Everything You Need to Know About Wedding Officiants and How to Find One, According to Experts
The person who marries you, known as a wedding officiant, has a big job. Not only must they be legally qualified—or ordained—they should be someone you and your partner feel comfortable with who can make your ceremony special and keep your wedding guests engaged. Not sure who should lead your vows? To help you find the perfect person, we rounded up everything to know about wedding officiants. From how to find and hire a wedding officiant in your area to what the person who marries you says during the ceremony, we answered all of your frequently asked questions regarding marriage officiants.
"Wedding officiants are love warriors who celebrate other love warriors," says wedding expert Karla Villar. Villar is a love storyteller and co-owner of Once Upon a Vow in Brooklyn, New York, which she's run with her sister Dani VillaRamos since 2015, helping more than 500 couples celebrate their love. "We work in a space—in a business—that revolves around the source energy of love, so we use it to create ambiance and resonate with others." But how do you find the best love warrior or wedding officiant near you to tell your story? Read up on everything you need to know about wedding officiants below (then head over to The Knot Marketplace to book a great one).
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What Is a Wedding Officiant?
The definition of a wedding officiant is the person who marries you—they can be anyone legally permitted to officiate a marriage ceremony. "Wedding officiants are love storytellers who hold sacred space for couples as they begin a new chapter of their lives together," says VillaRamos about the wedding officiant definition. "We are love ambassadors spreading joy, love, and appreciation of this great privilege in bearing witness to the deep connections shared in partnerships and among their community of loved ones."
The term includes a wide variety of types of wedding officiants, such as religious leaders who officiate weddings. But typically a wedding officiant refers to a non-religious official who marries couples at the nuptials. This is especially helpful for couples who aren't affiliated with a religion or who come from different religious backgrounds and want to incorporate different aspects of each into the ceremony.
What Does a Wedding Officiant Do?
In their role as the wedding officiant, this person leads and oversees the wedding ceremony from beginning to end, ensuring you are legally married. The wedding officiant conducts the flow of the wedding ceremony. They will also sign your marriage license to make your marriage legally binding.
However, beyond being the director of the wedding ceremony, the wedding officiant role has other responsibilities as well. "Officiating weddings is a lot more than writing ceremonies," Villar explains. "It's an energy exchange between us, as officiants, our couples, and their invited loved ones." Additionally, wedding officiants can be an extra-important source of support for couples who may not have the support of their families. You may also be wondering, "What does the officiant say at a wedding?" We put together an in-depth non-religious sample ceremony script to answer that very question.
So, to recap, what does a wedding officiant do? In short: the wedding officiant role necessitates a candidate that can command a crowd well, is responsible, is caring and supportive and is well-spoken. If you're wondering if the person you have in mind is up to the task, here are some questions to ask prospective wedding officiants to aid the vetting process.
Types of Wedding Officiants
Wait, there are different types of wedding officiants? Yep there are a variety of people who can officiate a wedding, and we're here to take a look at each type so you can find a wedding officiant near you that's a good fit for the task at hand.
The type of ceremony you want will largely determine what type of wedding officiant you hire. For example, if you're hoping to have a modern, nontraditional ceremony where you break mid-vows to perform a Beyoncé solo, a religious officiant in a house of worship might be off the table (although, not necessarily!).
A celebrant, in general, is someone who performs either religious or secular ceremonies for marriage (and other rites). A celebrant can be an ordained clergy member, professional secular officiant or legal official, such as a judge.
A priest, rabbi, minister or other religious officiant is the perfect option if you both belong to a particular church group or religious organization or would like to be married in a house of worship. A member of the clergy is a great option for couples seeking a more traditional ceremony, as most mainstream religious celebrants won't deviate from traditional ceremonies.
However, it's absolutely possible to find a clergy member who will perform more customized wedding ceremonies. A great resource for finding pastors, priests and rabbis who are open to performing interfaith ceremonies is your local college or university. Those studying to become clergy members often serve a diverse community and are used to working with clergy from various faiths. Another option is an officiant who's retired and may be willing to perform a more lenient, flexible ceremony.
