Who can conduct non-religious wedding in Pennsylvania?

My daughter is getting married in a few weeks at a residence in Pennsylvania USA. She’s not religious and dislikes religious wedding ceremonies, and planned to be married by a Justice of the Peace. But it turns out the only one who is authorized and available to perform the service is himself very religious and insists on a strong religious component to the ceremony, with Scriptural readings and a bunch of other stuff she dislikes. Having a JP do the ceremony has therefore become an extremely unattractive choice.

Bless her heart - I’m rabidly athiestic myself and couldn’t be more supportive of her preferences.

But who can we find to do this gig? I guess it would have to be a representative of a church. When I got married at home in Maryland, I had to have a church representative (Maryland law requires it), and found a Unitarian minister who was agreeable, so Unitarian ministers are high on my list of people to ask. I was also thinking about asking a local Friends Meeting, as I went to a Friends (“Quaker”) school and have left with the impression that they are very tolerant of different religious views and may be able to help.

Who else? Or, any other ideas? For that matter, am I right to think JPs and church representatives are the only options for wedding ceremonies outside of churches in PA?

Quakers – at least in Penna. – don’t have clergy. Weddings are performed (damn, don’t recall the exact phrase) under the auspices of the meeting – IOW, the couple meets with representatives of the meeting and gets their okay – they’re married as members of the community. Thus, there’s no freelance Quakers available to go sign off on a “no-god-talk” wedding.

I think the Unitarians will be your best bet.

Sounds like a constitutional issue, there. Although you probably don’t have the time to take it to the Supreme Court.

Odd. Is it because it was in your home? I got married in Maryland at the Rockville courthouse by a court clerk, IIRC. No religious aspect whatsoever.

As mentioned you can find a not-too-religious religion, or just move the ceremony. Not sure if you can import a different JP from out of the area because of jurisdiction issues, or whether any JP in the county or state would be OK.

Mayors can do weddings in PA. Technically, such a service doesn’t cost anything. Sometimes the mayor will ask the couple to donate some cash to a local charity. The state ethics commission won’t let them accept the money themselves to pass along.

No religious person would be involved and I think most of them would be quite happy to perform a wedding as well as long as they aren’t busy.

Is there another JP who can do the wedding?

You might also find out if anyone you know is willing to be ordained in something like the Universal Life Church or a similar outfit. Legally, they can perform weddings and would probably respect your wishes.


Depending on how much time you have, I think anyone can get “ordained” regardless of their religious (or lack of religious) leanings. There are probably people in your area who have already done this. Maybe look around on the internet?

According to this site, the regulations in Pennsylvania are as follows:

You might find legally ordained and registered ministers on Witchvox’s Pennsylvania clergy page who are amenable to areligious ceremonies. I’d do it, if I weren’t in Chicago and were registered in PA. We silly pagans are often more open to a wide range of religious expression, including none at all.

If still in doubt, call the County Clerks office. They can tell you exactly who can perform weddings, and may even have a referral list by denominations.

What about someone getting ordained at Universal Life Church as I am. People find it strange that I am an ordained minister who doesn’t believe in God. Makes for an easy going church.

Another option is to just go to the county courthouse for the ceremony and then have the reception at home or wherever afterward. It’s a very short process (Mr. K and I did it in Vegas). We had a party in our yard six months later. Perfect set up for us non-religious folks.

The problem is, it’s the judge who is insisting on the religious ceremony.

Where in PA is the wedding? I’m in PA and ordained through the ULC. I’ll be happy to go through the motions.


Thanks for the suggestions and especially the offers of help. Presently we are going to call local Unitarians and go from there. Yes, it’s a problem that the JP is the one who wants it religious - and I’m not the one that researched this angle, but am told the JPs have some sort of system for allocating themselves to different regions, and two JPs serve the area in question, and one of them’s already booked that day.

Maryland law requires that you marry in a courthouse or else that you are married by a church representative. You can’t be married outside a courthouse by a JP. At least, not when I married 17 years ago. So we got a Unitarian, and she was very helpful and did a splendid service for us. Athiest as I am, I didn’t bristle at it at all.

I may ask someone here for help if the Unitarians can’t help us. Thanks!

Airman and I went through something similar when we got married in Mississippi. The Catholic priest wouldn’t do it unless we went through pre-marital counseling, which would have been hard given that I lived in Texas and couldn’t go out once a week. Mississippi requires that clergy be ordained, so the student rabbi in Biloxi couldn’t do it, either. (Apparently, Jewish Biloxians don’t get married, or they go to New Orleans or some other city with ordained rabbis.) The local judge did the ceremony, but it had several biblical verses, mostly 1 Corinthians 13 (Love is patient, etc.) I didn’t mind because it wasn’t a “religious” ceremony and the piece of paper was more important than the words.

That’s when I got cranky and got my ordination through the ULC.


When was this? In March of 2000 I helped a couple friends of mine get married at the Howard County (MD) courthouse. The lattice arch with plastic climbing vines in the marriage room was a bit much, but the woman who conducted the service didn’t make any mention of God or religion at all.

In fact, “service” is probably overstating it. It was pure formality and boilerplate wrapped around signing the apropriate forms.

I looked up the current rules in MD. The relevant section of Title II reads:

Most on-point is (f), which basically says a clerk can perform the ceremony wherever and whenever you want as long as a judge signs off on it. Depending on your county, this can be very easy.

Are there no civil marriage celebrants in Pennsylvania?

There are, but each justice of the peace sets his or her own requirements. The one the OP talked to wants to do a religious ceremony, which is against the bride’s wishes.


Any mayor in PA is allowed to do a wedding.