We had more questions for James Engmann & his wife Connie on working with your officiant to plan your big day!

What possibilities are there for the wedding ceremony itself?

In Marriage Equality states, the possibilities vary greatly. If a same-sex couple is able to find a willing church and clergy member, the couple will be limited by the liturgy of that church. Some choices may be available, but that is probably about it.

If a couple has a family member or friend get ordained on the internet if they hire an independent officiant, the possibilities are only limited by the Officiant’s knowledge of and ability to research wedding possibilities.

Obviously, professionally trained and experienced Officiants will have much more to offer the couple in terms of ideas and possibilities.

One thing to watch: there are legal requirements which need to be addressed by the officiant. In some states, the couple just needs to sign the marriage license to be married but in many states, the couple first needs to declare their voluntary and conscious decision to enter the marriage. This is what we know as the “I Do’s” – “Do you take this man or woman to be your husband or wife?” It doesn’t need to be those words but the question or questions ask must show that each member of the couple is there willingly and is capable of making a legal decision. The second requirement if for the officiant to pronounce them married.

How does marriage ceremonies differ in states who do not recognize same-sex weddings?

First, it needs to be understood that these will not be legal marriages. A couple can use the term in its generic sense to describe the ceremony where they commit to each other. But whether it is called a wedding or commitment or union ceremony, the good news is that there is no requirement to have a licensed or state-recognized officiant. The couple is free to have anyone they choose ‘officiate’ the ceremony because there are no legal ramifications to the ceremony which require judicial officer or clergy qualifications.

The same concerns exist here with having an amateur officiate the ceremony. A wedding ceremony should be glorious, focused on the couple and their love and their love story, and amateur or hobby officiants are not well prepared to provide such a service. So LGBT couples will need to research and find an officiant who will perform the ceremony they truly want to have.

Where do most ceremonies take place?

Obviously churches and synagogues. After that, the possibilities are endless. Government and public buildings, such as capitols and museums, are very popular. Hotels are also very popular because the guests can check in, attend the ceremony, enjoy the reception and turn in for the night without having to drive anywhere. After that, gardens and parks are highly sought after places for ceremonies. Some couples like to be married at home or in their backyard. If the couple has a special place, they should check to see if their ceremony can be there!

How long does a typical ceremony last?

A wedding ceremony before a judicial officer can be this short, less than one minute. For some couples, that is all they want because their main concern is just being married.

For most couples, they want some ritual that connects them and their marriage to something bigger than themselves, which can be love or their families and circles of friends or, for those who believe, a Higher Power. Some church weddings can last one-and-a-half or two hours – the vast majority of couples do not want that. Most wedding officiate by family member and friends and other non-professional officiants last between five and fifteen minutes.

What couples, straight and gay, don’t realize is that their wedding ceremony can be an event that touches their funny-bones and their hearts, as well as those of their guests. The couple should ask themselves: Do we want our ceremony to be memorable in a good way and to have our guests feel closer to us and to each other as a result of attending the ceremony? That takes a little time. My life and business partner Connie and I recommend that ceremonies fall in the 20 to 30 minute range, long enough that everyone realizes that the marriage has truly taken place but short enough that their attention does not wane.

Will officiants typically have standard language for the couple’s vows?

Again, if married in a church, the liturgy may require certain wedding vows to be said. Other officiants may have restrictions on what vows can be exchanged by the couple. It adds a wonderful element if the couple writes or at least chooses their vows. The traditional vows have great history behind them – many in attendance were married by them – but they are also predictable. We encourage couples to find or write vows that truly reflect them and the marriage they are creating.

Do you have any other tips to give same-sex couples on planning their wedding ceremony?

I do. And much of this applies to all of the wedding vendors they may have: wedding coordinator, photographer, disk jockey, you get the idea. Interview candidates until you find someone you connect with on a personal basis, someone you like. The wedding can be a very stressful time and you want wedding vendors whom you feel you can approach as need be.

The wedding ‘industry’ gets a bad wrap for two big reasons: incompetence and pricing. I have met hundreds of professional wedding vendors, 99% of whom want to do a great job for the couple and want the couple to recommend them to their family and friends. Once in a great while, one of these pros will fall short of expectations, but this happens in all industries.

Most of the complains about incompetence comes from having vendors who do this as a hobby, something they do in addition to their regular job for the ego lift and extra money. Many people aspire to be a wedding professional and most of them do not last five years. So if the vendor you are interested in has been in business less than five years, make sure you check on any testimonials they provide for you. Of course the best testimonial is the vendor you have seen work at a wedding or one referred to you by a happy family member or friend.

The second knock of the wedding industry – expense – is connected to the first. If you are hiring a professional, you are going to pay more money that if you hire an amateur or a hobby vendor. In many cases, wedding professionals have an office and support staff, on-going continuing education in their field, professional organization fees and advertising and other expenses. Once the expenses have been paid, the pro needs to make a profit to live on. Think about it: If you hire someone who is doing this for fun and for some extra dollars, will they be as committed to providing excellence as someone who makes their living in this way and who depends on a good reputation and referrals from happy clients? The short answer is “No.”

Specifically, in terms of the Wedding Officiant, find someone with whom you feel safe. You need to know that she or he will handle the emotions in a loving way. We have Brides and Grooms who get weepy during their vows. I have heard officiants made a joke of it, especially if the weepy person is male. We hold that as a sacred event so we lovingly wait until the person is ready, providing a tissue if necessary, and then going forward. Find an officiant who will do the same.

About Happily Ever After Wedding Officiants:

Connie and James co-create with you and officiate for you a special, personal, unique and memorable Commitment Ceremony, one that will touch your hearts and funny-bones, as well as those of your guests. The highlight is Your Love Story during which time they share not only your history but also the feelings you experienced on your journey from acquaintance to attraction, from romance to true love, from living together to. . .living Happily Ever After!

James and Connie’s couples voted them Wisconsin Bride Magazine’s 2011, 2012, and 2013 Best Wedding Officiants in the state – they are the only officiants to have ever won this most prestigious honor! Their couples also reviewed their work such that they won the Wedding Wire Bride’s/Couple’s Choice Award in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and the Knot Best of Wedding Officiants Pick in 2012 and 2014. In addition, the National Association of Wedding Professionals honored them with their Service Award in 2012 and 2013. Finally, Wisconsin Capitol Pride has chosen them to co-officiate their yearly Commitment Ceremony in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

For more information or to contact Happily Ever After Wedding Officiants: www.happilyeverafterweddings.info

To view their Pridezillas listing and why they support marriage equality: www.pridezillas.com/happily-ever-after-wedding-officiants