Tossing tradition, more opt for one-day wedding officiants
Jenny Reynolds wanted a low-key wedding, a ceremony without a frilly dress, a traditional church setting, or an eye-popping budget. So when she learned that anybody can get a one-day license to marry couples, she and her now-husband, Christopher, asked “Why not?”
The flexibility of the one-day designation “was the huge draw,” said Reynolds, whose longtime friend Sarah Michaud presided over the 2010 no-nonsense ceremony in the couple’s Revere backyard.
The guest list consisted of their 2-year-old daughter, Nola, and Christopher’s mother. Their wedding feast was takeout Chinese food. The total cost for everything: about $100.
Across the state, the one-day marriage designation, which grants nonclergy the right to officiate at a wedding and sign a marriage license, is growing in popularity. The annual number of applications more than doubled from 2008 to 2014, according to records obtained by the Globe and MuckRock.com.
Last year, 5,083 people applied for the designation to perform weddings in 322 of the state’s 351 municipalities, the records showed. In Boston alone, one-day officiants married more than 600 couples that year.
The state has received just shy of 2,000 applications so far this year, according to the governor’s office.
The one-day marriage designation is not new; it was signed into law by Governor Michael S. Dukakis in 1990. But wedding planners and frequent officiants agree that the increase in recent years follows the movement of many couples away from traditional ceremonies and venues, opting to get hitched in a museum or a historical mansion instead of a church or wedding chapel.
“Unless you have a clear image in your mind of being married by someone of your faith, the option to have someone who loves you and knows you well marry you is pretty attractive,” said Nancie Koenigsberg, 45, of Boston, who performed the ceremony for two friends in 2011.
To obtain the one-day marriage designation, applicants submit a form, a letter of recommendation, and $25 to the governor’s office. The location of the wedding must be in Massachusetts, though neither the couple nor the officiant have to be residents.
The state approves applications throughout the year, the records showed, and the number of processed applications rises during the peak wedding months of July and August.
“I definitely advocate for it now,” said Paula Marrero, owner of Marrero Events, a Danvers-based wedding and event planning company. “It’s inexpensive. The process is so easy. And it’s emotional. The ceremonies can be pretty powerful.”
Wedding ceremonies with a friend or family member officiating typically last 12 to 20 minutes, Marrero said. Some involve readings. Others incorporate stories about the couple. What happens during the ceremony is largely determined by the officiant and the couple.
When Matt Keswick officiated at his college roommate Marc’s wedding on a beach in Falmouth last May, he spent a lot of time preparing his talking points, even buying several books on performing ceremonies.
“It was somewhat of a nonreligious ceremony,” said Keswick, 40, of Milton. “It was more focused on the bride and groom coming together. It was focused on their relationship, their friendship, and their coming together as a family.”
For many couples, the one-day designation offers yet another secular way to celebrate a marriage. One-fifth of the US public — and about a third of people under 30 — do not have a religious affiliation, the highest percentage on record, according to the Pew Research Center.
And even couples who are religious may have obstacles preventing them from getting married by a priest, minister, or rabbi. Many faiths do not recognize same-sex marriage. In the Catholic Church, divorced parishioners cannot be remarried without a church-sanctioned annulment.
Susan Troy, 67, a Catholic lay minister based in Wellesley, has obtained one-day designations to officiate for some of these parties at weddings outside the church.
Troy first married a spiritual directee and his husband in 2004, just after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. Since then, she has wed a divorced couple, an interfaith couple, and another same-sex couple, among the seven marriages she has officiated using the designation.
“People aren’t going the traditional route anymore,” said Troy, talking about the increase in this type of officiant. “I think it’s going to grow, and I think that’s a good thing.”
If Massachusetts couples attend a wedding using the one-day officiant, they are more likely to incorporate one into their own marriage ceremony, said Marrero. The recent increase in the number of these types of weddings may fuel their growth.
When Michaud declared Christopher and Jenny Reynolds husband and wife in 2010, she said she did so “by the powers vested in me by Governor Deval Patrick.”
After decades of friendship, Michaud said she was honored to play a role in Reynolds’s wedding day.