Michigan Marriage Law and Secular Celebrants FAQ

As of April 2020, trained & certified CFI Secular Celebrants are now permitted to officiate and solemnize marriages in Michigan. Read the full Press Release.

What makes a marriage legal in Michigan?

To effectuate a legal marriage in Michigan requires obtaining a valid marriage license and having the wedding “solemnized” by certain authorized persons (in addition to other requirements involving consent, age requirements, etc.). Michigan Compiled Laws on Marriage (Chapter 551).

Michigan residents wishing to get married must apply for and picking-up their marriage license from the County Clerk in their County of residence. Resident Marriage Licenses may be used in any county in Michigan, is good for 33 days from and including application date (Note: There is a 3 day waiting period to pick-up the marriage license). Non-residents must obtain a marriage license from the county in which the marriage will be performed.

The marriage license must be signed by a person authorized under Michigan law to solemnize a wedding, and two witnesses who are 18 or older. The completed marriage license must be returned to the issuing County Clerk within 10 days of the completion of the marriage.

Who is authorized to solemnize marriages in Michigan?

Marriages can be solemnized in Michigan by certain elected and appointed government officials, and “ministers of the gospel” or other religious practitioners. See the full list in Michigan Compiled Laws, Chapter 551, Section 551.7.

As of April 2020 Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has promised that the state considers CFI trained and certified Secular Celebrants to be covered by the existing marriage statutes as authorized persons to solemnize a marriage. (Note: The state marriage statute language will not be updated to reflect this decision due to it being through a lawsuit, but CFI is working on obtaining a letter that verifies this decision that will be added here once it becomes available).

If you encounter any difficulty from a county clerk in recognizing the authority of a CFI Secular Celebrant to solemnize a marriage please email: Nick Little, CFI Legal Director and Jennifer Beahan, CFI Michigan Executive Director ASAP so we can assist you with the situation.

Does Michigan law authorize Secular Celebrants or representatives of secular organizations such as Center for Inquiry to perform weddings and solemnize marriages?

Yes. As of April 2020 Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has promised that the state considers CFI trained and certified Secular Celebrants to be covered by existing statutes regarding marriage solemnization. In addition to Secular Celebrants certain elected and appointed government officials, “ministers of the gospel” including clergy, and certain religious practitioners may also solemnize marriages in Michigan.

Are there people who call themselves Secular Celebrants who are not Certified by CFI that can still legally solemnize marriages?

Some people who identify themselves as Secular Celebrants, but are not certified through CFI’s Secular Celebrant Program may have the ability to legally solemnize weddings in Michigan. It is the responsibility of the officiant to maintain and confirm their authority to solemnize weddings with the state. These individuals may include those who are (or were previously) a minister, priest, or rabbi, etc. Those who are ordained/certified through religious organizations such as the Humanist Society (founded in the Quaker Tradition), the Society for Humanistic Judaism (Jewish), or the Universal Life Church Monastery (Non-denominational) also qualify as a “minister of the gospel” under Michigan law. These Secular Celebrants may offer to perform a marriage ceremony that has no religious content but can only do so in their capacity as clergy for a religious organization.

Why does CFI have a Secular Celebrants Training Program if its representatives can’t solemnize marriages in many states?

The CFI Secular Celebrant program is laying the groundwork for a legal challenge to state marriage laws that unconstitutionally show preference to religious organizations, but ensuring that our trained celebrants meet the requirements of most states to legally solemnize weddings (with the exception of being religious clergy).

What kind of organization is CFI?

CFI is a 501c3 non-profit educational corporation. Churches and religious organizations such as the Humanist Society, Society for Humanistic Judaism, and Universal Life Church are 501c3 ecclesiastical corporations.

Can people who are certified through the CFI Secular Celebrant Training Program affiliate with a religious organization in order to solemnize marriages?

No. CFI is not a religious organization, so the management of CFI does not allow anyone acting as a CFI Secular Celebrant to solemnize a marriage under any religious designation or pretense, or using the certification of any religious organization. This includes but is not limited to The Humanist Society, The Ethical Union, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, traditional religions, and so called “mail order” ordinations such as the Universal Life Church.

What are the options for having a marriage ceremony that has no religious content?

All ceremonies performed by CFI Secular Celebrants will contain no religious content, and marriages solemnized by our celebrants are legal in Michigan.

Federal, district, municipal, or probate court judge or magistrate, city mayor, county clerks, and even clergy/religious practitioners can be asked if they will perform a perform a ceremony devoid of religious content, but be aware that there is no requirement for anyone in those positions to perform your wedding or to perform a non-religious wedding. Judges and County Clerks often have a set script that offers little or no personalization. However, many ministers of Unitarian churches, liberal Christian churches, or people who become ordained as a Universal Life Church minister will often be willing to perform weddings that have no religious content.

Questions about Secular Celebrants? Email us at michigan(at)centerforinquiry.org, and we’ll do what we can to help!

Where can I learn more about the CFI Secular Celebrant Training Program?

Visit the CFI Secular Celebrant Information Page to learn more about the program and how to become a CFI Secular Celebrant, or find a certified CFI Secular Celebrant.