If you’re planning a wedding, you may have discovered a brand new language: charger plate, save the date, marriage licence and certificate, justice of the peace, and so many more words you’ve never heard of!

And while it can be easy to get overwhelmed by all the new wedding words, there’s one word you really need to know – the name of the person who is going to marry you!

You may have come across “justice of the peace” in your wedding planning or heard it in a movie, but what exactly is a justice of the peace? Can a justice of the peace marry you? And, most importantly, do you want them to?

what is a justice of the peace, wedding officiant ceremony at Burnaby Mountain
by Erica Miller Photography

What is a justice of the peace?

A justice of the peace is a judicial officer, similar to a judge, who is often the public’s first point of contact with the legal system. They preside over province-wide offences and handle tasks like issuing summons and warrants, scheduling trials, presiding over minor traffic violations and other small claims court infractions, and setting bail terms.

Of course, in every jurisdiction the role of the justice of the peace will vary slightly. For more details specific to your area, consult your local court system.

What does JP mean? 

As you may have guessed, JP simply stands for justice of the peace. This is a shorthand used in both wedding speak and in the legal world.

After enough time in the wedding world, you’ll learn all the lingo and a sentence like, “The MOB and MOH are with the JP” will make sense to you! Translation: “The mother of the bride and maid of honour are with the justice of the peace.”

Can a justice of the peace marry us? 

Yes and no. In some areas, a justice of the peace can marry you and officiate your wedding ceremony. But not everywhere! In most of the United States and some areas of Canada, JPs do have the power to marry people. Notably, British Columbia is not one of these places. If you’re getting married in BC, a justice of the peace cannot legally officiate your ceremony.

Elopement at Quarry Lake, Alberta with wedding officiant justice of the peace marriage commissioner wedding celebrant
by Deanna Rachel Photography

Justice of the peace VS wedding officiant VS marriage commissioner 

So what the heck is the difference between a justice of the peace, a wedding officiant and a marriage commissioner? We know it can be confusing to hear all of these different terms when you’re simply looking for someone to get you married.

First things first: You need to make sure the person you hire for your ceremony can legally marry you. As discussed above, a justice of the peace is not able to marry you in all jurisdictions.

Simply speaking, the difference between a justice of the peace, a wedding officiant and a marriage commissioner is:

  • Justice of the peace: A judicial officer who may be able to marry people (based on jurisdiction)
  • Wedding officiant: A trained officiant licensed by a religious body to marry people (though ceremonies do not necessarily need to be religious)
  • Marriage commissioner: A semi-retired person licensed by the government to marry people

What about a wedding celebrant? Lucky for you, a wedding celebrant (or marriage celebrant) is pretty much the same thing as a wedding officiant. The term “celebrant” is more commonly used in the UK and Australia, whereas “officiant” is used more in Canada and the US.

For more information on the difference between a wedding officiant and a marriage commissioner, check out our blog post and find the right person to get you married!

backyard vancouver elopement with young hip and married wedding officiant
by Kelsey Goodwin Photography

Should I choose a justice of the peace, a wedding officiant or a marriage commissioner for my wedding ceremony?

So now that you know the basic difference between these three roles, how do you actually decide who will marry you on the big day? Well, it comes down to what you want out of your ceremony experience.

Generally speaking, a wedding officiant will be able to offer you a more custom experience with options like a personalized ceremony script written just for you, ceremony packages with add-ons, and more flexibility when it comes to your ceremony location and format.

Because justices of the peace and marriage commissioners are licensed by the court and government, there is typically less flexibility and less training. They often have to stick to strict scripts and can only marry people in certain geographic areas. In some jurisdictions, JPs can only marry couples at the local courthouse.

These differences are reflected in the pricing; wedding officiants often charge a higher rate for a more custom experience.

Of course, this is all generally speaking – there are exceptions to every rule! While we are obviously Team Wedding Officiant here at Young Hip & Married, we know going with an officiant is not the right route for everyone. We encourage you to do your research, chat with prospective officiants/commissioners/justices, and find the perfect person for your wedding ceremony.

Porteau Cove elopement with Vancouver Young Hip & Married wedding officiant Shawn Miller
by Erica Miller Photography

How can I find a justice of the peace near me? 

Before you start searching for a justice of the peace, make sure that a JP can actually marry you in your area. As noted above, a justice of the peace cannot marry you in British Columbia. Secondly, make sure you want a JP to marry you. If you’re looking for a custom ceremony or to do something less traditional, a justice of the peace may not be the right avenue for you.

No matter who you decide should marry you, it’s pretty simple to find a wedding officiant, wedding celebrant, marriage commissioner or justice of the peace near you:

  • Google “city name + justice of the peace/wedding officiant/marriage commissioner”
  • Check out vendor listings on places like The Knot or Wedding Wire
  • Ask your recently married friends for recommendations
  • Join a local wedding planning group online and search for recommendations

Are you getting married in one of the locations where Young Hip & Married works? Awesome! Find a wedding officiant who can legally marry you in your own unique style here! 

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