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More Couples Have Friends Perform Wedding

As the summer wedding season approaches, don't be surprised if there's something noticeably missing at the next wedding you attend: a member of the clergy. The Wedding Report, a research firm, says last year one out of every seven weddings in the U.S. was performed by a friend of the couple.

"I've seen it become increasingly popular over the last few years," says Melissa Evans, who has been helping couples plan weddings for more than a decade.

In fact, some say that the episode of the TV show Friends in which Monica and Chandler ask their friend to perform their wedding ceremony marked the point when this trend started taking off.

Part Of The Family

Evans says having a friend perform the wedding is one way to make a ceremony meaningful for couples of different faiths.

"One partner doesn't necessarily have to give up their religion, their faith, their history," she says. "They can tie it all together."

Looking through pictures from their wedding last fall, Kate and Ed Kochem of central New York say they wouldn't change a thing -- especially asking Kate's aunt to marry them.

"It really made me feel more like part of Kate's family, you know?" Ed Kochem says. "As opposed to someone that I don't know, some judge or pastor that I rarely see doing the ceremony. With Kate's aunt, it really seemed like I was becoming part of her family."

"It's frightening, but it's exhilarating," says Ted Botsford who's getting ready to perform his second wedding this summer. "When somebody that you care about, and you've known for their entire lives, asks you to perform their wedding ceremony, it's a feeling you just can't imagine."

Not For Everyone

The Wedding Report says two years ago, clergy performed 70 percent of all weddings. Last year, it was down to 62 percent.

The Rev. James Wind, president of the Alban Institute, a research firm focusing on religion, says he's afraid couples may be losing out on what organized religion can offer a bride and groom.

"When we do a wedding ceremony, there's a set of values that has been carried along for centuries in these religious communities that are resources for making this very important relationship, a bedrock relationship in our society, for making this work," Wind says.

There is also concern over whether having friends perform weddings is legal. Many ministries offer instant ordinations. With the Internet it takes fewer than five minutes -- and in some cases, no money -- to become a minister. Fill out a few boxes with information, click submit and you too can be declared ordained.

"That's a scam," says attorney Ray Dague, who specializes in religious and matrimonial law.

"I don't think that's going to 'cut the muster' with the state of New York or any other state in the United States, simply because, obviously, you can sell a certificate for a few bucks, but that doesn't make you a clergyman," he adds. "You've got to have some kind of a recognized congregation."

Gray Area

"We deal with this on a constant basis," says Andre Hensley, president of ULC, or Universal Life Church, in Modesto, Calif.

The church says it ordains 3,000 to 5,000 ministers each month. And while you can apply to become a ULC minister online, the group reviews all applications before pronouncing anyone ordained.

"It is their commitment that they have stated they have felt they have some form of a calling, and they wish to be able to practice that," Hensley says. "And that's why they want to become ordained as a minister of our church. It's not up to us to judge -- it's between them and their God."

But even after several decades of instant ordinations, it's a gray legal area. Whenever there's a challenge, local courts decide on a case-by-case basis whether such marriages are legal -- and those challenges seem to be rare. More and more couples are just comfortable saying "I do" -- not to a lifelong minister -- but to a lifelong friend.

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