Ask the County Law Librarian – Marriage officiants in California
Q. My fiancé and I would like our hometown church’s reverend to marry us, but he is not ordained by the church. He told us he had been ordained online years ago and showed us a card as proof. Is there anything else we must do? I’d like to make sure we will be legally married!
A. Although California laws are fairly relaxed on the subject of marriage, there are some specific requirements you and your fiancé should know prior to the wedding ceremony or, as the state legislature terms it, the solemnization.
According to California Family Code Section 400, any individual over the age of 18 who is also an ordained member of the clergy of any recognized faith may officiate a wedding. This usually includes people who receive their ordinations online, but you’ll definitely want to a) note the ordaining authority by asking to see your potential officiant’s certification, and b) follow up by researching the organization.
Unlike other states, California does not require persons performing marriages to file credentials with the county clerk or another agency. Since the state does not have a central registry of clergy members, it is ultimately the responsibility of the bride and groom to ensure that the person performing their marriage ceremony is 18 years of age or older and meets at least one of the requirements under California Family Code Sections 400-402.
One popular choice among couples nowadays is to have a friend or a member of the family perform a civil marriage ceremony under the “Deputy Marriage Commissioner for a Day” program. California Family Code Section 401 (a) and (b) state that a county clerk as a “commissioner of civil marriages may appoint deputy commissioners of civil marriages who may solemnize marriages under the direction of the commissioner of civil marriages and shall perform other duties directed by the commissioner.” Essentially, this means that you can be deputized by the county clerk to perform a civil (i.e. nonreligious) wedding ceremony.
Before you can be sworn in as a Deputy Marriage Commissioner, you will be required to receive instruction, submit an application, and pay the fee set by the county in which you are registering (fees will vary depending on the county). This deputization applies only to one ceremony for one couple, set at a single location and time. For additional information on this program, see the California Department of Public Health’s FAQs.
Since weddings are stressful enough without worrying about whether your marriage will be legal under California law, you will probably want to read the state’s laws on the subject, which are contained in Family Code Sections 300-536. You can read the California codes online at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes.xhtml. The CDPH also has an informational webpage on marriage licenses, registration, and ceremonies.
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