How to Obtain a License to Officiate Marriage

Whether trying to help a desperate bride and groom in their time of need or simply wanting to take a more active role in your friend's special day, the decision to officiate a wedding can be the perfect way to help friends and give them an unforgettably personal ceremony. But before you preside over the wedding, it is important to know the laws governing marriage ceremonies in the state where the wedding is taking place and the steps it takes to become ordained.

Know the marriage laws for the state where the wedding will occur. Though on a whole, the requirements to officiate a marriage ceremony are very similar between states, you should be aware of nuanced differences. For instance, in New York, a marriage can be officiated by a city clerk of an area of more than a million inhabitants or by a former mayor, whereas such is not the case in North Carolina. In North Carolina, marriages can be performed by ministers, a district court magistrate, or other ordained religious personnel. The state's or city's health department can often be an invaluable resource in finding out marriage law specifics such as requirements to preside over a ceremony and residency information. Depending on the size of the office, much of the necessary information can be found online or you can simply call and speak to a representative.

Become ordained. Typically, the easiest way to get licensed would be to become a minister for a particular church. Becoming an ordained member of a church may not mean time in the seminary and years of study. To keep up with the growing trend of non-traditional wedding officiates, many churches now offer simple mail or online ordination applications. For a small fee, and a few minutes, a person can enter their personal information including full name, address, desired type of ordination (levels of being ordained can vary from church to church), and other relevant information. After submitting the application, it is reviewed; if approved, the person is able to conduct a marriage ceremony, provided that their credentials fulfill state laws. One of the most popular ordination destinations is the Universal Life Church (ULC), which offers would-be wedding officiates the opportunity to get ordained within a few days. According to their website, there are more than 20 million ULC ministers throughout the world.

After receiving the correct certification and ordination information, it is essential that you double-check the paperwork that is required by the state to prove your eligibility to perform the ceremony. In New York City, for instance, the Office of the City Clerk's Marriage Bureau handles marriage officiant requests. In this case, people wanting to officiate a wedding must submit an online or in-person application, provide proper identification, and pay a $15 fee. Registration is complete once the registry is signed, typically in person at the bureau's office. Once these formalities are taken care of and eligibility is verified, the officiate can proceed with the wedding, with the only requirement being that his or her take on the ceremony includes the traditional Declaration of Intent, better known as the “I Do’s.”