Mawwiage. Can I get in trouble for performing a wedding without a license?
July 3, 2009 4:21 PM   Subscribe

Can I get in trouble for performing a wedding without a wicense? I would not sign the wedding certificate or any other paperwork. Just "perform".

I am a divorced atheist permanent-bachelor who dislikes the institution of marriage and is bored at weddings, but have been asked to perform a wedding tomorrow in the state of Michigan.

A friend of a friend of a friend is getting married tomorrow because the military is sending them overseas. They will get married at a Justice of the Peace at a courthouse. That will make them completely married.

Immediately after that in a private home, with a few guests present, they want a ceremony that looks and sounds traditionally religious in mainstream American culture. They are barely religious themselves. Unable to find a Christian minister on one day's notice who would work on the Fourth of July, they started asking around for anyone with "the barest superficial veneer of religiosity". My friend thought of me for the following reasons:

(1) I graduated from Bible college. Granted, it was with an art degree. That's good enough for them, because I memorized so much scripture when I was a Christian, so I can make sure the words are right. Whenever I talk about how much I dislike my religious background, I include copious references to actual scripture passages.

(2) I have an excellent voice and am good at public speaking. I can look very conservative, when I want to. I played Brad in a stage adaptation of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I balked at first, but my friend said it's an acting job, like hiring a clown for a child's birthday party. "Performing a wedding" will have an emphasis on "perform".

If I do this, I will not include "by the power invested in me" because there isn't any. The bride, groom, and all guests know all the facts about me, so it is not deceptive in any way. I would not sign the marriage certificate or any other paperwork claiming to have any governmental validity. I've never heard of anything like this, and I only have one day to find out: Can I still get in trouble? Would I only get in trouble if I charge money for the "performance"?
posted by Matt Arnold to Law & Government (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're fine. Enjoy the wedding.
posted by wfrgms at 4:27 PM on July 3, 2009

People renew their vows all the time without any problems. They'll already be legally married by the time you provide the pageantry, and lots of couples have more than one "wedding ceremony" without any problems. As long as you're not holding yourself out to be a minister of religion or an authorised celebrant, I can't see any problems.
posted by Lolie at 4:29 PM on July 3, 2009

If I do this, I will not include "by the power invested in me" because there isn't any.

Don't know if you will get in trouble for doing the ceremony, but I would exclude this too since it is properly " the power vested in me", not invested.
posted by murrey at 4:29 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

No problem. Have fun!
posted by rtha at 4:34 PM on July 3, 2009

I think you should include the "by the power vested in me..." portion, as there isn't any & would be a nice counterpoint to the whole arrangement. But yeah - have fun with it!
posted by torquemaniac at 4:47 PM on July 3, 2009

right. Justice the guy who is leagally doing the marriage in conforming to the state's laws. You are , as noted, acting. Why, I wonder, can ship captain's do weddings on boats (no state laws pertain?) ?
posted by Postroad at 4:49 PM on July 3, 2009

You can think of yourself as master of ceremonies. Look over the script and see if there's anything specific that seems inappropriate to your role; if you find anything, adjust it.
posted by wryly at 4:54 PM on July 3, 2009

I'm a JP. You can do whatever you like. As long as you and the couple don't try to pass any of it off as "legit" (like paperwork etc) then you are totally fine no matter what kind of serious lines you have. They are just lines and you're really just a clown at their birthday party.

Have fun, doing weddings is great.
posted by teishu at 5:00 PM on July 3, 2009

Some friends of mine found out after the fact that the priest who married them wasn't licensed in the state where they were married. Since the couple in question know that you're not legit and they're getting married officially by a licensed justice of the peace, I think you're okay.

As for my friends, I got myself licensed and performed their marriage a couple of months later.

If you end up enjoying the ceremony, why not get yourself licensed?
posted by sciencegeek at 5:05 PM on July 3, 2009

Go ahead and use the "power vested in me" line. Because the power has been vested in you by the couple, and by extension everyone else at the ceremony who's appreciating what you've done. They've taken care of the legal mumbo jumbo. Your job is to say that for you, and for everyone gathered, and for the couple themselves, that this is a totally cool thing that they're doing, and you're all behind it 100%.
posted by Ookseer at 5:21 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't see how this is any different from play acting. They're already married. Just because you say words that happen to be magic words in SOME circumstances, they are not magic words in THIS circumstance, so it is OK to say those words.
posted by amethysts at 6:13 PM on July 3, 2009

Postroad: Why, I wonder, can ship captain's do weddings on boats (no state laws pertain?) ?

