Getting hitched in the area, vacuus templum

Photo courtesy of
‘Congdon wedding’
courtesy of ‘nha.library’

When my darling then-fiancée and I finally settled on Ocean City, MD as our location for getting hitched, we had to confront the same challenge as a lot of our fellow heathens: who’s going to perform the wedding? Say what you want against tithing or organized religion, but it provides an infrastructure that can be a pain to duplicate.

Or not, if you believe the Washington Times’ article about people turning to mail-order ordainment so they’ll have an officiant for their wedding. A hop, click and a few bucks gets one of your friends or family members a certification as a minister, freeing them to perform your ceremony under the laws of Maryland.

Did you notice that I specified Maryland?

Photo courtesy of
‘Allan Spowers-Rosamund Lumsdaine bridal party leaving St. Mark’s Church, Darling Point, 1922 / Sam Hood’
courtesy of ‘State Library of New South Wales collection’

Maryland is the easy state out of our threesome; the law says nothing more about the officiant other than that they have to be “any official of a religious order or body authorized by the rules and customs of that order or body to perform a marriage ceremony.” So if you can get together a few people and declare yourself the Church of the Stinky Durian and that any practicing member is authorized to solemnize a union, hey, you just saved yourself $50.

There’s a risk to this about equivalent of getting hit by an asteroid: the statute says that if you perform a ceremony without proper authority you’ve committed a misdemeanor and there’s a $500 fine. The marriage, however, is still valid. Honestly if I knew this part now I’d be tempted to ask a friend to perform the wedding and deliberately violate the statute. How cool would it be to be able to say your marriage is unlawful but is still valid?

Virginia’s a little more complicated and D.C, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a lot more so. It’s unfortunate the Washington Times article didn’t touch on the other two regions but hey, you’ve got me.

Photo courtesy of
‘Frank Gould and wife at Helen’s wed. (LOC)’
courtesy of ‘The Library of Congress’

Virginia requires the religious officiant to be registered with the country ahead of time and pay a processing fee, along with submitting some supporting documentation from the ordaining organization. There’s no real reason to drop the money on the mail-order ordination, though, since there’s an allowance to get any old soul authorized to perform a marriage. That person is called a civil celebrant and it’s just a different form filled out with the clerk of the appropriate county. You’d get it from the the country where the marriage license is from regardless of whether the officiant is of that area. Religious registration or civil, there are of course filing fees, and they’re in the neighborhood of $25. Civil officiants also have to put up a $500 cash bond but it’s returned once the license is filed.

D.C. has no provision for a non-religious celebrant, however, and most of those mail-order ministers would probably find it a challenge getting approval. Just like Virginia, D.C. requires prior authorization. However the bar is higher: either an already authorized member of the same order has to vouch for the newbie or there’s a lot more paperwork to fill out and submit. Good luck answering these questions if you bought your ordination from

An affidavit of the applicant which details how long he/she has been in the ministry, when and where he/she conducts religious meets, the size of his/her congregation. Further, what portion of his/her time is spent in religious stewardship? In addition, what material or monetary compensation he/she receives for his/her ministry and in what other business, if any, is he/she engaged.

After that is the requirement for a notarized statement from a District resident declaring that they know the applicant to be a religious minister and a person of good moral character. So much for that Church of Satan mail-order ministry, I guess.

As for our story, if you care: In the end, my darling soon-to-be-wife and I simply found an officiant for hire in the Ocean City area and were pretty pleased with him, though he was a few kegs-worth more expensive than a $50 mail-order ordination. That’s okay, though, since we’d rather have had our friends sitting and enjoying instead of working.

Well I used to say something in my profile about not quite being a “tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy” but Tom stole that for our about us page, so I guess I’ll have to find another way to express that I am a man of many interests.

Hmm, guess I just did.

My tastes run the gamut from sophomoric to Shakespeare and in my “professional” life I’ve sold things, served beer, written software, and carried heavy objects… sometimes at the same place. It’s that range of loves and activities that makes it so easy for me to love DC – we’ve got it all.


6 thoughts on “Getting hitched in the area, vacuus templum

  1. When my husband and I got married in Arlington, we had a good friend officiate our ceremony. He had to fill out some paperwork (for a one-time marriage ceremony) and be sworn in at the Arlington County Clerk’s office. The $500 bond was returned when he turned in the marriage license paperwork after the ceremony. One important other detail: When we originally researched this (four years ago), we were told that the officiant had to be an Arlington County resident. I don’t know if this is still the case.

  2. This is one benefit of eloping. It’s too late for you, Don, but to anyone else, going to the courthouse for your nuptials and leaving 30 minutes later a married couple is just fine. Unless you are marrying your 15-year-old smoking hot cousin played by Winona Ryder in the movie of your life. In that case it’s as cool to do as adding ice to your espresso.

    But Don, should you ever need a non-religious officiant again, say for a secular baptism, bris or anything else, I’m your guy. I will do it for beer money but having to wear pants during it is an extra $25.

  3. According to the Virgina code that’s accurate with regards to non-religious celebrants, Aly.

    Ҥ 20-25. Persons other than ministers who may perform rites.

    Any circuit court judge may issue an order authorizing one or more persons, resident in the circuit in which the judge sits, to celebrate the rites of marriage in the Commonwealth. Any person so authorized shall, before acting, enter into bond in the penalty of $500, with or without surety, as the court may direct. Any order made under this section may be rescinded at any time. ”

    However the same is not true of religious celebrants, who CAN be from out of the area. They have to get cleared in each county they officiate in, but they can be non-residents. Some documentation is necessary from their ordaining organization but I imagine some of the mail order ministry operations would be able to provide it.

  4. Finding a reasonably priced, non-religious officiant in Ocean City turned out to be so hard that my mother decided she was going to become ordained online, develop several sample ceremonies with a focus on love and commitment (not God and his only begotten son) and market herself to people like Don and me. The celebrant we selected went to high school with me (completely a coincidence … we found him through an Internet search). He generally performs a ceremony more grounded in religion, but was willing to perform a ceremony that better fit our needs.

    It was also really easy to get a marriage license in Maryland. Only one of us had to be present (I just needed to know Don’s SSN). We did have to apply to in the jurisiction where we planned to marry, though. In Virginia, you can apply at any clerk of court in the state, but both people have to be present.

  5. “most of those mail-order ministers would probably find it a challenge getting approval”

    Most, but not all–I’m authorized to perform marriages in DC due to my affiliation with the mail-order World Christianship Ministries:

    I’ve performed one DC marriage, and have “endorsed” several other folks to do the same. DC does not recognize the well-known Universal Life Church, but WCM is, for some reason, considered legit.

    On the other hand, when the MrsMoonPie and I decided to make it legal, we went to the Arlington court house for the license, then walked across the street to an officiant they recommended and did the deed. I think the whole thing took 30 minutes.

  6. I got married in the District about 9 months ago, and was shocked at how difficult it was to get a non-religious officiant — we wanted one of our siblings to do the ceremony.

    After a ton of research into it, we just got legally married at the DC Superior Court a couple days before the reception, and then had the ceremony that we wanted, with our siblings presiding, a couple days later. Simple enough, I guess, but still maddening that “the state” interferes as much as it does. But hey, at least I could get married to the person I wanted to in the place where I live, unlike millions of gays and lesbians across the country…