There is a growing trend among engaged couples in the United States: More and more of them are choosing a friend or family member to officiate at their wedding ceremonies, rather than a judge or an established member of the clergy. The Baltimore Sun reported that as many as 43 percent of couples who married in 2016 chose a friend or family member as their officiant.
Maryland makes this relatively easy to do. If you're asked to officiate at a friend's or a family member's wedding in Maryland, all you have to do is get ordained first. Plenty of online religious organizations will ordain you for free – you just have to pay for the official certificates.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
To officiate at a wedding in Maryland, you must be over 18. You also must be authorized by a religious organization to perform a wedding ceremony. You don't have to register with the state.
Becoming ordained in a religious organization is not as complicated as you may think. For example, the Universal Life Church will ordain you online for free; you just have to answer a few simple questions. The church recommends that you purchase an ordination package from them, which has a copy of the official minister license and other documents you may need to perform a wedding ceremony.
American Marriage Ministries (AMM) is another online service that will ordain you for free. The organization is founded on the principle that people should be free to choose whomever they want to solemnize their marriage. Like the Universal Life Church, AMM recommends you purchase an ordination package from them.
As simple as it is to get ordained, it's not a step you want to skip. If you officiate at a wedding in Maryland without the authority of a religious organization, you could be fined $500. Granted, the couple's marriage will still be valid, but even buying a full package from an online religious organization is much less expensive than the statutory fine.
If you get ordained online and order an ordination package, allow at least a few weeks before the ceremony to receive it. While you may want these official certificates for personal reasons, they aren't required. You don't have to show any certification to anyone to officiate at a wedding in Maryland, nor do you have to register with the state as clergy before you can serve as an officiant.
Performing the Ceremony
The couple is responsible for obtaining a marriage license before the ceremony, and you can't hold the ceremony until 6 a.m. on the second day after the license was issued. As the officiant, check the dates carefully to make sure everything's in order.
Remind the couple beforehand about this brief waiting period to avoid any problems. The days leading up to a wedding can be pretty frantic, but getting the license on time is definitely something that can't be overlooked or put off to the last minute. The couple can also get the license well in advance of the wedding, since the ceremony can take place anytime within six months of the license's issue date.
There are no legal requirements for how you conduct the marriage rituals, no magic words you have to say. The vows and other parts of the ceremony are entirely up to the couple.
Filing the License
As soon as possible after the ceremony is over, meet with the couple to complete the license. You'll fill out the date of the ceremony, along with the city or town where the wedding was performed. Then you'll sign the license and provide your official title and office, along with a mailing address.
There are three copies of the license. Tear off the top copy and give it to the couple. The bottom white copy is for your records. Fill out and sign the middle green copy. The couple should have the envelope that was provided when they got their license. Place the green copy in this envelope along with your printed name, address and phone number. This is just in case the clerk's office has any questions or needs to clarify anything. You can enclose a business card if you have one. Mail the envelope to the clerk's office within five days of the ceremony. If the couple has misplaced the envelope, you can always take the copy down to the clerk's office and file it in person.
- The People's Law Library of Maryland: License & Officiation
- Prince Georges County Clerk of the Circuit Court: To Clergy
- The Baltimore Sun: The New Normal – Friends, Family Presiding at Weddings
- Universal Life Church: Maryland Marriage Laws
- American Marriage Ministries: Marriage License Requirements in the State of Maryland
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images