The wedding ceremony is the kick off to the entire wedding day. Without it, there wouldn’t be anything to celebrate. Meaningful ceremonies can be simple and straightforward or they can be elaborate including elements like readings and rituals. Having family and friends take part in the ceremony is a wonderful way to include those who are most important to you. There is even a trend towards having a family member or friend officiate the wedding ceremony.
Along with this trend, are requests from couples who wish to have me present to “just sign the papers” while their beloved Uncle Phil officiates the ceremony. What they do not realize is that this is illegal in the Province of Ontario. Many couples (and sadly, uninformed officiants), believe that the legal part of the marriage ceremony boils down to the signatures on the marriage license but this is not true. It is illegal for anyone other than the person with the legal authority to perform certain components of the marriage. This includes the Declaration of Intent (legal part of the ceremony where we have the couple state that they have come willingly and freely to be married), the Marriage Vows and the Declaration of Marriage.
When I receive a request like this, I am happy to co-lead the ceremony with a family member who can share in the opening words, introduce the readings or rituals and who can give the closing words. They can even help with the exchanging of rings since this is not a legal part of the ceremony. However, having Aunt Beth pronounce you married is illegal.
I recently read on a public Facebook page that the bride’s officiant was “just there to sign the papers” and that the guests didn’t even know she was there. She essentially blended in with the background. The bride shared that this is totally okay as long as the officiant is present. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether your officiant is an ordained minister or a clerk designated officiant or a Judge or a justice of the peace, they have to perform the legal parts of the ceremony. This is non-negotiable. Do not risk the validity of your marriage in order to have your cousin perform the ceremony.
Sadly, there are many people who think that the officiant’s role is to say a few words and sign some papers when in fact, your officiant should be familiar with the Marriage Act, should be designated by a reputable church, organization or township and should be in good standing. Choosing your officiant is so much more than surfing the net and picking someone off of Kijiji claiming to be a marriage officiant.
Here are my tips for brides and grooms seeking a reputable Officiant:
- Contact the officiant’s governing body to make sure they are an officiant in good standing and have the legal authority to perform marriages in your province. An authorized officiant should have no issues with sharing the contact information of their governing body. If you are concerned, simply call the Office of the Registrar to inquire about the validity of the person performing your marriage.
- If your officiant gives the option of ‘just being there to sign the papers’ while Aunt Vera performs the ceremony, get thee to another officiant fast. Do NOT engage with an officiant who is offering illegal services.
- Your marriage license must be dated and signed at the time of the Declaration of Marriage. You cannot sign the papers ahead of time just to omit that “boring” part of the ceremony. This, too, is illegal. The legal documents must be signed after the couple has been declared married by the officiant and dated for the day the legal marriage took place. If I am asked to perform a marriage ceremony in Quebec, I will perform a legal marriage ceremony the day before in Ontario. The couples comes to me with their Ontario marriage license and two witnesses and the legal portions are completed. I am asked if I can date the papers with the date the ceremony in Quebec will take place. I cannot. The couple can then choose if they wish their anniversary to be the day they became legally married or the day they had the full ceremony and exchanged rings.
- Who can perform marriages? An officiant who is technically an ordained minister CANNOT perform a civil, non-religious ceremony while clerk-designated officiants (like me), Humanists, judges and justices of the peace CANNOT perform religious ceremonies. If your officiant has the authority to perform marriages by ordination, it is illegal for them to offer civil marriages. I am not legally allowed to use the word “God” for example in my ceremonies as religious/ spiritual ceremonies belong to those who are clergy. When a couple wants a religious ‘feel’ to their ceremony, I refer them to my colleagues who are ordained ministers.
- Be wary of officiants who bend the law, find loop holes and do not respect the guidelines and legalities outlined by the Office of the Registrar and in The Marriage Act.
Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life. The ceremony should be one of the best parts of the day. There is more to creating and leading a beautiful ceremony than just getting up and reading words pulled from the internet. I spent eight months studying to become certified as a Life-Cycle Celebrant and specialize in the creation and delivery of meaningful, personalized ceremonies. Make sure you have an officiant who is qualified, authorized and skilled at providing a ceremony that not only fulfills the legal requirements but leaves you and your guests feeling as though a threshold has been crossed. Leave this part of your day in the hands of a professional so that you can rest assure your ceremony is legal and valid and so Aunt Vera can sit back and enjoy the celebrations with everyone else. However, if your loved one is your dream officiant, then have the legal part done ahead of time so that they can do whatever they wish for the ceremony knowing that they are not unintentionally performing tasks they are unauthorized to do.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Service Ontario’s website for more information on getting married in Ontario HERE