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Wait...who will marry us?

So many choices: Minister/Priest, Judge/Justice of the Peace, Officiant or Celebrant

When you’re planning a wedding, it can feel like you need to be an expert on so many things: venues, food, flowers, music, clothing, event coordination, design, etc. It can feel overwhelming. And, unless you are affiliated with a church, selecting who will actually, officially marry you can feel overwhelming as well.


Here I try break it down. Hope it helps, at least a little!


A Minister/Priest are most often people's first thought when considering who will officiate their wedding. Since a recent Gallup poll found that only 47% of U.S. adults were members of a church, synagogue or mosque, this leave the Minister/Priest option unsuitable for more than half of Americans (even more Millennials). This does though make a Minister/Priest a good choice for people who already belong to a church that they regularly attend and who want a traditional church ceremony. Minister/Priest's are often restricted by their religious institution as to who they can marry and sometimes the couple is required to complete some form of religious educational program before the wedding is performed. In my experience, church ceremonies are less about the couple and more about the church. And. similar to the judge or justice of people, there is most often a templated script that is followed.


A Judge, or a Justice of the Peace as a court officer, can perform civil marriages. This ceremony is a simple option for people who basically just want a marriage certificate. These are fast, to-the-point ceremonies with very restrictive schedules (weekday, business hours most often) and locations (their place, not yours and often a courtroom or office). In other words, take a number and you will get served on their schedule, at their location and with their standard words. (Truly, I am not dismissing this option. I got married by a Judge--another reason I became a Celebrant!) Ceremonies performed a Judge/Justice tend to be solely about the legality of marriage. Like the Minister/Priest option, the Judge/Justice also usually follow a templated script that is used for all wedding ceremonies they perform, though some Judge/Justices do make room for short, personalized vows.


Next, we have a Wedding Officiant, who can legally officiate a marriage ceremony. Generally, a Wedding Officiant has gotten endorsed by the state to legally marry people. People even have friends get endorsed just so they can to marry them (not recommended-close friends should enjoy the wedding with the couple without the pressure). Anyone who has gotten a certificate of ordination (often online and requiring only a nominal fee) can file with the county to be endorsed to marry couples in the state. Some Officiants are loosely affiliated with a church, others are non-denominational (no specific religion) and still others are non-religious. Ceremonies by general Officiants can vary widely, depending on the training, experience and certification of the Officiant, so it's important to understand the Officiant's approach and what they actually offer.


And finally, we have Celebrants (sometimes also called Officiants, but they are different). The Celebrant movement started in Australia and has since spread around the world to serve those who want meaningful, personalized ceremonies. Celebrants are non-religious officials who carry no affiliation with a church and many are Humanists. Celebrants celebrate the couple, including their love, commitment and backgrounds. To best serve the ceremony, Celebrants study ritual and ceremony and therefore generally have lot options to offer. Couples who are not religious affiliated or go to a church, often find a Celebrant ideal because, unbound by religious traditions or the stiffness of court-based nuptials, they can help to develop a ceremony that whole-hearted represents the couple. Couples with differ religious backgrounds often choose a Celebrant too because ceremonies can be customized to honor the traditions and beliefs of both families.

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