What Is An Officiant?
So.... what exactly is an officiant?
officiant [ uh-fish-ee-uhnt ]
a person who is in charge of or leads a ceremony or other public event
In Colorado, your wedding officiant needs to be someone who ha the legal authority to marry couples (check out the blog post - 'Can "Anyone" Marry People In Colorado?').
Ideally, your officiant is someone who is adept at public speaking, who knows their way around Colorado's marriage laws, and who has a skill for crafting a ceremony that really represents your relationship. Sometimes you'll have a friend or family member who has all the necessary traits to be a great officiant, and sometimes it's best to hire a professional!
An officiant officiates or makes official, a ceremony such as a marriage solemnisation. They should be like a silver-service waiter, there at every moment you need them, but ultimately, unobtrusive!
1. Your officiant should deliver your request to the guests about cameras and phones (if you don't want photos of people's devices instead of their faces) with grace and perhaps humour.
2. They should be able to make sure guests understand what's happening during the ceremony, explaining cultural traditions, unity ceremonies or new elements in a wedding.
3. They should make sure to include all of the necessary points in the wedding ceremony to make it actually legal.
4. They should be able to present a relevant ceremony clearly and pleasantly. They should make sure your ceremony is appropriately toned for your guests. Sometimes you can have a saucy comment, other times it should be more PG! They should be able to make the ceremony run in the allotted time frame, as planners have a very finely tuned timeline they're working to. If your caterer needs the ceremony to run for 30 minutes, only taking 5 minutes is not a good thing! Your officiant should not be the centre of attention - this is your day, not theirs!
Can "Anyone" Marry People In Colorado?
What makes someone a 'legal' officiant?
This is a common theme on message boards all across social media in Colorado, the idea that just "anyone" can marry people in Colorado and they don't have to be ordained to do it.
Unfortunately, it's wrong.
Colorado is a unique state in that it recognises both self-uniting marriages and common law marriages, so we have many situations that require careful thought. Since marriage is probably the biggest and most important legal contract you will ever enter into, it's probably a good idea to understand what is, and is not, legal.
Disclaimer - Not only am I not a lawyer I don't even play one on tv, and nothing in this article shall be construed as legal advice! I have been an ordained minister since 2009 and have performed hundreds of weddings in Colorado and multiple US states, and am the current president of the Colorado Association of Wedding Officiants (CAWO).
First and foremost, let's look at the Colorado Statute that deals with the solemnization of marriages: Colorado Revised Statutes Title 14. Domestic Matters § 14-2-109. Solemnization and registration of marriages:
(1) A marriage may be solemnized by a judge of a court, by a court magistrate, by a retired judge of a court, by a public official whose powers include solemnization of marriages, by the parties to the marriage, or in accordance with any mode of solemnization recognized by any religious denomination or Indian nation or tribe. Either the person solemnizing the marriage or, if no individual acting alone solemnized the marriage, a party to the marriage shall complete the marriage certificate form and forward it to the county clerk and recorder within sixty-three days after the solemnization. Any person who fails to forward the marriage certificate to the county clerk and recorder as required by this section shall be required to pay a late fee in an amount of not less than twenty dollars. An additional five-dollar late fee may be assessed for each additional day of failure to comply with the forwarding requirements of this subsection (1) up to a maximum of fifty dollars. For purposes of determining whether a late fee shall be assessed pursuant to this subsection (1), the date of forwarding shall be deemed to be the date of postmark.
So what does this mean for couples getting married in Colorado?
The first thing to know is that as the couple wanting to get married, you can marry yourselves! Yes, you can perform your own wedding ceremony. You procure your marriage licence, declare that you agree to be married to each other and pronounce yourselves married, sign as the officiating parties and parties to the marriage, and return the licence to the issuing county clerk's office, and it is absolutely legal. This is known as self-solemnizing.
The catch, however, is that you can only have the two of you perform the ceremony, no third party allowed. Sometimes, for a small and intimate ceremony, a self-solemnized wedding is sweet and romantic and perfect, but once you start getting into larger weddings it does pay to have someone do the officiating for you, and it's usually better to have a professional to do the job.
Any third party who officiates a ceremony has to be a legal officiant - one of the 4 types of people listed in the statute: a current judge/magistrate or retired judge; an elected official (like the Governor) whose duties include the solemnization of marriages; an ordained member of any religious denomination; or an authority with a Native American nation or tribe.
