What constitutes a legal marriage?
We've all seen depictions of weddings on television and in the movies. The bride (or groom) has a change of heart at the last minute and two of the guests suddenly realize that they want to spend the rest of their lives together, and since there's a "preacher" already there, they step up and get married instead. Or somebody's dying and the ambulance driver "just happens to be" an ordained minister and marries the couple as one of them breathes their last. There's a perception that those who are legally recognized as being able to perform weddings have a magical power to pronounce people married. And that if the words "I do" are absent, somehow it's not a "real" marriage. My favorite television presentation had Jim Belushi as the brother-in-law of a bride who found out after the ceremony that the minister had been "defrocked". He quickly went online to get ordained and tricked his sister-in-law and her new husband into saying "I do" as he sang a blues number with the band.
In most, if not all, states, what counts is not the ceremony itself, but the signature of the officiant and two witnesses on a marriage license that has been obtained from a county courthouse or town hall. In some states, (not Nebraska!) an officiant isn't even necessary, just an "intention" to marry, along with the signatures of the witnesses. It's all about the paperwork!
Who may legally perform a wedding ceremony?
Most jurisdictions spell out who may perform, officiate or solemnize a marriage. Usually an ordained minister or a judge. In Nebraska it does not matter what group has ordained the officiant and there is no requirement that the officiant have his or her own church. Online ordinations (usually by the Universal Life Church) are recognized. There is no requirement in any of the states where Beyond Illusion Wedding Officiants have performed weddings to preregister or otherwise be approved by any government body. Ship's captains, unless otherwise empowered to officiate - cannot perform weddings!
There is of course a big difference between who is legally permitted to officiate at a wedding and someone who will do a good job with the ceremony. Many people opt to have a family member or friend who happens to be ordained (or got ordained specifically for their wedding) officiate at their wedding, while this may have sentimental appeal, you will lose out on the many ways that years of officiating experience will enahance your wedding day. If you're just looking for someone to sign the papers and say a few words so you can get on with the reception, (or get back to work) then it doesn't really matter, but if you want something more, than you'll want to consider a few other options:
- If you are looking for someone who you consider a minister in the traditional religious sense who will bless your marriage according to your religious beliefs, then you probably want to find someone who shares your faith and who feels comfortable in that role. Most people in this position are already part of a faith community and have someone at hand.
- On the other hand, if what you want is a ceremony that is more personalized, but that has the same impact as a "traditional" service, then you'll want to look at things like experience, appearance, confidence and how comfortable you are with that person.