Do you need an officiant to elope? Are elopement officiants different than “traditional” officiants?
This is kind of a loaded question, because the answer isn’t black and white. If you’re raising an eyebrow, sit tight. (haha, that rhymed) I’ll explain. Also *DISCLAIMER: laws change, and every state is different. I am not a lawyer or legal professional. Please look up the laws where you want to get married to be absolutely sure you’re legally getting married!
The nitty gritty about officiants
Ok. Here we go: For starters, the officiant is the person who performs your marriage ceremony. In most states, an officiant is required in order for your marriage to be considered legal in the eyes of the government. This can be someone who’s religiously ordained, a judge, etc.
Some states allow you to self-solemnize, which means you and your partner can get married any way you please. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:
- California: allows “non-clergy” marriage, which means your friend can get “ordained” and perform the marriage ceremony for you. (This is what my partner and I did!)
- Colorado: No officiant, no witnesses, no additional forms. In Colorado, you’re free as a bird
- District of Columbia: Couples can officiate their own wedding.
- Illinois: You can technically get married without an officiant, but the ceremony must be “in accordance with the prescriptions of any religious denomination, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group” (Wikipedia).
- Kansas: They need to update their wording (it says “husband and wife,” which excludes a lot of people), but marriage without a third-party is legal.
- Maine: Exempts “Quakers or Friends” and “members of the Baha’i faith” from the third-party requirement
- Nevada: Also recognizes ceremonies performed by “Quakers or Friends”
- Pennsylvania: …kind of difficult to navigate. PA has a long Quaker tradition, so those marriage ceremonies only require the signatures of two witnesses, but not all counties in the state offer those kinds of licenses.
- Wisconsin: Technically allowed, but you have to sign a form stating that “the government issuing the marriage license cannot guarantee that the marriage will be recognized in all contexts.”
Given all of the info up above…that’s just the paperwork. And the “paperwork” side of things is for the government. It has nothing to do with your actual elopement day. I’m not saying that being legally married doesn’t matter. I’m saying that if the legal process itself doesn’t matter to you, you can do it some other time. Sign the government paperwork on one day, and then have your real elopement on a different day.
If you elope somewhere where an officiant is required, but you don’t want anyone else there on your actual elopement day (this includes witnesses! Most states require 1-2 witnesses in order to make your marriage legal), that’s ok!
Your vows don’t mean less just because there aren’t officiants or witnesses there. Your anniversary isn’t paperwork day, your anniversary is your elopement day!
Let me know in the comments: did you have an officiant at your elopement? Would you go back and do things differently?
Want to chat about your own elopement and what your options are? Click right here!