A legal officiant, including the parties to the marriage, has the authority to solemnize a marriage in Colorado, which means you are married when the legal officiant pronounces you (or the couple pronounces themselves) married. Even if the marriage licence gets lost, or isn't filed, you have still been legally married. Completing the bottom half of the marriage licence only records that the marriage took place, it does not constitute the marriage itself.
Fun fact - Colorado does not require witnesses, so anyone can sign as a witness, even fur babies!
What's a Professional Officiant?
A professional officiant will (or should!) know the ins and outs of Colorado marriage laws. For instance, holding a "wedding" ceremony for a couple where one party's divorce isn't quite finalised yet without a licence still constitutes a marriage ceremony that can legally be considered a common law marriage, and creates a bigamy crime. Bigamy is a felony (Class 6) for the already married person, and a misdemeanour for others who knowingly facilitated the marriage. Yes, things can get very complicated!
A professional officiant should be knowledgeable about marriage licencing and how to properly obtain, complete and return a marriage licence. Since there are fines for late filings, and couples have lots of celebrating to do, it really pays to have a 'sober filer' take charge of the marriage licence after the ceremony and make sure it gets returned to the appropriate county clerk & recorder's office for filing!
A professional officiant is someone who should be able to fill in the ceremony time slot (ask your wedding planner about how precious a wedding timeline is!) with all of the elements that are meaningful to you, along with injecting your love story and personalities into your ceremony. They should hold your guests' attention, keep the ceremony moving along at the proper pace, and know what to do if something goes wrong.
A professional officiant is someone who is comfortable speaking in front of large groups. They should be prepared with a ceremony script that represents your wants for your ceremony. They shouldn't be 'winging it' or making it up as they go along, and you should be assured as to the appropriateness of the language, style and format of your ceremony.
A professional officiant should be a reliable vendor who will (barring emergency, accident or illness) actually turn up to perform your ceremony and/or rehearsal in a timely fashion. I can't tell you the number of times I have gotten calls on a Saturday morning about filling in that afternoon for a friend or family member whose plane got delayed or who got cold feet at the last minute.
Still, some couples would rather have a friend or family member perform the ceremony for them, as they feel it would be more special or personal to have someone they know and love marry them. The good news is, that this is absolutely possible! It is as simple as your loved one going online to one of the many, many sources that offer ordination, most often completely free, and it will avoid a lot of potential complications. (Please see the blog post - 'Can "Anyone" Marry People in Colorado?')
Many professional officiants also provide coaching services for friends and family members who haven't officiated before or who perhaps would like to feel more comfortable in their role, which is a good investment to ensure that your ceremony goes as smoothly (and legally!) as possible! Coaching can cover all sorts of topics, from getting ordained, to how to write a ceremony, to the parts of a ceremony that are legally required and the bits traditionally included, all the way to how to properly fill out the marriage licence and what to do after the ceremony.
Unique Unity Ceremonies!
What Are Unity Ceremonies?
Unity ceremonies are used within the wedding ceremony as an opportunity for couples to really express their personalities! Traditional unity ceremonies include lighting candles or combining colored sands, but honestly, there are so many ways to insert some fun and personality into your ceremony!
Some couples like to take a theme, such as combining two things, and create their own take on it. From glass beads that get turned into sculptures, to cocktails, to trees, a good officiant will help you put your own spin on it.
Instead of sand, you can combine different types of salts - we have access to some amazing colours and flavors of salt thanks to the internet - and create a Covenant of Salt. Combining salts from different regions can also be significant. Pink Himalayan salt and Mediterranean Sea salt brings in vivd imagery of a love that spans from the tallest mountain to the depths of the oceans. Celtic salt is often a grey colour, whereas river salts from Australia can be a deep red or brown, and you can get black lava salt from Hawaii. Finishing salts can be infused with different flavors, such as onion or garlic, herbs, lemon, or wine, and combining them can create wonderful accompaniments to meals!
Alcohol (21+) Ceremonies:
Toasting to your happiness on your wedding day can start right within your wedding ceremony! From using a Loving Cup to toast to your love in the past with strawberry champagne or honey mead, in the present on your wedding day, and also to your future!combining different wines (red + red or white + white) or beers (like a chocolate stout and a banana bread lager) to creating a signature cocktail, doing shots as a couple or an elegant champagne toast with all the guests, you can incorporate your favourite tipple, and have a lot of fun!
