12/20/2011 02:31 am ET | Updated Feb 18, 2012

How To Have Your Friend Successfully Lead Your 'I Do's'

The wedding ceremony is my favorite part of the whole deal. It's why everyone is supposedly gathered -- to witness your vows to one another. I work with mostly same-sex couples and I've had a bunch of them express interest in being married by a friend or family member rather than be declared legally married by a stranger. There's definitely some value to this and it can work great -- or it can be a hot mess!

See, many states will authorize a specific person to perform legal marriages on a specific date. I call it a "day pass." There is typically a nominal fee and some light paperwork required for the privilege. It often takes 60 or more days to process the application but it's totally legit.
Other states don't have that option but, hey, just about anyone can get ordained online and then perform the marriage in person. The most common online "church" is the Universal Life Church but there's also Open Ministries and a few others (and yes, even though they are "churches" most allow you to officiate same-sex marriages).

If you go this route, choose the right person for the job! Make sure you choose someone who is comfortable speaking in front of a large group. For some reason, teachers seem uniquely suited. Here are some other tips if you choose to have your friend officiate your wedding:

Decide who is writing the ceremony script. You may have someone in mind who is a great public speaker but not necessarily the best writer. Decide who's in charge of the writing then get armed with tons of sample ceremonies, readings and vows from which to find inspiration.

Be prepared to hand over the responsibilities of a professional officiant. This includes coordinating with the musicians and ceremony venue and running the wedding rehearsal. And if your friend-as-officiant doesn't have the time or inclination for this, then make sure you hire a wedding planner cause someone's got to do it!

Be sure to make arrangements for a sound system. I always recommend a sound system if the ceremony has more than 75 guests (or 50 if outdoors). This is something often provided by a professional officiant or a church but if you have neither, then you have to arrange this on your own or through your DJ or band.

Warn your guest officiant that this isn't a toast. They should definitely add in personal anecdotes but keep them clean, be appropriate, professional-acting and well behaved.
Ask your guest officiant to speak slowly. Guest officiants have a tendency to get nervous and zip right through a marriage ceremony. Remind the officiant to take his or time and speak slowly, enunciate and project across the crowd.

A personalized ceremony totally rocks and sets the tone for the rest of your wedding. But if you don't have the right friend for the job, then hire a professional like a Celebrant who can do all the hard work for you. One way or another, don't miss the opportunity to have a ceremony that totally reflects who you are as a couple.

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