The Common Law

Can our friend perform the wedding ceremony?

My longtime boyfriend and I finally decided to tie the knot. We want to get married in Austin and have a close friend preside over the ceremony. Can our friend conduct the wedding ceremony?

It depends on whether your friend is a judge or the head of a religious organization. If not, he is probably not authorized to conduct a wedding ceremony under Texas law.

For the most part, Texas law allows soon-to-be newlyweds to include special or unique touches to the wedding ceremony. However, Texas law does place some limitations on the wedding process, including what kinds of people are authorized to conduct the ceremony.

Under current law, persons authorized to perform weddings in Texas include licensed or ordained Christian ministers or priests, Jewish rabbis, and an officer of a religious organization who is authorized by the organization to conduct a marriage ceremony. Texas law also allows different types of judges to conduct wedding ceremonies, including a justice of the Supreme Court or courts of appeals; federal or magistrate judge (located in Texas); judge of the court of criminal appeals; judge of the district court, county court, probate court, county courts at law, or juvenile courts; or judges of courts of domestic relations. Retired judges who formerly presided over the courts mentioned above can also perform the wedding ceremony. Texas law feels strongly enough about controlling the officiant of a wedding ceremony that a person who knowingly conducts a marriage ceremony without authorization can be charged with a class A misdemeanor, although this penalty is rarely enforced.

Some wedding couples have figured out ways to comply with Texas law and still have the ceremony they desire. For example, many people have looked to the Internet to become "ordained" or a recognized officer of a religious organization in a way that complies with Texas law. A quick Google search yields sites that claim to give people this status for the right price. If your friend considers these options, be sure he investigates the legitimacy of the website's claims and whether they will satisfy Texas law.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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