A certified, nonreligious celebrant has training and certification from an organization like the Celebrant USA Foundation & Institute or other secular humanist organizations such as the American Humanist Association or the American Ethical Union. They're often unaffiliated with any religion and perform secular, same-sex and interfaith ceremonies. The more secular the officiant, the more creative license you'll likely have over what is said, read, sung or played during the ceremony.
An interfaith minister brings people of different religions together, and also works with same-sex and nonreligious couples. Many interfaith ministers define their work as being outside church walls by working in community service and spiritual counseling, and they're all about creating a special and personalized wedding service for their clients. Learn more about finding an interfaith officiant here.
A civil wedding officiant or civil servant's primary role is to legalize the marriage—they are responsible for witnessing and validating the consent of marriage between you and your partner for the wedding license, and are legally registered with the local city clerk's office. Hiring a civil officiant is most similar to hiring any of your other pros. They'll give a price or quote that's standard for their services, and they may even have prices listed on their website.
Friend or Family Member
You may not have considered it, but it's relatively easy and inexpensive to get ordained online (lots of celebrities have done it!). If you'd love to be married by a close friend or family member, ask if they'll undergo the official process and perform your ceremony. Having a loved one lead your vows is a wonderful way to personalize your nuptials. Just remember that ordination requirements differ from state to state, so do your research first to make sure you're following local state or district rules. Read everything you need to know about having a loved one officiate your wedding here.
How to Find a Wedding Officiant
Wondering where and how to find a wedding officiant? Here are a few effective ways to find the right person to hire as an officiant:
- Scroll through The Knot Marketplace for experienced, professional wedding officiants in your wedding location. You can read couples' reviews of the candidates in your area before you hire one to officiate the wedding.
- Ask recently married friends for referrals. Finding a person who's married people in the past and done a good job is a great option.
- Ask your other wedding vendors. Your photographer or wedding planner may know of reputable individuals whom they've heard of or worked with in the past.
- Contact your house of worship.
- If your ceremony site is not a house of worship, contact city, town or village halls and ask about judges or justices of the peace available for weddings.
- Ask a loved one to get ordained and officiate your wedding.
At The Knot, we highly encourage couples to spend their wedding budget thoughtfully. Hire small businesses owned by people whose worldviews align with your own. Live out your values as a couple by working with BIPOC-owned, LGBTQIA+-owned, AAPI-owned or women-owned businesses in your area. "We are a part of a network of wedding pros that are invested in doing things better and disrupting stale and limited concepts about weddings, relationships, and celebrations," Villar says. "There are people of all races and ethnicities and backgrounds that seek us out for our stances and values. Since I'm in a largely white cis-het industry as an immigrant and genderqueer person, I'm here to resonate with and hold space for all the stories that are not often told. We want all of our communities to know we're here for them."
The Knot Pro Tip: Use the diversity filters on The Knot to find vendors you truly believe in—and who believe in you too.
When deciding on who to have officiate your wedding, considering someone you are close to is a nice way to ensure the wedding feels personalized and intimate. Also, by asking someone in your circle to officiate a wedding, you may inspire them to continue to do so, which could push the industry forward. "I encourage all of my non-binary and trans siblings out there who are romantics, who enjoy participating and/or planning celebrations, and/or have talents that fit into the wedding space to consider where and how you might find your niche," Villar says. "We need more of us in these spaces to share our stories, our perspectives, and our vision for a more just and loving world." So, if you're having a hard time finding a wedding officiant, maybe it's time to ask someone to become an ordained wedding officiant.
How Much Does a Wedding Officiant Cost?
Understanding how much a wedding officiant costs is an important part of the planning and booking process. According to our internal data, the nationwide average cost is $240, but that number can vary greatly depending on a number of factors.
The cost of a wedding officiant will vary based on wedding date, wedding location, length of the ceremony and level of personalization. A good starting point is to allot one to two percent of your overall wedding budget for your wedding officiant. Plan on using more if you'd like a personalized ceremony or if you have any special requests.
Understand that the services officiants offer are time-intensive and require a lot of energy, so it may cost more to bring on your chosen individual. However, investing your budget in an amazing wedding officiant in your area is well worth it, if you ask us.
Who Can Officiate a Wedding?
Who can officiate a wedding varies based on where you are getting married and the type of wedding you're having. Only ordained people who've been legally authorized by the state can perform a legal marriage.
