How to officiate your friend’s wedding

Wedding traditions are changing. Having a friend officiate is becoming more common. If you’re not after a religious ceremony, this is a personal and intimate option.

I’m thrilled to say last month I got the chance to do this for the first time, for one of my best friends and his delightful fiancee. (The above photo is by LOVE + WOLVES CO)

Here’s what I learned about getting it done.

There are lots of wedding blog posts about how to get it done (make sure it’s legal, overview the steps and advice), but I thought I’d share the process I took to get this done for me. As anything you’ll read, there are vastly different rules on marriage by state — and even municipalities and counties in some cases.

  1. Get Ordained — Just about everyone I know who has officiated in just about any jurisdiction used Universal Life Church, a non-denominational, international church based in Modesto, California. (Confusingly there is also a Universal Life Church Monastery, which is different though appears to also be accepted in many places). Amusingly, I first was ordained with ULC way back in 2004.
  2. Get Licensed — This step has one of the biggest variations across locations. In many places, like Pennsylvania, your officiant is essentially just a witness, so there is no required license. (When I was married, my sister’s partner was ordained but had no other affiliation to the state.) However, for contrast, the State of New York, where I married my friends last month, requires an officiant also be licensed. To register as a marriage officiant in the City of New York, I requested a host of additional paperwork (after a failed visit to City Hall) from ULC (they helpfully knew just what I needed for NYC after a phone call) filled out a NYC form, available online and took it to 141 Worth Street. There I waited in line to file my forms (I had to know what my title was, for example) and a sign a large impressive looking registration book. I walked out right then with my lifetime official registration ID number and certificate and reviewed how to complete a ceremony and fill out the marriage certificate.
  3. Ask the Couple Questions — You may know your friends well. I did too. But I think you have an important role to push your friends on important issues — how are they going to handle their finances after marriage, have they talked about having children and that sort of thing. Somewhat playfully, I made my friends fill out a Google Survey separately and then we talked that through over dinner. I also walked through the ceremony agenda and process with them.
  4. Have them Get Their Wedding License — In all cases I know, the married couple themselves have to go, with appropriate government-issued ID, to City Hall to apply for and receive a wedding license. In the few cases I know, this official marriage document outlines what you need to be formally wedded and usually has to be completed within a 60-day window, but no sooner than 24 hours.
  5. Write a Script like this one. — Depending on your couple, their family and whether they have a wedding planner, there may likely already be a script or agenda for the ceremony. But to do a great job as an officiant, you need to make sure you have one. You do have a responsibility to make sure this is thorough, as it’ll effect you and, moreover, you are effectively this important ceremony’s emcee. I shared the skeleton of mine, which confirms to tradition and most policy but have some fun with this.
  6. Sign the Document and Deliver It — Have fun at the ceremony! And then fill out the marriage ceremony as you’re meant to. For the State of New York, there were five signatures required: the couple, two witnesses and an officiant, with a state ID number. The couple should likely deliver the document to City Hall (that’s pressure, I’d rather be in their hands) but either way, make sure it lands. Keep your documents on hand.


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