The Difference Between a Justice of the Peace and a Minister

A happy family at their front yard wedding

In my mind getting married in a courthouse is like making love in a lavatory — a last resort. Justice of the peace is another name for a county judge. To be married by a county judge, you have to go to the court house where the judge presides, usually in the county seat, make an appointment with a judge, buy a marriage license (currently $30 in Denver and surrounding counties), and show up when you’re told to. The “ceremony” takes place in the judge’s chamber, or office, where he or she recites a short, canned script before pronouncing you married.

The cost can vary from judge to judge. Expect to pay $80 or more, including the license ­ plus parking. It’s a good way to make what you hope is a once in a lifetime special event forgettable. No warm ambiance, customization of the marriage ceremony, or blessing.

Typically ministers are ordained by churches. Different churches have different criteria for ordination. Most require a course of study, usually at a divinity school or seminary. People calling themselves “non-denominational” ministers may have sent money to the entity that calls itself the Universal Life Church. This church then sends them a certificate of ordination, making them mail order ministers. That doesn’t mean they don’t do a decent job of officiating, just that their ministerial credential is shaky.

A groom only another marine in dress blues could have competed with for stylishness. I asked him if one of his medals was for getting married.

Whoever your officiant is, he or she should be happy to help you have a unique wedding ceremony, as befits your uniqueness as a couple. The credentials that count are attitude and ability to engage your hearts and minds ­ and those of your wedding guests. On your golden wedding anniversary, you want to recall your wedding ceremony and what made it joyous, fun and meaningful