It's a myth.
posted by mkultra at 6:38 PM on July 3, 2009

Yeah, you'll be fine. No one's going to break down the door to check on your cred.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:00 PM on July 3, 2009

No worries, as long as you let the JP do his thing with the paperwork. The happy couple can do anything they like as long as that aspect of it is handled within the law. There's no real reason to prevent them from having as many ceremonies as they like, as it turns out. I've heard of couples having "rededication ceremonies" after particularly rough patches where they basically take their vows again. Whatever floats their boat. The state only cares that some with recognized legal authority is responsible for the initial paperwork. After that, you're on your own.

Ookseer is wrong about the vesting of power--the power referred to here derives from the church and/or state, those being the two institutions which regulate marriage in our culture--but it really doesn't matter. Someone with valid authority will have already performed the marriage, so the only negative consequences of you using the line will be that you know it technically isn't true. But if you don't care, no one else will either.
posted by valkyryn at 8:28 PM on July 3, 2009

We (ensignlunchmeat and I) actually had a friend do exactly this at our wedding. (7/07/07. Happy anniversary, baby.) There was no problem, and the three of us were the only folks to know it wasn't completely legit, though a nosy aunt was pretty suspicious. Have fun!
posted by thebrokedown at 6:26 AM on July 4, 2009

They will already be married, so perhaps you could tweak the vows to say you are Celebrating the marriage, and instead of pronouncing them husband and wife, you could Present them as husband and wife. (or husband and husband, etc.) Honesty is a good start to marriage.
posted by theora55 at 8:00 AM on July 4, 2009

Not totally unrelated, I had friends who used the wedding vows from The Princess Bride as part of their ceremony. They didn't tell the officiator, who therefore played it straight in her delivery. My friend and I weren't in on the joke either. When we heard the phrase "Marriage is what brings us together" my friend and I, who were in the back row, started cracking up causing people to look at us like we'd lost our minds. Afterward the happy couple was glad that at least someone in the audience got the joke. YMMV
posted by IndigoSkye at 9:33 AM on August 2, 2009

I find it odd that so many MeFi commenters said "Enjoy the wedding", or "If you enjoy it, why not think about getting licensed?" Reading comprehension problems, much?

Here's the followup.

When asked what denomination I was, my friend told them "he was trained Baptist, but now he's more ... Unitarian Universalist." That's one way to put it. I should remember that one.

My gf worked very hard the night before to put together a setting complete with an altar, unity candles, a humongous Bible with side-by-side English and Greek translations, and a lovely printed manuscript of the ceremony for a memento. She wrote the ceremony, and pasted a printed copy inside a black notebook for me to glance at, since I lacked any time to memorize my lines. I wore a black suit and white turtleneck.

I would like to live in a world in which prayer and encouragement is never a paid acting performance. I didn't want to encourage a young couple that they are doing the right thing, when every evidence available to statistics and brain science tells us they are making a mistake. Let us be clear about for whom this is a mistake. This couple were teenagers, and included all the hormonally-driven "forevers" and "onlies" that more experienced couples leave out of their ceremonies. But it's their lives to live as they choose.

I was worried that I would feel terrible; that it would be the most desperate and grasping thing I've ever done for money. In other words, I felt like one must feel when preparing to appear in one's first porn film. If porn stars can do it, I have no cause to demur. Yes, I said; I will draw from porn stars' strength of determination, learn from their example, and set aside these silly qualms. I will not Hoekstra.

I did not dwell on it while it was happening. I just went with the flow. I kept my mouth shut as much as possible before and after. I was thanked and praised to the skies by clients and their families who were thrilled to tears. Then I hopped in the getaway car and put it out of my mind for several days. The back of my mind is constantly aware that there is video, which might appear on YouTube and come back to haunt me. If I make a habit of presiding over the downfall of beautiful relationships every day, I would experience emotional corrosion quickly. I take comfort that perhaps weary porn stars and reluctant wedding officiants might be the Yin to each other's Yang on some weird karmic scale.
posted by Matt Arnold at 1:53 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

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