MoB Monday: By the Authority Vested in Me

Our resident expert weighs the pros and cons of having a friend or family member do the ceremonial honors.

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Ministers, rabbis, justices of the peace, move over! More and more couples are choosing to be married by friends or relatives who are newly ordained online or governmentally approved for the occasion.

Is it legal? Yes, indeed.

Several states and cities will designate the Marrying Sam or Samantha of your choice as an official marriage commissioner for a day.

You can also be ordained online as a minister by several religious organizations, including the Universal Life Church. It is free if you agree to the broad ethical principles. The concept was challenged in court, but the judges decided that if mass conversions by the Unification Church were legit, so were online ordinations.

Not every state agrees—Virginia doesn’t accept instant ministers, but it does grant single passes to perform weddings.

So who can perform weddings in our area?

In DC, any ordained minister can perform the ceremony. If your particular religious society is not already registered, an endorsement from a reputable citizen can be enough for the judge to grant permission to marry the couple.

In Maryland, any adult can sign as clergy as long as the couple agrees.

In Virginia, a resident can go to any Circuit Court to sign up for a one-time permit to perform a wedding.

As the mother of the bride or groom, the idea that someone other than an authority figure will be performing the wedding ceremony may seem downright sacrilegious. But I’ve discovered that there are definite advantages to the non-official officiant:

The officiant actually knows the couple. A close friend or relative can make the ceremony very personal.

The officiant represents no specific faith, venue, or ethnic tradition. When the bride and groom come from two different cultures, it can be a challenge to find a venue, an officiant, and a ritual that both families are comfortable with. The minister for a day can include both traditions or mention no faith at all, and there is no question of “my church or yours.”

The officiant has no problem with nontraditional vows. At my son’s wedding, conducted by the sister of the bride and the sister of the groom on a jogging path in Golden Gate Park, the bride promised to wear Carolina blue during basketball season.

Your up-close-and-personal officiant is also obliging in other ways. He or she won’t have a scheduling conflict, charge a fee for the ceremony, or deliver a sermon. That leaves more time and money to celebrate the happy couple.