For some, a love of nature is an important element to add to their wedding. In addition to sustainable practises for their big day, some couples want something to grow alongside their love. A popular choice here in Colorado is planting two aspen trees together in the same pot so their roots intertwine and essentially become one tree. Others like to plant actual seeds to future into seedlings before transplanting them into the garden of their future home. For one couple, one of whom came from Utah and the other from Colorado, it meant planting blue spruce seedlings, as that is the state tree for both states, and they had their parents bring soil from their gardens to represent their childhoods, which they mixed to plant the seedling in. Another couple having a winter wedding also used an evergreen seedling ceremony and then gave out seedlings in decorative pots as wedding favors for their guests to take home and grow their own Christmas trees!
Unity ceremonies are also a perfect way to incorporate or blend cultural or religious traditions that are important to the couple, such as a Persian wedding table, or a Filipino coin ceremony. When couples have different heritages, unity ceremonies are able to bring in unique traditions to celebrate both people and honour everyone, and even a civil or non-religious ceremony can be inclusive.
Many couples have a "thing," something special they like to do together. I've conducted ceremonies for fans of baseball and football teams at their home fields, or had couples recess through arches of swords for military weddings, or tunnels of hockey sticks or baseball bats. I've made up unity ceremonies for chocolate-dipped Oreo cookies; ice cream sundaes; honey, bread & oil; and fish tanks, just to name a few!
You can also get creative, with some couples painting canvases or assembling unity crosses. Blending families offers the opportunity to celebrate coming together, with a specially made jigsaw puzzle, gifts of jewelry such as watches or necklaces, or creating homemade Christmas ornaments together.
However you choose to celebrate your union, your officiant should be a fount of information and ideas to help you make your wedding truly memorable, fun, and yours!
To Write or Not to Write - That is the Question!
Writing your own vows...
Whether or not to write your own vows is a very personal decision for each couple.
First and foremost, the couple has to be in agreement that they really do want to write their own wedding vows. If only one thinks it's a great idea and the other person would rather saw off their own arm, well, then it's best not to entertain the notion!
There are other options, such as letting your officiant pick them for you (if you're in sync with your officiant and trust them!) or selecting from a collection of already written vows. Most officiants should have a number of vow samples they can give you to see if you both like one version or another.
Starting the writing process...
Once you've decided to write your own wedding vows, how do you start?
There are a number of ways to begin to write your vows. Some couple like to write their vows as a team, and come up with a set of vows that they will both say. Others like to mix it up, and have the beginning and ending be the same, but add in their own words to the middle. Still others like to alternate lines by having the 1st, 3rd and 5th lines be the same, but writing their own for the 2nd, 4th and 6th lines.
Another approach is to sit down together and agree on a set number of values, things that are very important to them in their relationship, so they might want 5 or 6 topics for their vows, such as understanding, fun, honesty, or taking an hour each day to just be together. Whatever these topics might be, each person writes a line about each topic without sharing with the other, so that their vows are completely different, but very much aligned on length, subject and 'vibe!'
You should also take into consideration who is among your guests and keep the tone of your vows appropriate to the occasion. Your language and references should be able to be heard by people of all ages and walks of life, and shouldn't be NSFW!
What if you don't want the pressure of writing the vows but you still want to put something personal into your ceremony?
For my couples who do want to write something personal but not have the pressure of writing the actual vows, I have an option I call 'Expressions of Love' (EoL) that may be a good fit. This allows you to simply write from the heart and express how you feel to your future spouse. It can be funny, heartfelt, sweet, tender and as "you" as you can make it.
Taking into consideration font size (do you want to wear or put on reading glasses during the ceremony?), you want to be fairly concise when writing either your vows or EoL. Typically about half a page of text takes 2 - 3 minutes to read, which is a good rule of thumb to go by. Some couples may like to go beyond that, especially if they don't want to include a unity ceremony or any readings, and personal vows or EoL create a wonderfully warm and meaningful aspect to the ceremony.
I like to include my couple's vows and Expressions of Love in the keepsake printed copy of the ceremony I make for them, so I ask my couples to email me their vows, but if they are doing EoL then I ask them to email me those separately, so they don't see the other's, and that is a lovely surprise during the ceremony to hear the words for the first time from their beloved's lips. Since I usually have them, I will always print out a nice copy of the EoL/vows to tuck down the back of my large Kindle, so I can whip them out, hand them to each of the couple to be read, and collect them again afterwards, and that way, no one has to work about pieces of paper!
