You are getting married (yay!) and you are non-religious (rock on, free-thinker!). You probably want to have secular wedding officiant, but how do you find one? Where do you look? How can you be sure that they can legally marry you? There is a lot of misinformation, legal gray areas, and societal expectations that can complicate your search for a non-religious wedding officiant. We are going to take you through the process for choosing the perfect officiant for your non-religious wedding.
Step 1 – Discuss Priorities with your Partner
Your ceremony should reflect you and your partner. It should be an expression of your personalities, values, and should reflect your relationship and life together. Your wedding ceremony is important, though many couples treat it as a box to be checked before the party can start. If your ceremony truly is just a formality, or you have no interest in the public, performative nature of the wedding ceremony, consider a private ceremony or city hall elopement with a party afterward! But for most folks, the idea of skipping the public ceremony all together just wont fly, so let’s talk about how to make it more intentional and personalized to you!
One of the first things you should do once you are engaged is to sit down with your partner and discuss priorities for the wedding overall. During this brainstorming process, give some thought to the ceremony itself. Consider your comfort level with public speaking, do you want to read, repeat, or memorize your vows? How intimate do you want to be with your vows? Who do you want to be a part of the ceremony? Do you want to incorporate any readings, poems, or songs that have meaning to you as a couple?
Think about the experience you want to have as well as the experience your guests are going to have. Do you want everyone laughing, crying, or both? The vibe of the ceremony sets the tone for the rest of the wedding. Let your personalities shine through your ceremony.
Write down your priorities and the vibe you want to create with your ceremony and it’s on to Step 2!
Step 2 – Research Marriage Laws in Your State!
Seriously. Do not make any assumptions. Every state in the US is different, and every country is different. Unfortunately many states and countries have laws regarding who can legally perform a marriage, and often those laws exclude secular and non-religious officiants. It is important to determine how your state defines an “ordained minister” and what organizations are authorized to ordain marriage officiants.
Keep in mind that some officiants who perform non-religious or secular ceremonies are in fact ordained by a religious organization and may be religious themselves. If you are ok with that, cool, but if you aren’t, you are not alone. There is also a gray area when it comes to organizations like the Humanist Society, which technically operates as a non-theistic religious organization. It’s status as a religious organization makes it one of the more widely accepted non-religious ordaining organizations.
Where the laws get murky is that some states require you be married by one of only two options – a judge or an ordained religious leader. If you want to be married outside the courthouse, that leaves you asking a religious officiant to perform a non-religious ceremony, which they may or may not agree to.
Many states and countries do not recognize the online ordinations from organizations like the Universal Life Church. If you plan to have a friend or family member officiate, make sure it is legal where you are getting married and that they follow the proper ordination and registration procedures with the local government.
Ok, have you done all the boring legal research? Time to move to Step 3!
Step 3 – Where do you find a Secular Wedding Officiant?
You may have the answer to this question from doing your legal research. Some states are pretty clear on who is allowed to solemnize marriages, and you might be limited with where to look.
We are working to build a directory of non-religious officiants for you, but if you don’t find one in your area, here are some other places to look!
For couples in the United States, the Humanist Society celebrant directory is a fantastic resource. Being that they operate under the auspices and privileges of being a “religious organization” while also being non-theist, there is a good chance your state will recognize their officiants.
There are also Humanist & Celebrant organizations in the UK and other countries around the world, and they would be a good resource for couples interested in holding non-religious weddings that are legally recognized.
Your next stop would be to check out Wedding Planning sites like The Knot and Wedding Wire. You might have to dig a little deeper into the officiant’s bio and website to find out if they perform non-religious weddings. Do they discuss their own personal philosophy on the website? Make sure you are comfortable with it if they themselves are religious. This is a personal choice only you and your partner can make. There are lots of officiants who may be religious themselves but also are completely respectful of your choice to have a secular ceremony.
In some parts of the US and other countries, finding a secular wedding officiant may be more difficult, consider looking outside your immediate area. Many secular officiants are willing to travel to help out a couple in need!
Now take your list of possible officiants and let’s move to step 4!
Step 4 – Interviewing potential Officiants.
Hopefully you found a few folks to reach out to and interview. Now grab that list of priorities and your goals for the wedding ceremony and get on the phone. Better yet, meet them for coffee!
The most important thing is that you and your partner have nothing but good vibes about your officiant. You should feel that your beliefs are respected and confident that your officiant is on-board with your intention to have a non-religious wedding.
Be sure to talk to your potential officiants about how you want your ceremony to feel. Do you think this officiant is the best person to pull off the ceremony you have envisioned?
You may know you have met the perfect officiant right from the first email, but then again, it may take a few interviews before you find someone who “gets” you and your wedding ideas. Go with your gut, if you feel like your ideas and beliefs are not being respected, you do not have to hire them.
Found someone you want to work with? Wonderful! Let’s go to step 5!
Step 5 – Plan that Wedding!
Congrats on finding your perfect officiant, but your job is not done! Remember what I said at the beginning about the ceremony setting the tone for your wedding? Work closely with your officiant to develop a unique, authentic ceremony which represents your relationship. If your officiant also offers (non-religious) pre-marital counseling, consider doing a session or two, it really does help prepare you for marriage! But most importantly, do not leave your ceremony planning to the last minute. Often it is overlooked because it is not as glamorous or fun as the reception planning. Make it fun, make it personal, and make sure your ceremony represents you and your partner’s beliefs!
BONUS – Having a friend officiate your wedding.
Having a friend of family member officiate your wedding can be amazing and personal, and I don’t want to discourage you if that is what you always wanted. That said, you have to make sure it is legal in your state or country. In some states, your friend or family member can do a online “ordination” where they pay a fee to be ordained through organizations like Universal Life Church. ULC and other online ordinations are not always recognized by local governments, and in some places the gov requires officiants to register with the state or county before being allowed to solemnize your marriage.
Long story short, check the laws before you assume your friend can perform the marriage.
Make sure your friend is a great public speaker, totally gets your vision for the wedding, and that they are taking the responsibility seriously. Many states require more than just doing the ceremony, they have to sign legal documents and submit the marriage license, you know… important boring stuff like that! Remember that you can always include friends and family without putting the whole legal responsibility on them. Consider getting hitched at the courthouse prior to your public ceremony or hiring an officiant and having your friends assist.
Share your experience!
We would love to hear about your experience with finding a secular or non-religious vendor! Share in the comments or join the community and let’s chat! Are you looking for an officiant? Check out the Secularly Wed Vendor Directory!