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?
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.
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 BillyBobJimbosReelGoodChurchOrdination.com
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.