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What does a Marriage Officiant do?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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A marriage officiant is a professional licensed to perform marriages or civil unions. In addition to performing a legally recognized marriage or union ceremony, a marriage officiant may take on various roles associated with weddings and marriage. An officiant may work through a specific religious organization, perform marriages as part of a civil office, or work as a third-party profession.

In order to practice legally, the officiant must gain a license from a state-recognized organization. The requirements for obtaining a license may vary between regions; in many places, a clergyman, judge, or ship's captain is granted the right to perform marriages as part of his or her job. Some areas allow a person to obtain a temporary day permit from local officials to perform one specific wedding, which permits a non-ordained friend or relative to perform a ceremony at the request of the couple. Some online organizations and churches also offer ordination, and thus an official license, based on a simple application and fee.

The main duty of a marriage officiant is to manage the wedding or union ceremony for a couple. Within this job description, there is quite a lot of room for variety and innovation. Some couples want an officiant from a specific religion that can perform rituals and traditional ceremonies inherent to that creed. Others want a non-denominational minister that does not invoke religious commentary of any kind on the ceremony. Couples that have differing faiths may sometimes hire multiple officiants to blend the customs of different religions or cultures.

In addition to performing the ceremony and signing a marriage license, a marriage officiant may offer to help the couple in a variety of different ways. Some provide pre-marital counseling sessions, that help a couple prepare for their marriage and plan for their future together. Others focus on the requirements of the wedding, and may provide assistance with finding ceremony sites, contracting other vendors such as florists or rental facilities, and deciding on the text, format, and order of the ceremony.

Often, a marriage officiant will be in charge of running a wedding rehearsal the day before the wedding. This gives the officiant time to walk the bride, groom, and wedding party through the plan of the ceremony so that all runs smoothly during the official event. Simple or private wedding ceremonies may not have a rehearsal, but larger weddings often benefit from a practice run.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Mar 03, 2014

Most states in the US allow a member of the clergy or a judge to officiate at marriages. Couples wanting to be married on board a ship should check with their cruise line for regulations about whether the ship's captain can perform the ceremony or not.

A marriage officiant may have counseled the couple, or may be an old family friend. Frequently, the couple will choose an officiant who has meant a great deal to them, like a clergyperson from their childhood.

The officiant usually signs the marriage license, certifying that the marriage took place and was performed by an authorized person.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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