Marie T. soon-to-be Wiley strode up to the justice of the peace in City Hall in Manhattan with her fiancé. The stars in her eyes were slightly dulled from waiting in a line that stretched “from here to the end of the earth,” but she was delighted to finally be eloping. “Where is your witness?” the justice asked. Wiley hadn’t known she needed one.
“I look to the left and there’s this drunk on a bench in city hall. So I walk over and shake him. A whiff of booze floats from his mouth, and I’m like, ‘Come on, I’ll buy you a drink! All you need to do is stand here!’”
Wiley laughs when she reminisces about her profoundly unromantic wedding, but she says she never stopped wishing she could have had the rosy vision she’d imagined. Her experience inspired her to become a justice of the peace to perform weddings in Connecticut. An officiant for eight years, Wiley estimates she performs 100 to 150 weddings per year. She says couples come to her when they’re different religions, not practicing, or don’t want a rigid, predefined ceremony.
The option of having a personal and creative ceremony is hugely attractive, according to Marie April Gismondi, the vice president of the American Association of Wedding Officiants.
“[Officiants] help create a ceremony with you paraphrasing your thoughts and feelings,” Gismondi says. “Marriages are many different things to many different people. What is your perspective? What would you say to the people who came? Officiants can spin that into a personal welcome … it’s a warmer ceremony.”
Qualifications to perform marriages vary from state to state, and some officiants only perform one or two ceremonies a year. It can be tricky to find the right one to share your spotlight. The National Association of Wedding Officiants’ Web site offers a list of questions for couples to ask potential candidates, since issues like pre-marital counseling, photography, location and fees vary. Ask for ceremony samples, Gismondi says, and be sure to talk on the phone to officiants about what you want.
“Beware of anyone who starts trying to sell you a finished product.” Gismondi says. “Look for someone who wants to know what your vision is.”
Gismondi says some couples start looking for an officiant a year and half in advance if they know their date is a popular one. That’s a long time spent searching for someone to say that magic sentence, but it might beat a speech that ends with “NEXT!” at city hall.