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Complete Guide to Wedding Officiants' Legal Responsibilities

ceremony Jan 11, 2022

We were thrilled to meet leaders of American Marriage Ministries (AMM), at November’s Wedding MBA conference in Las Vegas. Celebrant Academy and AMM share many things, perhaps most important is our core belief that all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, have the right to marry. 

Second, we are both committed to setting Celebrants and Officiants up for long term success. That includes educating them on the purpose, logistics, and legality of performing wedding ceremonies. 

Yes, we’re bringing you straight to the source of the mysterious LEGAL side of performing wedding ceremonies! 

American Marriage Ministries (AMM) is a non-denominational church that ordains people online so that they can officiate weddings for friends, family, and community. Their ordination process is free, and grants full legal authority to conduct marriage ceremonies in most of the United States. Celebrant Academy always recommends consulting your state and county marriage laws to confirm recognition.

Besides continuing education, the best way to stand out in the professional officiant arena is to understand + take the necessary steps of becoming a legally recognized officiant. Therefore, ensuring your clients have legally recognized marriages!


 Jessica Levey, the Content and Artistic Lead for AMM, spoke to Celebrant Academy (CA) about the most common questions her organization receives regarding ordination. We have a great conversation about why becoming legally empowered while studying Celebrancy is one key to success:

What are my legal responsibilities as a wedding officiant? 

AMM: Most first-timers are a little murky on the specifics of their role as a wedding officiant and celebrant. They know they’ll work closely with the couple, create a script, and perform the ceremony, but the legal side of things definitely seems mysterious. To perform weddings, celebrants must: 

1. Make sure the couple has their marriage license before the ceremony 

AMM: This is a big deal. In some states, if a celebrant performs a ceremony without a marriage license present, they can be charged with a misdemeanor. That said, it’s not the officiant’s responsibility to apply for or purchase the license, just to ensure that the couple has it with them. It’s always a good idea to check the couple’s photo-IDs against the names written on the license if you’re meeting them for the first time on the wedding day.

CA: Absolutely! And every state has a different legal process for application. There can be a waiting period, as well, after couples apply, so they'll need to plan ahead. 

2. Solemnize the wedding ceremony

AMM: You’ll need to perform the ceremony of course! There are a couple things your ceremony must include – I’ll cover these in Question 3. 

3. Complete and sign the license 

AMM: Make sure the license is filled out fully and signed, including the location of the ceremony, the date, and other important details. In some counties, you’ll need to include your denomination, which can throw off non-religious celebrants the first time they encounter it. Usually, writing ‘non-denominational’ is the safest bet. Be clear on whether or not witness signatures are needed, too – some states require them, while others don’t. 

4. Return the license 

AMM: Learn the ‘return period’ in your county. All counties require a license to be returned within a set amount of time, and this varies by state. The return period can be as short as 3 days, or as long as 1 full year, depending on where you are.

In addition, you’ll need to know whether you or the couple are responsible for returning the license (this varies by state), and whether it can be returned to any county clerk in the state, or only the issuing office. All of this info can be learned by calling your county clerk directly.  

What does ordination empower me to do, legally? 

AMM: As an ordained minister/officiant, you have the right to conduct religious ceremonies and rituals of all forms. Solemnizing weddings is the only rite that involves a legal government component (completing a marriage license). It’s valuable to know, too, that your ordination doesn’t expire and won’t need to be renewed. 

CA: This is a great time to mention the difference between being an "ordained minister/officiant" vs. becoming a Celebrant. The term "Celebrant" is reserved for those who have also had formal ceremony and ritual training-- separate from ordination.

What are the legally required parts of a wedding ceremony?  

AMM: You can say whatever you want during a wedding ceremony as long as you include the Declaration of Intent and the Pronouncement. These are the familiar, “Do you take this person to be your lawfully wedded…,” and, “By the power vested in me… I now pronounce you married!” parts of the ceremony, respectively.

So, you must ask the couple if they wish to enter the marriage contract, and they must verbally declare it so. You can word this however you’d like, as long as the intent is clear. 

Once they agree, you must pronounce them married. Again, the wording is up to you, as long as the intent is clear. 

CA: This is true in most cases - however there are some states that don't require this. Also, in Quaker weddings, there is no Pronouncement, because there is no officiant. In this case, the witness's signatures record that they confirm the couple married each other. 

Wow, there really is so much to learn about the rich world of Celebrancy! Thank you for your insight, Jessica!


We always meet the smartest people at Wedding MBA who align in our #CommunityOverCompetition philosophy! Knowledge is power, and becoming legally recognized with AMM and formally trained with Celebrant Academy is going to lead to more successful decisions along your journey. 

Education and accreditation are gifts you give yourself now. Once you do, you’ll be continually rewarded with ownership and opportunity!

See more FAQ from American Marriage Ministries, and apply online to be a part of Celebrant Academy’s next Masters or Associate Celebrant cohorts!



Join the community of people who are making a living making life as a Celebrant!