Hiring a Wedding Officiant for your New York Elopement
You’ve made your decision, you’re going to get married in New York City! Hurray!
As an elopement photographer for couples who are often coming from abroad, I often find myself in the role of helping couples through the process of getting married in New York and helping them find other quality vendors so they can have the best possible experience.
No matter what kind of wedding you’re having, a tiny elopement or a big affair, there are four things you actually need to have to get married in New York.
- You and your spouse to be!
- A marriage license, applied for 24 hours beforehand. Yes, you do actually need to have that pesky paperwork if you want to make things legal.
- A witness. In New York you have to have one witness over the age of 18. You can have two if you like, but one is required. (I’m always honored and happy to be a witness free of charge!)
- An officiant. In New York state you have to have a licensed officiant to perform the ceremony and sign off on the paperwork.
This post is all about number four, your wedding officiant. If you’re getting married at City Hall, you can skip this part. They’ve got this handled for you. However, if you’re considering getting married outside the clerk’s office, you will need to find your own New York wedding officiant. (If you’re not sure, check out this post about Where to Elope in NYC for the pros and cons of a City Hall Wedding) Over the years I have worked with tons of great officiants and am always happy to provide clients with a list of some of my favorites.
Do you need to hire a wedding officiant in NYC?
If you’re planning on getting married outside the clerk’s office, you’ll need someone to marry you. Some people are afraid of this process, but it’s really quite simple. Officiants can make the ceremony as personable or as quick as you like, they can help you through all the paperwork you’ll need to get married in NYC, and they can make the process super easy!
If you have a friend or family member who has been ordained online, is actually clergy or who is a judge they can of course perform the ceremony. However, for many couples it can be nice to have an officiant who knows the process in NYC, is familiar with the paperwork and knows how to file it properly. They can also help you with any questions you may have and of course excel at giving a ceremony in front of a crowd or just the two of you, whichever you prefer.
Does a wedding officiant in NYC have to be religious?
Nope! That’s totally up to you. If you’d like a religious ceremony, there are officiants who can do that. If you prefer a secular ceremony, that’s great too! Officiants in New York can marry you inside or outside, in a religious venue or in a city park. The great part about eloping or getting married in NYC is you can get married wherever you like; from the top of Rockefeller Center to the Staten Island Ferry.
Many officiants can incorporate religious elements if desired, but it’s not a requirement for a wedding ceremony unless you chose to do so.
Will my wedding officiant support my LGBTQ wedding?
Any officiant I work with or recommend will always be accepting of all couples. I make sure to vet all vendors first to make sure they are supportive of all backgrounds so you don’t have to.
Does your officiant love to work with large or small weddings?
Some officiants love to play to a huge crowd, others more often work with tiny ceremonies. Set up a call or email with any officiants you’re interested in and you can get a feel for what kind of environment they prefer. Most are happy to work with any couple regardless.
Who should we hire for our wedding officiant in NYC?
I’m glad you asked! Having photographed elopements for nearly a decade and weddings since 2007 in NYC, I have lots of experience working with a ton of different officiants in the city. I’ve interviewed a few of my favorite below and included a list of others who I think are outstanding as well.
How did you get into being a wedding officiant? My very first foray into the field was in 2002 when my sister and her then fiancé, now husband, came to NYC and decided they wanted to elope. It seemed as if their options were limited to “City Hall” or a religious institute and neither seemed quite right. So we decided to make something up ourselves that would be playful and fitting for the two of them. We actually found a friend of a friend who was a judge to do the official paperwork, but I officiated the ceremony that friends would attend – and this is when I realized how important personalization is for this important milestone. It was so much fun writing and creating that ceremony and definitely was when the seed was first planted. Six years later my husband and I got married and we were faced with the same conundrum. We knew where we wanted to get married, and had the date set, but found it really hard to find someone to do it! We did find someone lovely, at the very last minute, but it definitely got me curious. Why was this so difficult? So a little deeper exploration led me to find the Celebrant Foundation & Inst., where I first studied the art & history of ritual & ceremony, and then took the course in Wedding Celebrancy and have been marrying beautiful couples ever since. (I have since taken the Funeral Celebrancy course as well, and my lifecycle milestone ceremonies range from birth to death).
How long have you been a wedding officiant? Officially since 2010, with a little dabble in 2002 when the seed was first planted.
What is your favorite part about being a wedding officiant? Getting to know the couples during the lead up to the big day. Learning about them as individuals, as a couple, what they want for their ceremony, and very importantly learning about their love story.
Do you have any favorite or unique places you officiated weddings for couples in NYC? Well I think the wedding I did “in motion” on the F train – “to the end of the line” – out to Coney Island will always be a favourite, that really was a special one. But I also love the cozy spots in Central Park, like Wagner Cove if it’s just the couple with maybe a couple of guests, and Ladies Pavilion & Cop Cot are also beautiful spots for a bigger wedding party. Central Park in general definitely seems to be a favourite location for elopers from overseas. It’s very romantic, but also simple and unfussy, and all the decor comes from nature which I love. I also love doing “guerilla style” covert weddings once in a while – like under a favourite tree in the Botanic Gardens or in a museum.
