Our friend and Madison, Wisconsin area wedding officiant James Engmann and his wife Connie are huge supporters of marriage equality. James agreed to answer our questions and help our readers shed some light on how to hire a wedding officiant or minister to oversee your wedding. Connie & James are full time wedding officiants. They are warm and welcoming and just all around good people!
What is the process for a same-sex couple to get married?
It is different, depending on the state in which a couple lives. Each state controls who can get married and how the marriage can take place.
What about couples who live in Marriage Equality states?
The first and probably the most important thing for a couple to do is to determine the requirements for securing a Marriage License. For most, that information can be found by contacting the County Clerk in the county in which one or both of them live. Another source, depending on the state, may be the Secretary of State in the state in which they reside. A third source would be to ask a wedding officiant, possibly a member of the clergy or a judicial officer.
Are there specific things that are required?
Two things are almost always required: birth certificate and, if previously married, documents regarding the dissolution of the previous marriage with annulment judgment, divorce judgment and death certificate being the main three. Other things may be required. Wisconsin, where we are from, use to require blood tests but no longer does. But as in all things in our discussion, marriage is controlled by each state so it is impossible to generalize for the entire country – couples will have to do some research. You may know of resources that detail this information for same-sex couples which you can pass on to them.
Another thing that is sometimes required is a waiting period from application for a marriage license to its issuance. In Wisconsin, there is a six-day waiting period. The County Clerk will waive the requirement if one or both of the couple resides outside Wisconsin. Again, each state determines its own rules. Also, in many states, a marriage license has an expiration date, a time period during which it must be used or it becomes void. In Wisconsin, for example, it must be used within 30 days of issuance.
What about for same-sex couples who do not live in Marriage Equality states who still want to be legally married?
For same-sex couples who do not live in a state with Marriage Equality but who want to travel to such a state, the first thing to do, again, is determine the requirements for securing a Marriage License. The information about couples who live in a marriage equality state almost certainly applies, but there may be additional requirements for non-residents, including a minimum residency requirement. Again, couples should research this ahead of time. They don’t want to travel to a marriage equality state with hopes of getting married that day and learn there is a residency requirement for application of a marriage license or a waiting period for issuance of the license.
Are there any concerns for such couples?
The state in which they reside may not and probably will not honor their marriage. So filing a joint tax return, for example, may put the couple at legal risk. In addition, such a state may not recognize the marriage in terms of right of inheritance. In many states, if a person dies without a will, there is a formula for who inherits with usually the marital partner receiving much if not all of the estate. This may not occur in such states so preparing a will or a living trust should follow the
marriage so assets can go where one intends for them to go. The federal government, I believe, has decided to honor all legal same-sex marriages, regardless of where the couple lives and where they were married. This is a huge step toward marriage equality but, again, this does not apply to the state laws.
Are there any options for couples who do not live in or want to travel to states with Marriage Equality?
Some states have responded to the Marriage Equality movement with similar but usually lesser marriage alternatives, such as Domestic Partnership in Wisconsin. I am not sure what this provides couples; again, research is necessary and, again, there may be resources out there that can answer this question.
On the ceremonial side, such couples can have a Commitment Ceremony or Unity Ceremony which can have all the excitement of a traditional marriage ceremony. While this creates no legal right and while officiants cannot pronounce a couple legally married in such a state, they can announce them married in the eyes of their family and friends and God, if they believe in God, and, if they have been legally married in another state, that too can be announced.
Turning to the Ceremonial side of marriage, how should a same-sex couple find an officiant?
A large percentage of straight couples are married by their or their parent’s pastor, priest or rabbi. Obviously, some religious denominations do not accept and will not perform a gay marriage but there are some that do or, at least, some alternative ceremony, such as blessing a same-sex marriage for those who are already married. Couples need to look for those churches which state they are ‘inclusive’ which is usually a code for saying they welcome gay couples.
A much smaller percentage of straight couples are married by a family member or friend who gets ordained over the internet. This is perfectly legally in most states, including Wisconsin, but, again, couples need to research this. One issue that can arise is if the officiant does not live in the state in which the ceremony will be performed. In Wisconsin, such an officiant has to have a sponsoring clergy member who resides in Wisconsin. This is another thing couples will have to check.
This is the most economical way and it adds a personal element to the ceremony but there is a down side: these officiants are not trained in ceremonial design or ritual process. That is not a problem if the couple is satisfied with a two minute “Do you? Do you? I pronounce you married!” ceremony but if the couple wants more ceremony, maybe a ritual, the family member or friend is at a disadvantage here. In addition, most family member or friend officiants are not aware of the state’s requirements for the officiant in terms of completing a marriage license.
There is also the possibility of having a judicial officer or elected official officiate the ceremony. Most people think of Justices of the Peace which are called Court Commissioners in Wisconsin. In most states, any judge is authorized to perform wedding ceremonies and in some state, elected executive officials – mayors, governors – also can. In these cases, you usually get the two-minute ceremony and, I believe, they are not able to add any religious references for those couples who might want that because of the separation of church and state.
Finally, there are independent officiants, such as Connie and myself. They can be found on wedding web sites and wedding shows. But there is a huge downside – many of these ‘officiants’ are internet ordained which takes $20 and 60 seconds and do it as a hobby and, therefore, they have no training nor do they have much invested in the ceremony. Connie and I are ordained via divinity school and officiate ceremonies full-time – it is our career and has been since 1997. We encourage couples to avoid the internet hobby officiants and look for the actually ordained professionals one. Internet hobby officiants are, usually, the ones that give all officiants a bad name.
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
About Happily Ever After Wedding Officiants:
As Madison’s Original Wedding Officiants, Connie and James have experience and expertise that blend your personalities and preferences into a unique ceremony that you, your family and your guests will enjoy. They have done over 500 couples weddings since 1997. They graduated from Divinity School, and have the truanting and resources from taking courses in ceremonies, counseling, and rituals provides. Their ministry is full time, they are dedicated and focused on their ministry.