The requirements for who can be a wedding officiant in each state vary, so you'll need to make sure you've met all the requirements listed for the location of the wedding. Check online or call your county clerk to get all the information you need ahead of time. If you'd like to be able to officiate weddings anywhere in the US, we recommend finding an organization that's recognized in all 50 states. Just make sure they're officially ordained in time for the big day.
Additionally, if you're having a religious wedding then your faith may dictate who can officiate the wedding. You may be required to have a certain clergy member oversee your wedding.
Who officiates your wedding and who can legally officiate a wedding aren't always the same. If you really want a friend to officiate the wedding, but they aren't ordained, you can always have the ceremony be symbolic and later go to the courthouse to have a judge legally marry you and your partner. Similarly, many couples planning international destination weddings run into issues with who can legally marry them. Some couples choose to legally wed at a US courthouse before or after a destination wedding so they don't have to worry about the destination ceremony being legally binding. (Psst: here are eight special people you could consider having officiate your wedding.)
Can You Officiate Your Own Wedding?
Want to officiate your own wedding? To answer the question, "can you officiate you own wedding?" you need to understand self-solemnization. Self-solemnization, also known as a self-uniting marriage, is when a couple can be legally recognized as married without the presence of an ordained third-party officiant. There are nine states in the US where self-solemnization is legal. In these states, couples can marry sans officiant in front of witnesses, if they turn in the necessary legal paperwork. However, all other states require an officiant for a legal and recognized marriage. An officiant only needs to meet your state's legal qualifications for performing your marriage ceremony.
How to Ask Someone to Officiate Your Wedding
You've found an officiant and now you just ask to get them on board. Asking someone to officiate your wedding is a big deal. After all, they're going to be leading your union. As such, you'll want to ask them in a sweet and thoughtful way. To help you out, we are taking a look at how to ask someone to officiate your wedding.
Send them a note or a gift—or take them out for a meal. Unable to meet in person? Schedule a FaceTime or phone call instead. If you're booking a pro in your area on The Knot, make sure you meet with them at least once or twice so they become familiar with who you are and your love story. Especially if you want a personalized ceremony, it's important to spend time getting to know your officiant before asking them the question.
What Does the Officiant Say at Your Wedding?
What the officiant says at the wedding is entirely up to you, as the couple getting married, and your ceremony officiant. Typically, the officiant is the first to walk in during the wedding processional because they will guide the ceremony order. After the processional, the wedding officiant will typically welcome guests to the ceremony with a few words, they may also offer a message or homily. The officiant will also walk you and your partner through your vows and declaration of intent, likely in a call-and-response format. The officiant will also declare you legally wed and may offer some closing words and instructions to wrap up the ceremony.
Depending on whether you're incorporating any unity rituals into your ceremony, the officiant may also have some words to say to help facilitate that tradition. What the officiant says may also vary if you choose to recite personalized vows, instead of traditional wedding vows. Also, if you're hosting a religious wedding ceremony then there may be certain religious readings or prayers that the officiant recites.
Ultimately, it's important that you connect with your wedding officiant before the big day to craft the wedding ceremony and align on what the officiant will say at your wedding. Most pros will ask you to fill out a questionnaire so they have a general idea about your relationship before you get to work on the ceremony script.
For experts Villar and VillaRamos, getting to know the couples is their favorite part of the job. "Who they are individually and together, how they interact with each other, the details of their lives that seem inconsequential but are, in fact, incredibly meaningful," they say. "Many times, we can relate to our couples and the challenges they've faced, the dreams they share, the future they're working towards, the values they've built their lives around. It's a profound experience and one we're super grateful for."
Gift Ideas for Your Wedding Officiant
No matter if you're working with a professional officiant or a loved one, it's best practice to get your wedding officiant a gift to express gratitude. Officiating a wedding is usually a big commitment—they'll have to create a ceremony script and spend time getting to know you both. Additionally, they typically come for the rehearsal dinner and, of course, lead the ceremony. Thank them for their time and effort with a thoughtful vendor gift. It doesn't have to be huge—just something simple to say "thank you." Our favorite idea? Find a sweet keepsake from a small, local store for your officiant to remember the occasion. (Psst: Don't forget to write a heartfelt thank you note, too.)
Maddy Sims contributed to the reporting of this story.