While weddings used to be almost exclusively performed by ministers and priests in churches, more and more couples are seeking to celebrate their marriage by having their ceremonies officiated by friends and family or by having ceremonies in non-traditional locations and styles that demand a different style of officiant. Fortunately, it is fairly easy for nearly anyone to become certified to perform marriages and thus to participate in a unique way in the ceremonies of their loved ones or provide new options to couples seeking more choices.
Every state allows ordained representatives of religions to perform marriage ceremonies. Becoming a priest or minister is a serious, lifetime dedication in most religions and not something that can be done easily or on a whim. There are a few religions, however, that provide ordination to people who want it with no strings attached. Probably the most famous of them is the Universal Life Church, which will ordain anyone for free over the Internet. Their website includes information about what is required for a marriage ceremony to be legal and their online shop sells helpful books on the subject for both the minister and the couple. Another good option is American Marriage Ministries, which exists almost exclusively to provide ordination for people who wish to perform marriages. Their website is full of useful information for officiants and, as with the Universal Life Church, ordination is free through their website.
Judges are the other major category of people who are allowed to perform marriages in every state and becoming a judge requires years of study and hard work, much like becoming a minister does in most major religions. A few states allow marriages to be performed by notary publics, however. Becoming a notary public is usually a simple process involving forms, a fee and sometimes a recommendation letter. Notary publics are officials who are legally appointed by the state to administer oaths and witness signatures. Check to see if your state allows notary publics to officiate weddings before deciding on this course of action.
Always check the laws of the state where the wedding will be performed, since sometimes there are other options. For example, in California it is possible to become a Deputy Commissioner of Marriage for one day only in order to officiate at the wedding of friends or family members. Many states require that the officiant register with the state before the ceremony and provide credentials as well, so make sure you leave enough time to do this or the wedding won't be official. There are several website with listings of the laws concerning wedding officiants in each state (including the American Marriage Ministries website), but it's always best to call or visit the appropriate office as well to ensure that nothing has changed since the website you looked at was updated.