How to Find an Officiant for Your Same-Sex Wedding

Rachel Goble Photography

Among the important questions couples struggle with when planning same-sex weddings is the choice of officiants or celebrants to preside over their ceremonies. Civil, spiritual, and personal options exist, albeit with some regional and denominational restrictions. How do you choose? First, have a frank discussion of each of your expectations, and carefully consider the following options.

Spiritual Celebrants for Same-Sex Weddings

According to a July 2015 Pew Research Center report, several major religious institutions now sanction same-sex marriage. These include the Conservative Jewish Movement, the Reform Jewish Movement, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Society of Friends (Quaker), Unitarian Universalist Association of Churches, and the United Church of Christ. If one or both partners are active members of one of these churches, clergy can be relatively easy to secure to perform a gay or lesbian ceremony.  Begin with an inquiry with your home church and a request for referrals to available celebrants. Interview them carefully to ensure that the one you select supports LGBT unions, and will support you as you start your new lives together. If neither partner is active in a church or denomination, but both want a spiritual celebration, start by contacting one of the above-mentioned churches. Ask what options are available for non-members. Be certain you inquire about any counseling or pre-wedding classes you may have to take to satisfy church requirements. There are also usually non-denominational, spiritual officiants available who specialize in conducting weddings. They are often found via online searches or referrals from various wedding professionals. When you find a good match, take the time to reflect on your ceremony, and ensure that it meets your needs. Do you want to include Biblical readings? Are you planning to write your own vows? Will you include hymns? Discuss these questions and more in your consultations with your officiant, and help create the perfect ceremony for you and your fiancé.

Civil Officiants: Justices of the Peace and Marriage Commissioners

Many gay and lesbian couples are not affiliated with religious institutions. Until recently, most churches were highly intolerant of same-sex couples, and there are still many men and women who do not feel comfortable taking part in organized religion. Additionally, mixed-faith couples can experience tension between their spiritual beliefs and as a result, seek out a civil alternative to spiritual ceremonies. Marriage commissioners and justices of the peace are citizens designated by courts to perform legal ceremonies. Their contact information is usually found on court websites, and may provide anything from minimal services to elaborate custom weddings. You can determine if your region has commissioners and justices of the peace by contacting your local court, or the court in the city and state where you plan to get married. Pay close attention to the requirements you must meet to obtain your marriage license, and confirm with any commissioner or justice of the peace you choose that they understand that your wedding is a same-sex marriage. There is nothing like finding out the day of your ceremony that you are missing an important document, or that your officiant does not support your relationship.

Personal Options

Perhaps the idea of a legal commissioner or a religious clergy member conflicts with your vision of your ceremony. Maybe you want someone who is personally meaningful to you to help your exchange your vows. Many states permit you to have someone “ordained” online or by the local court to perform your ceremony. Couples have chosen close friends and family members to fulfill the role, building very intimate custom ceremonies together. Confirm with your regional court that it is legal to pursue having a friend or family member act as your officiant. If it is not, don’t despair. You can always hold a private legal ceremony with a justice of the peace at a courthouse or in your home, then, have a friend act as your officiant and “marry” you on your wedding day. As a gay or lesbian couple, you have many different options when choosing an officiant. Understand both partners’ priorities, and research all of your regionally available options before signing on the dotted line. Most importantly, make sure you select someone who fully supports and appreciates your loving relationship.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Goble Photography.

S. Walker is a freelance writer for GayWeddings.com.