Parts of the Ceremony
What does a typical ceremony contain?
Wedding ceremonies are as unique as each couple, but most ceremonies do contain similar types of elements...
1. The prelude: Beginning at the start of the wedding ceremony, the officiant calls for attention, or the music changes. An option I offer couples is to have me ask guests to silence their cellphones and put away their cameras. That way the photographer isn't trying to work around guests trying to snap pictures, you don’t end up on Instagram before the ceremony’s even over, and everyone is actively present in the moment!
2. The wedding processional: The wedding party walks down the aisle. Usually the grandparents and parents process before the actual wedding party, and then the wedding party comes down, with different songs for different participants. There are a variety of processional styles you can choose from, or you may prefer a completely custom processional!
3. The opening of the ceremony & welcoming of the guests: At this point the officiant will begin the ceremony, welcoming all the guests and thanking them for attending your wedding. You may have them mention special people in your life who were unable to attend (they may have passed away, be unable to travel, be deployed overseas, etc.) or just be a general passage to say that you miss everyone who couldn’t be there.
4. Family blessing: An optional inclusion to your ceremony, the officiant asks who blesses your marriage. In the past, this was often phrased as “giving the bride away” but now we have more inclusive options! These days, it can be phrased to both sides of the wedding couple, and can incorporate responses from just parents, just the immediate families, or everyone who loves you!
5. The address: This is the point where some words from your officiant on love & marriage, or your love story can be told.
6. The declaration of intent*: Affirming that the two of you are there to get married to each other – very important!
7. A reading: These are usually wedding poems, spiritual, biblical or romantic readings that you feel represent you and your relationship. I have a number of readings, from Winnie The Pooh, to John Lennon lyrics, to modern readings and excerpts from literature that my couples can select from, or you may already have a favourite you’d like to include. Depending on the length of your ceremony, you may like just one reading, or you might want two or three!
8. The wedding vows: These can be phrased as a question & response, a stand alone paragraph that you repeat after the officiant, or reading your own vows you have written.
9. The ring exchange: Most couples exchange rings (but some couples don’t – they get matching tattoos on their ring fingers or exchange other tokens such as watches or other items) and since your hands are usually occupied with holding hands and slipping on rings, repeating after the officiant is the best way to do this.
NOTE – You can combine the vows and ring exchange into one by repeating after the officiant for a slightly longer version.
10. Performing the ceremony inclusions: This is a fun way to inject your personality into your wedding! Unity or inclusion ceremonies (such as candles, sand, wine blending, handfasting or anniversary boxes for example) can be just for the couple, or can include others, such as children, the attendants, parents, or others. There are so many ceremonies to choose from, or your officiant can help you come up with a custom one that really fits you.
11. The community vow of support: Another optional inclusion, the officiant addresses all of your guests and asks them if they will be supportive of the two of you in your marriage, and all the guests get to say “We do!”
12. Marriage blessing or wedding prayer: Closing up the ceremony with good wishes or prayers for your happy marriage.
13. The pronouncement of marriage*: The point at which you’re legally hitched!
14. The kiss: And this is the moment the photographer has been waiting for! Your first kiss as a married couple is such a highly photographed moment, so your officiant should step to the side so your photographer gets just the two of you in that iconic image.
15. The introduction of the newly married couple: Before you head back down the aisle, your officiant will introduce you so your guests can applaud you. You have many options, from the very formal to the least, and the phrasing of the introduction will depend on whether or not you are changing names. There are many who are professionally well established and do not wish to legally change their name, but are happy to be known socially by their married name. This is a preference that is entirely up to you!
16. The wedding recessional: At the end of the ceremony, the couple heads off first, followed by the wedding party, and typically the officiant will dismiss the first row of guests as well.
17. The receiving line (if desired): Although many do not do a receiving line these days, it is still an option for many.
18. Signing of the marriage licence and/or certificate: Signing the licence is recording that the marriage took place, so it is best done after the ceremony. Often we suggest that after the recessional the couple beelines straight for a designated spot, perhaps a dressing room or a quiet place away from cocktail hour, and has a few moments alone together (you might be surprised to learn that many couples don’t get any time alone together on their wedding day!) before the officiant and photographer bring in the witnesses to sign the marriage licence. Having said that, some ceremonies incorporate signing a ketubah or other document during the ceremony, so it makes sense to also sign the legal marriage licence at that point.
* Required by Colorado law