The first step to hiring an officiant: deciding whether or not you want a religious service performed by an ordained priest, rabbi, or other cleric, or a civil service led by someone certified by state laws; or maybe you want both.
Start Your Search
For those marrying in the place of worship where they are already members, the quest stops there; the resident clergyperson will perform the ceremony. As soon as you get engaged, alert the staff to book a date and start any prenuptial counseling that may be required. Finding a spiritual officiant for a same-sex service can be trickier, as some religions still aren't on board. If you're gay, look to the Conservative or Reform Jewish Movement, Episcopal Church, Unitarian Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Quakers, and United Church of Christ, all of which may perform gay unions. Don't belong to a house of worship? That doesn't automatically prevent you from marrying in one, but you still may be required to attend counseling sessions, so start your search at least six months in advance (contact the religion's national headquarters for referrals to a list of churches or temples in your area). For a civil service, vendor-listing sites like Thumbtack, GigSalad, and GigMasters can help you connect with certified officiants in your area.
Conduct a Q&A
Once you've identified a potential officiant, find out how he or she structures the ceremony, whether there will be a sermon, and how much input you'll be able to have. Most officiants work from a basic blueprint they customize to the couple, allowing you to select readings, poems, and passages of scripture. Some will ask you to review and provide input on every aspect of the ceremony; others prefer to preserve an element of surprise.
Fall in Like
You're marrying your spouse, not your officiant. If you don't feel a deep, immediate connection with the person, that's not necessarily a bad thing. "Most officiants are performers to some extent, so our skill may not come across during a short meeting," says Suanne Bonan, a New York City-based interfaith celebrant with Officiant NYC. But if you strongly dislike your officiant, move on.
Religious organizations often encourage donations, while civil officiants charge a flat fee. Either way, plan to spend $250 to $600. If you're a member of the congregation, the fee will likely be waived, although it's still customary to tip. And while it's not required that you ask the officiant to the reception, it's a nice gesture.
The Different Types of Officiants
The end result will be the same—congrats, you’re married!—but these are the people who can get you there.
Priests, ministers, rabbis, Muslim qadis, and Hindu priests all perform weddings.
If you want a friend or family member to do the honors, he or she will have to get ordained. The Universal Life Church and the American Marriage Ministries offer free ordination online.
Justice of the Peace or Notary
Appointed on the state level, these officials are authorized to perform civil marriages. Most states' websites provide databases of authorized personnel.
If you're close to a judge, county clerk, lawyer, mayor, or other public servant, you may be in luck: Many are ordained to solemnize marriage. Check your state's laws to be sure your marriage will be recognized where you’re getting hitched.
In some states, a person can petition for a one-time pass to perform a marriage. Most require the would-be celebrant to take an oath in a local court and pay a small fee.