One of the most common questions we get asked is, “What is the difference between a marriage commissioner and a wedding 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 between a marriage commissioner and a wedding officiant.

Wedding officiant VS Wedding celebrant

Okay, we’ll start with an easy one. What’s the difference between a wedding officiant and a wedding 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 lies 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 specific 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; there’s a maximum number of marriage 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 wedding 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.

What's the Difference Between a Marriage Commissioner and a Wedding Officiant?
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 or required. By contrast, most wedding 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 wedding officiants go through our specific Young Hip & Married training to ensure each and every couple is given the best ceremony experience possible.

Difference #2: Ceremony 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.

Wedding officiants, on the other hand, have a lot more flexibility to write personalized wedding ceremony scripts. With Young Hip & Married’s 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, like a wedding prayer or glass smashing, an officiant can do that. If they’re planning a same-sex, multi-faith, second wedding with a handfasting ritual and readings by their children, their wedding 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 Young Hip & Married’s 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.

A wedding officiant leading an elopement ceremony
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. Wedding officiants, on the other hand, often invest a lot of time into their couples before the big day.

Our Young Hip & Married wedding 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 wedding rehearsal with our custom ceremony package. In order to write their ceremony, our officiants meet with their couples to learn their love story, research their interests and interview their friends and family. 

While putting together the ceremony script, our wedding 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 resources, 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 your marriage is more important than your 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 based only on the commissioner’s name, contact information and possibly their photo. Not all commissioners will meet with their couples prior to booking.

With wedding 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 wedding officiant they met with was a good fit, they are able to meet with someone else.

what's the difference between a marriage commissioner and a wedding officiant?
Photo by Sara Rogers Photography

Difference #5: Costs

One of the big differences between a marriage commissioner and a wedding 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 wedding 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.

Should you choose a marriage commissioner or wedding officiant?

At the end of the day, you should choose the wedding officiant or marriage commissioner who best fits what you want for your ceremony. You should be completely comfortable with the person standing in the spotlight with you on your big day. Their ceremony script, officiating style and cost should match what you have in mind.

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

But if you did want to book a wedding officiant, we know a few who would love to get you married! Meet our team and book your wedding officiant today! 

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Resources: BC Gov; VanCity Bride; Modern Celebrant

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