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What’s the Difference Between a Marriage Commissioner and an Officiant?

What’s the Difference Between a Marriage Commissioner and an Officiant?
August 1, 2018 Riana Ang-Canning

One of the most common questions we get asked is, “What is the difference between a marriage commissioner and an officiant?” For many people planning a wedding, they have no idea what a commissioner, officiant or celebrant is. “That’s the person who stands at the front and marries us, right?”

Yes, that much is true. Officiants, celebrants and commissioners all marry couples. But there are some key differences.

Officiant VS Celebrant

Okay, we’ll start with an easy one. What’s the difference between an officiant and a celebrant? Nothing! These terms are interchangeable. “Officiant” is used more often in North America while “celebrant” is heard more often in the UK or Australia. The main difference is between an officiant/celebrant and a marriage commissioner.

What is a marriage commissioner?

In BC, marriage commissioners are government officials who perform non-religious wedding ceremonies in their area. Marriage commissioners must be retired or semi-retired, mature and known/active in their community. Because of the retirement condition, many marriage commissioners are older. They can only apply to become commissioners if there is a vacancy in their area and there’s a maximum number of commissioners per city. Candidates are then short listed, interviewed and appointed. Commissioners can only hold their position for a maximum of 10 years.

Before we jump into the differences, let us just begin by saying that the below is true of most marriage commissioners and most officiants. We cannot speak for absolutely everyone. Generally speaking, these are the differences. Of course, every person is unique and may perform their duties slightly differently.

Photo by Emily Nicole Photos

Difference #1: Training

There is no official training required to apply to become a marriage commissioner and no experience is expected/required. By contrast, most officiants do complete training and education to prepare for their work. At Young Hip & Married, many of our officiants have attended seminary or trained in public speaking. In addition, all of our officiants go through our specific Young Hip & Married training to ensure each and every couple is given the best experience possible.

Difference #2: Script

Marriage commissioners in BC work from an approved ceremony script written by the government with mandatory statements that they are required to say. While some commissioners allow for their couples to edit the ceremony script or choose from other approved scripts, this isn’t always the case. As well, marriage commissioners are not permitted to include religion in their ceremonies.

With our custom ceremony package, the Custom & Creative Ceremony, a unique ceremony is written for the specific couple. The couple is also given full access to the ceremony script and able to ask for an unlimited number of edits and revisions. Officiants are able to rewrite, advise and provide options to arrive at the perfect ceremony for their couple.

For example, if a Custom & Creative Ceremony couple wants to create a feminist ceremony with inclusive and empowered language, their officiant can write that for them. If they want to include religion or cultural aspects into their ceremony, an officiant can do that. If they’re planning a samesex, multi-faith, second wedding with a handfasting ritual and readings by their children, their officiant is so excited to help them bring that to life. It’s all about creating a ceremony that is unique to the couple!

For our elopements, we’re committed to creating an intimate ceremony that is meaningful to our couples. We’ll happily hike up a mountain, go to a Canucks game or jump in a helicopter to get you married in your own unique style.

We believe there should be no surprises when it comes to what is going to be said during the wedding ceremony. The couple should be able to trust that the person performing their ceremony is going to use words that they approved beforehand and that speak to them as a couple.

Photo by Erica Miller Photography

Difference #3: Time

Marriage commissioners are not required to spend any time with their couple before the wedding other than to work out logistics. Officiants, on the other hand, often invest a lot of time into their couples before the big day.

Our officiants are available to their couples over phone and email leading up to the wedding. They also do an in-person consultation and coordinate a rehearsal. While putting together the ceremony script, our officiants are in constant communication with their couples to send them revised versions and offer new ideas. Our officiants read over vows, offer advice and ensure the entire ceremony will flow smoothly. We’re in touch with planners and photographers, happy to bring in unique elements, like a community vow or dancing down the aisle, and available to help our couples write their vows if they’re feeling stuck.

At Young Hip & Married, we believe that the marriage is more important than the wedding day. Another way we invest time in our couples is by offering relationship coaching and counselling, as well as putting on date nights for couples.

Difference #4: Choosing who marries you

Marriage commissioners are listed on the BC government website where you can search by area. In some cases, couples have to pick their commissioner from this list where they are only given the commissioner’s name, contact information and possibly their photo. Not all commissioners will meet with their couples prior to booking.

With officiants, couples often have the opportunity to get to know them ahead of time. For starters, they can check out their officiant’s photos, bio and reviews online.

At Young Hip & Married, we offer a complimentary consultation with our Custom & Creative Ceremony package where our officiant will meet with the couple before they book our service. The officiant will ask about their wedding day, what they want out of the ceremony and learn more about their story. This in-person consultation is free of charge and takes place before any money has been paid. If the couple doesn’t feel like the officiant they met with was a good fit, they are able to meet with someone new.

Photo by Sara Rogers Photography

Difference #5: Costs

One of the big differences between a marriage commissioner and an officiant is cost. On average, marriage commissioners are the cheaper option. Their fees are listed on the BC government website. However, they are able to charge for the rehearsal, any travel to the ceremony and rehearsal, as well as extra time spent on site. While officiants do usually cost more, many couples feel the added investment of time and personalization by their officiant is worth the cost.

Can anyone else marry us?

In Canada, weddings must be officiated by a marriage commissioner, licensed officiant or solemnized religious representative. You are unable to have your friend get ordained online like they do in the movies and perform your ceremony (not legally, at least). The marriage licence needs to be signed and sent off by someone who is licensed to officiate weddings.

Who to choose?

At the end of the day, we feel couples should choose the officiant or marriage commissioner who best fits what they want for their ceremony. They should be completely comfortable with the person standing in the spotlight with them on their big day. The ceremony script, officiating style and budget should match what the couple has in mind.

Both commissioners and officiants can legally marry couples – it just depends how a couple wants to get married.  

Resources: BC Gov; VanCity Bride; Modern Celebrant

Written by Riana Ang-Canning
Feature image by Emily Nicole Photos