding.

Non-Traditional Clergy or Non-Denominational Officiants

Some ordained ministers are not associated with any specific religion or church, or they may have a basis in a different type of non-religious spirituality such as metaphysics. These members of the clergy may be ordained by various legal entities that ordain such minsters, such as online via the Universal Life Church. Some of these ordinations take place online with no training or study, while others follow a specific course of study to attain ordination. It's up to the officiant and the wedding couple to research laws in their state to ensure such clergy are duly licensed to perform marriages; it varies by state/county and ordaining body. This is a great path for marital partners who pursue non-traditional forms of spirituality. These wedding officiants may also be good for commitement ceremonies and same-sex weddings.

Civil Wedding Officiants

Civil officiants are government employees who are also able to perform weddings legally. These include judges, justices of the peace, and the like. You can find civil wedding officiants by contacting your local government agency or courthouse. These officiants are best for couples who want to have a simple civil ceremony, typically in a courtroom or similar.

Professional Wedding Celebrant

Professional celebrants have been trained and certified to perform weddings. These may be civil ceremonies, non-denominational ceremonies, or even religious ceremonies. Celebrants are typically trained in all types of religious and non-religious wedding traditions, so they're great for just about any ceremony. Likewise, with their knowledge of weddings, they will fit for just about any type of wedding, from a simple beach ceremony to a destination wedding.

Ship's Captain

Sometimes, people want to have weddings at sea, and they ask a ship's captain to officiate. It's important to note the captain can only officiate a wedding at sea if he or she has some other form of license to perform weddings, such as being a judge, a justice of the peace, a professional celebrant, or an ordination. Therefore, if you plan to get married at sea, check with the ship's captain or company about whether the captain can perform marriages before you plan your wedding.

Your Friend or Relative as a Wedding Officiant

Some couples like having someone familiar perform their wedding ceremony. If you'd like a friend or relative to perform the ceremony, he or she will likely need to become ordained online. Keep in mind, your officiant won't have much experience with performing weddings and may need some (or a lot) of guidance. Check with local and state laws to ensure your newly ordained friend is able to perform your ceremony. This type of an officiant is best for simple, fun weddings in non-religious locations, such as a beach wedding, elopement, or a back yard wedding. This type of officiant isn't appropriate for a church or courthouse wedding. Some online ordinations for friends and family include:

  • Universal Life Church offers free ordination as well as materials required to perform weddings in various states. Official documents certifying ordination cost around $50.
  • Wanderlust Bay Ministries is a United States ordination service that licenses non-religious clergy so they can perform marriage ceremonies. It is strictly a ministry of wedding officiants. Online ordination costs around $50 and has no requirements other than paying and filling out the form.
  • Dudeism also performs official ordinations for the purpose of performing marriage ceremonies. Those ordained become Dudeist Priests, and ordination is free. Big Lebowski fans may appreciate this ordination.

Chapel Wedding Officiants

Some places, such as Las Vegas, are known for quickie weddings in wedding chapels. The officiants in these chapels are licensed to perform weddings there. Some are kitschy, such as Elvis impersonators, some are ordained minsters, and some are secular officiants. These types of officiants are best for people who want to have a fun wedding in Sin City or elsewhere that offers quick, same-day weddings with all-inclusive wedding packages.

Choosing the Right Officiant for Your Wedding

The great thing about weddings is you can make them exactly right for you. Therefore, choose an officiant who fits the feel of your wedding and matches the personality of you and your betrothed.

Types of Officiants for Weddings