On Monday, March 24, 2014, I received a phone call from a woman seeking a humanist wedding officiant. It was a pleasant surprise and a good way to start the week. She told me about herself and about her fiancee, the story of where and how they met, and the life they wanted to share together as married partners. She let me know that they had obtained a marriage license in Fulton County, Georgia, and asked if I would agree to perform their wedding ceremony in scenic Piedmont Park, which is located in Midtown Atlanta.
I'd been certified as a humanist celebrant (HC) by the Humanist Society since April of last year, but this was to be the first wedding I would perform in this capacity. Needless to say, I was very excited and looked forward to the possibility of officiating their wedding. Humanist celebrants have the same legal weight and privileges as traditional clergy, rabbis, preachers, ministers, priests, and so forth, because we are members of the Humanist Society, an organization with 501(c)(3) status. Founded in 1939, it is now a part of the American Humanist Association.
Since I'm an atheist and a former clergywoman, this is a perfect way to reuse skills and expertise I developed as a minister in the United Methodist Church (UMC), but with a very different focus as the officiant of secular ceremonies for those who would rather leave gods and religion out of their special moments or milestones. In terms of legalities, each state has its own rules as to who can actually perform a wedding, but the Georgia Code states that, "any judge, including judges of state and federal courts of record in this state, city recorder, magistrate, minister, or other person of any religious society or sect authorized by the rules of such society to perform the marriage ceremony" can perform a wedding.
Before I agreed to perform their marriage ceremony, I called the Fulton County Probate Courthouse to make sure that I had a clear sense of what was required of me. I was informed that since the couple had already obtained the marriage license, I needed to verify and sign it at the time of the wedding. The signed license was to be returned to the Probate Court thereafter by either one of us; me or the couple, and at that time, the marriage certificate would be issued. As far as I knew, everything was a go, and we proceeded with the wedding later that day near the pond located in the center of Piedmont Park. After brief introductions, the wedding ceremony was...