Wondering how to choose the best officiant for your gay or lesbian wedding ceremony? Here's what you need to know, from same-sex wedding expert and pioneer Kathryn Hamm, president of GayWeddings.com. Have questions? Ask in the comments.
With few exceptions to this rule, allow yourself enough time to be thoughtful and thorough in your search for the perfect officiant. The person you choose will play an integral role in one of the most important moments of your life, and you will want someone who can help you with any legal steps (when applicable), while also nurturing the emotional aspects of your ceremony ritual, be it a large or small affair.
‘QUICKIE’ ELOPEMENTS. For those of you who will be eloping with legal intent, focus your search on finding someone to help you through the legal requirements to ensure that you qualify for a valid license. The jurisdiction in which you apply for a license can provide an authorized officiant for you, and most websites for city clerk offices offer information where you can learn more about how to request someone in the city clerk’s office, what kind of lead time you need, and what other requirements are involved. Learn a bit more about legal marriage in various states here and, please, please, please consider consulting with an attorney who specializes in LGBT family law before taking any steps to make your union legal.
LEGAL CEREMONIES. If you plan to marry legally at City Hall or elsewhere, you might choose to ask a friend or hire a non-denominational representative to serve as your officiant. There are many advantages to doing so; but, if you do, remember that you and your officiant need to adhere to the legal requirements in that jurisdiction. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to make sure that your intended officiant is registered correctly with the city or county; that your application will be filed correctly; and that your officiant’s skillset, preparation, and experience (as outlined below) is a good match for you.
NON-LEGAL CEREMONIES. These wedding ceremonies may not be recognized by the court, but they are no less powerful or meaningful than those that receive a legal stamp of approval. Because these ceremonies may or may not include a ritual pre-determined by civil law or religious tradition, it is important that you consider carefully the experience of and your chemistry with your prospective officiant depending on the type of ceremony you plan to have (religious vs. spiritual; small vs. large).
RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES. Weddings conducted by a rabbi, minister, priest or other congregation leader may or may not be legal, but most are prescribed by existing traditions. Thus, if you belong to a religious community, you may not need to do an exhaustive search to find an officiant, and you’ll probably have the benefit of pre-marital counseling sessions as you begin to plan the ceremony. Even so, it is worth confirming that the officiant understands what civil legal options are available to you (if at all) and, even more importantly, is actually willing to participate in your ceremony. Unfortunately, many lesbian brides and gay grooms have been disappointed (myself included!) upon learning that one’s minister, rabbi, priest, etc. was unwilling or unable to perform a same-sex ceremony.
Provided that you are able to enjoy a religious ceremony should you wish to have one, make sure you understand what the ordained officiant will require of you before booking services; be certain that both of you feel comfortable with any requirements prescribed by the tradition in which you will exchange vows; and, make sure that your officiant will allow customizations within the wedding ritual in case you wish to add your own touches, like writing your own vows or omitting certain readings or rituals. These are details you want resolved before the date is set and invitations are printed and ready to go out!
SMALL CEREMONIES. More intimate ceremonies are popular with same-sex couples and are generally the kinds of ceremonies where friends or hired interfaith officiants preside. You can find the latter in gay-friendly vendor directories, via friend referral, or at wedding expos, and you should expect a prospective officiant to have knowledge of a range of wedding traditions and a clear policy on services offered. You can expect to pay several hundred dollars for services of this caliber, and fees may increase the more the officiant is involved in the ceremony planning. One of my favorite resources for a knowledgeable, supportive, well-trained professional officiant is through the Celebrant Foundation & Institute.
If you wish to have a friend conduct the ceremony, you’ll enjoy a symbolic advantage and easy familiarity, but it’s important to be clear on who will be writing the ceremony and what responsibilities will be involved. If there will be a small number of guests present, the intimacy and personalized touches will play well and can grow organically with little effort, but it is important to make sure that the friend/officiant is comfortable speaking in front of people and that someone (either the officiant or the couple) has a roadmap for designing the ceremony.
LARGE CEREMONIES. Here, I am sticking to the advice I offer for finding someone to officiate at a small ceremony, but will add that the stakes are much higher when considering hiring a friend versus a trained officiant. When there will be a much larger group in attendance, it is imperative to find someone who can really lead the wedding ceremony and support the couple through the ceremony.
Because the ease of intimacy in a smaller ceremony doesn’t always convey in a larger group, it must be mindfully designed and confidently implemented on the Big Day. Here, chemistry is key. I can’t stress enough that the officiant should be (or become) knowledgeable about the couple; should be knowledgeable about wedding ritual and the timing of conducting a ceremony; and, should be able to lead the ceremony in a way that conveys emotionality to support the couple while connecting the guests in attendance with the promises made and vows exchanged.
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