What is your best piece of advice for couples getting married in the city?
– Be sure to get your marriage license at least 24 hours before you get married, and try to get to the City Clerks office before they open. (And if they are from overseas, to take into consideration getting their “extended form license” the next day!)
– Some spots are better for photos than the actual ceremony. Gorgeous backdrops are often going to be very crowded and noisy (think Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn Bridge itself, Pebble Beach in DUMBO, Top of the Rock, and the High Line)… if you want your guests to hear the ceremony, it’s best to pick somewhere quiet, then go on a photo shoot to those locations, just you and the photographer, because these spots really are very photogenic. Having said that, if it’s just the couple, we can usually get away with it.
A More Perfect Union
How did you get into being a wedding officiant? I became a wedding officiant because a good friend of mine from grad school asked me to officiate her wedding. I said no at first, but she kept asking and wore me down! It was such a magical experience that I started the ordination process the very next day!
How long have you been a wedding officiant? That first ceremony was in 2010, so 8 years ago. It took me about 2 years to fully step into my calling and change the course of my career.
What is your favorite part about being a wedding officiant? There are two things I love. One is being able to go on this amazing journey with each and every couple. It’s a very humbling experience to be invited in and be able to tell their personal stories. And the other is when I pronounce the couple MARRIED! It’s not only a huge legal step, it’s an emotional one, as well.
What are some of your favorite or creative/unique elements that couples have added to their ceremonies? I love creating and making cocktails as a Unity Ceremony. Each of the ingredients symbolize something important or meaningful for the couple, I then shake or stir it and the couple drinks! I also had to opportunity to play with smell a few years ago. We burned some small cauldrons filled with copal and cedar, known for their cleansing properties and circled the guests to create a sacred space for the couple.
How did you get into being a wedding officiant? In college and graduate school, I never imagined that I would ever become a professional wedding officiant. Then love inspired me. I fell in love. While I became a wedding officiant after I married, my love evolved, strengthened, and led me to performing wedding ceremonies. In other words, steadfast affection and desire opened me to new adventures and feelings. I learned more about my spouse, others, and myself. And I learned that I love learning about the varieties of love and its expressions. As a wedding officiant, I am able to immerse myself in diverse environments with diverse couples who are finding their ways to experience love.
How long have you been a wedding officiant? Since June 2008, I have enjoyed the honor and joy of officiating weddings. I believe the “number” is around 2000 weddings and vow renewals now.
What are some of your favorite or creative/unique elements that couples have added to their ceremonies? Incorporating anecdotes, background, quotes, poems, and personal vows are the new traditions. These are the spoken elements that contribute to a tailored, custom marriage ceremony. I’ve also witnessed partners surprise each other with songs, poems, and even a mid-ceremony costume change. Sometimes, the unspoken cues and tokens are even sweeter. Gestures and clothes — the visual and the physical — creatively convey deep affection and connection.
Is there anything couples should know about you before hiring you to officiate their wedding? I think trust and hope are immensely valuable. Partners must trust themselves and each other first and foremost. Everyone makes mistakes, and perfection is a beautiful yet stressful, elusive, ever-shifting ideal to pursue. Wrapped in safety and hope, though, individuals grow. If couples trust, they know themselves. They can identify true needs and wants. I think this makes choices easier. They are able to gauge the style of an officiant and whether they feel comfortable overall with that person officiating.
Common Ground Ceremonies
How did you get into being a wedding officiant? I was on a spiritual journey and became an ordained interfaith minister in 2007. When my friend found out I was ordained, she asked me to officiate her wedding. We were both 8 months pregnant at the time (yes, 2 beach balls) but I fell in love with it. When Marriage Equality was passed in NY, it affirmed my decision to continue because of my personal ties to the LGBTQ community.
How long have you been a wedding officiant? I started officiating in 2010 and have married more than 1,000 couples…woo hoo!!
What are some of your favorite or creative/unique elements that couples have added to their ceremonies? I am from a multicultural/multifaith family so I am down to celebrate and highlight anything!! For me, the writing of personal vows is the “magic” to making any ceremony unique. On occasion I get to perform some cool unity ceremonies like a celtic hand wrapping or a garland exchange (for example). I also love to assist in finding readings that really match the couple’s style and personality.
What is your best piece of advice for couples getting married in the city? Keep it simple! You can have the most magical wedding experience when you keep your plan simple. Hire professionals who know how to support you in having the “best day ever”. All you need is an amazing photographer and officiant if you are planning to elope!
Is there anything couples should know about you before hiring you to officiate their wedding? Every marriage is unique and so is every wedding. I love to create personal, love-infused ceremonies that truly highlight what makes each couple awesome and unique.
Other Wedding Officiants in NYC I Love:
Daniella VillaRamos and Karla Villar from Once Upon a Vow, both bilingual in Spanish and English.
Reverend D for those looking for a more offbeat vibe