How to Officiate a Wedding: Your Step-by-Step Guide

Ceremony Building

The original article was featured in The Knot

By: Jenn Sinrich

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In order to get married by legal standards, every couple needs to have an officiant, or the person who performs the marriage ceremony. No matter the religion or secularity of the couple, the officiant is essential, as they are the one who signs the marriage license, stating that on a particular date at a particular location, the couple listed on the license agreed to enter into the legal arrangement known as "marriage," explains JP Reynolds, an officiant of non-denominational, interfaith, cross-cultural and same-sex wedding ceremonies in Los Angeles, California.

Most people tend to think of officiants as veteran vendors of the wedding industry who've helped handfuls, if not hundreds, of couples become wed. While an officiant is, most certainly, a wedding professional in their own right (and can be easily sourced on The Knot Vendor Marketplace), you can officiate a wedding as well. Yep—if a couple feels that you're the right person to officially seal the deal on their newlywed status, despite having zero experience or qualifications in the wedding industry, you can do so (if you choose to of course).

There are, however, a few quid pro quos. In addition to knowing how to officiate a wedding, you also have to learn the legal requirements of the state in which the wedding will take place, explains Reynolds. What's more: Being an officiant is a giant responsibility that entails crafting a ceremony that honors the couple and affords them options in terms of readings, music and vows.

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Can You Officiate Your Loved Ones' Wedding?

Yes, anyone can officiate a wedding ceremony for their loved one—or for anyone for that matter. And, thanks to modern technology, many states, including Massachusetts and New York, grant what's known as a One-Day Marriage Designation, which essentially allows them to perform a wedding ceremony for a friend or family member on one specific day. This is, of course, the easiest route for someone who doesn't plan to officiate more weddings in their future. The other route involves becoming a certified celebrant which can take 6 months to 2 years.

Steven Greitzer, Founder and CEO of Provenance and an experienced officiant himself, likes to think of the qualifications required of an officiant as "soft" and "hard." The "hard qualifications" are those legal expectations. "If not a religious, civil, or professional officiant, anyone asked to officiate can explore getting ordained online," he says. "For some online ministries, the process can be as easy as sharing your name, email, confirmation of being 18+ in age, and agreeing to basic tenets (which can be secular, even if the website says 'ministries')."

The "soft qualifications" are equally important—they are simply non-legal requirements, such as cultural or faith background. "The decision of who will officiate should be a mutual choice so that both partners feel comfortable and confident that the person will represent them and their relationship in a way that is balanced, authentic, and well-articulated," Greitzer says. "The couple should trust that the person they choose to officiate is comfortable with public speaking, will diligently invest time into putting together an impressive ceremony that reflects the couple's vision, can be counted on to check the legal boxes correctly, and will do what's needed to make their ceremony special."

How to Officiate a Wedding

If you want to officiate a wedding, there's a bit of know-how involved. After all, you're taking on one of the most important roles involving the entire wedding ceremony, and arguably the entire wedding day. Here, experts explain step-by-step tips for how to officiate a wedding.

Check the legal requirements.

Before you give the thumbs up to the couple that you will officiate their wedding, it's a good idea to do a little research into the legal requirements for who can perform weddings in the state or country in which they plan to wed. Most states in the U.S. allow anyone to become ordained online and perform a legally-binding wedding ceremony, if only for a single and designated date. Some states, however, have additional requirements that might be time intensive.

Have a sit-down interview with the couple.

Even if the couple are your good friends or close family members, it can be helpful to sit down with them to discuss the specifics of their relationship and how they would like their ceremony to go. This step can ensure that you're all on the same page as far as the vibe and the flow of the wedding ceremony. "As a professional officiant, I ask the couple a myriad of questions about their history, their love story, their religious preferences, their cultural backgrounds and much more in order to accumulate as much information as possible," says Tanya Pushkine, officiant, vow coach and ceremony planner.

Inquire about dress code in advance.

Don't make assumptions in regards to attire—ask. Reynolds recommends consulting with the couple to ensure that your attire is in line with the formality of the wedding as well as the color scheme. "Essentially, you want to complement the couple's attire without upstaging either person—nor do you want to be inappropriately casual in your attire," he says.

Write the actual ceremony.

"The officiant is tasked with telling a story and hopefully, will capture the essence, the inner workings of the couple and breadth and depth of their journey," Pushkine explains. Even if you know the couple so well, you should prepare a speech discussing how they met, the life they've built together, their unique qualities that lend themselves to make a great couple and whatever else feels right to bring up on their wedding day. Having a script will help you stay on all the appropriate topics and ensure that you don't miss any of the important elements of the ceremony.

Arrive early.

Karla Firestone, of Marry Me Karla in Boston, Massachusetts, recommends arriving at least an hour before the ceremony begins. "It is not only important for you to get yourself settled, but to assure the couple that you are there and ready. It's also helpful to touch base with the DJ and or band," she says. "Most will have to set you up with sound capabilities that you can test with them prior."

Know what you're responsible for bringing.

Greitzer suggests creating a list of any prop or sacred objects needed for the ceremony (e.g., sand for a sand ceremony) and consulting the couple on ordering them. "Also, discuss what vow books or ceremony binders they want to read from during the ceremony (and who is responsible for getting them)," he adds.

Step to the side after the first kiss.

Once the couple has said the big "I dos," it's time for the photographer to shine by snapping a picture of their first kiss. This is not something that you have to—or should—be in. For this reason, Firestone recommends making it a point to step aside the moment after they say their "I dos." "It is a simple gesture that all couples appreciate when looking back at the photos of their wedding day," she says.

Mail the wedding license the next day.

Arguably the single-most important responsibility of the officiant is actually the first business day after the wedding ceremony, when they have to mail the marriage license back to the county clerk or recorder office. "The officiant should also mail to the couple a copy of their license (that copy is not a legal document but can serve as temporary proof of marriage)," says Reynolds. "If the county does not allow a couple to pre-order legal copies of their marriage certificate, then the officiant wants to include instructions for such ordering."

Steven Greitzer, Founder and CEO of Provenance and an experienced officiant himself, likes to think of the qualifications required of an officiant as "soft" and "hard." The "hard qualifications" are those legal expectations. "If not a religious, civil, or professional officiant, anyone asked to officiate can explore getting ordained online," he says. "For some online ministries, the process can be as easy as sharing your name, email, confirmation of being 18+ in age, and agreeing to basic tenets (which can be secular, even if the website says 'ministries')."
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