Secular Officiants in DC?

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Topic: Secular Officiants in DC?

PoPville August 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Secular Officiants in DC?

Dear PoPville,
My fiance and I have been trying to research if there are ways to have a friend officiate our wedding next fall.  My research has lead to discouraging results regarding the actual opportunities of having a secular wedding (and NOT using a stranger) in DC. Also, if we chose a “close to secular” route, I’ve heard mixed reviews regarding online ministry services being accepted in the DC area. The DC marriage bureau seems to require that a member of the same ministry, who is already registered in DC, vouch for our chosen person. Does anyone have recent experience or advice? Any ULC minister volunteers for such a thing?
Or, does anyone have alternative suggestions.  We have a lovely venue selected, so we would prefer not to just use the courthouse option, if we can avoid it.  We have time to explore alternatives, and would love your thoughts.
many thanks!

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Contact the Ethical Society.  They are a “humanist religion.”  I am not a member, but from what I understand, they have many of the trappings of a church but without god.  We were married in Seattle and hired an officiant from a branch there.  They were very nice and it worked out great.  The service was beautiful, and our religious relatives didn’t even notice that it was a secular wedding 🙂

When my sister got married last summer, she had two friends she wanted to officiate. DC does make the officiant process difficult, so rather than going through that, she just got officially married at the courthouse and then had her friends officiate the ceremony at the wedding. They were legally married by the court, but it worked for them. And for what it’s worth, DC actually is pretty efficient with the courthouse marriage ceremony. It’s not a beaurocratic headache like some other things in DC and I think the ceremony at the courthouse only took 15 minutes or so.


My wife and I wanted to have two friends of ours marry us.  After researching, we were officially married at the courthouse on a Thursday last November.  It was an (awesome) small ceremony with just our immediate families.  We then had the full wedding on Saturday, officiated by our two friends.  The official marriage was very personal, then we worked our way up to the full marriage as friends and family arrived and joined us for the rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, and finally the big wedding.  I totally recommend it.


My wife and were married by AC Warden of Capital Ceremonies. She was awesome, had tons of ideas, and created a very personal, tailored, and totally secular ceremony for us. We received tons of compliments on the ceremony, from both the areligious and religious members of our family.

We ran into the same issue when we got married last October. We’re both basically atheists and didn’t want any sort of religious connotations to our ceremony. We had a friend we wanted to have marry us, but DC requires that you have to be certified by a religious institution.  And they don’t recognize the Universal Life Church like many jurisdictions do. 
While I’m not religious, I am pretty old-fashioned and wanted to legally get married on the same day we were getting married in front of our family and friends.  Basically, I wanted my marriage license to have the same date as our ceremony.  I also really wanted to get married in DC since we both live and work here AND we recognize same-sex marriage.  But DC makes that virtually impossible if you’re not willing to use a “religious” officiant.  So we had to make a concession…our solution was to have our friend become a registered officiant in Virginia where it’s easy to do (Virginia is for lovers!), we got up a little early the day of our wedding and meet him and his wife (she was our witness) at the Netherlands Carillon, and performed a short yet sweet, intimate ceremony while we looked across the Potomac River at our beautiful city.  No one but the four of us ever knew about it, but it ended up being a really great decision for us since it took a lot of stress out of the day. 
Anyways, this ended up being a long explanation, but it’s basically the same story as all the others.  There doesn’t seem to be a way to have a friend officiate in DC so you have to either have go to the courthouse beforehand, hop across the river and have your friend marry you beforehand, or have a recognized officiant perform the ceremony. It’s unfortunate, as progressive as DC is about who can get married, they aren’t progressive about who can marry you. Strange irony.
This recent story on WAMU documents the same experience and my same conclusions:

My husband went through the process 2 years ago so that he could marry our best friends.  He is “official” in DC now so he can marry anyone.  It is a long process, lots of paperwork, and it takes patience, but if you want your friend to marry you it can be done!  If you want more info email me kstobies at hotmail.

I went the same route 3 years ago. There were too many hoops to jump through to get our friend ordained and DC didn’t recognize online routes, so we had a registered reverand meet with us and did 3 hour-long sessions with her for her to feel comfortable signing our marriage license. On the day of the wedding, she was in attandance at just the ceremony and signed the actual license, but our friend conducted the ceremony. Her name was Rev. Julia Jarvis, she works out of the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington (Takoma Park).

thanks everyone for these diverse and very interesting options!  it’s given us a lot to explore.  I hope people keep posting their experiences and I hope to have a successful follow up to post one day too!

@lorierin, that sounds like a great Plan B for us? How much did it cost to have her sit in and sign after? We’ve been looking into getting pre-marriage counseling so that might be perfect. Does she have any requirements with the couple having to be religious?

I just wanted to add an update — I took the advice of lorierin and contacted Julia Jarvis ( and she is AWESOME 🙂 We’re going with a co-led ceremony (my dad and Julia will both officiate) and we’ve just been super happy with the process. Additionally, she does pre-marriage counseling and I would highly recommend it.

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