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How to Officiate a Prison Wedding in Washington State

Published Thursday, Nov. 18th, 2021

Learn the basics of officiating a ceremony in a Washington State prison.

Being asked to officiate a wedding for an inmate in a Washington State correctional facility might feel intimidating at first, but don’t worry! 


AMM is here to help you understand the process and to gather the information you need to perform a meaningful, beautiful, legal ceremony for two people in love -- despite their difficult circumstances. 


Preparation is the key to a successful ceremony: Prison weddings involve strict procedures and conduct guidelines for wedding officiants that aren’t part of the ‘ordinary’ wedding experience, ranging from highly specific dress codes to restricted language and officer-approved wedding scripts. But the most complicated parts of the prison wedding process are the couple’s responsibility, such as applying and getting approved for a marriage license, and initiating and paying for required counseling sessions. 


Most of the requirements for prison wedding officiants are the same as those for other types of weddings and venues. 



The first step toward officiating any wedding in WA is to get ordained online


Below, we’ll break down Section V. of Washington’s “Marriages and State Registered Domestic Partnerships” Policy document. This section outlines how ceremonies must be performed inside, and what (if any) role the officiating minister has in counseling the couple before marriage. 


You’ll also find links to relevant pages on Washington’s Department of Corrections website.


State laws and individual facility policies are updated frequently, especially as the COVID pandemic continues. We strongly recommend that you contact the correctional facility directly to confirm the currentness of any information in this article before performing a ceremony.




Close up of a wedding officiants hands, writing a wedding ceremony script with a pen in a notebook

Prison weddings are similar to other types of wedding ceremonies.

Officiants provide a wedding script, ask for a declaration of intent,

and pronounce the couple married. 




From Washington’s Department of Corrections -  

“Marriages and State Registered Domestic Partnerships” Policy document: 



Let’s look at each relevant section of the WA DOC policy for wedding ceremonies, and how it will apply to AMM Ministers. Tips for officiants will appear in boxes below.



V. Ceremony in Prisons 


A. A ceremony will be held for marriages in compliance with state statute. While not legally required, a ceremony will be offered to those entering into a state registered domestic partnership. 


1. The facility Religious Coordinator will supervise the arrangements of the ceremony, which will be performed by: 


a. Volunteer clergy, 
b. A contract religious provider, 
c. The facility Religious Coordinator, or 
d. An outside officiant (e.g., magistrate, clergy) obtained by the incarcerated individual and intended spouse/domestic partner, 


AMM Ministers are recognized as ‘outside officiants’ (listed here as Item ‘d.’) and can be selected by the inmate or their future spouse to perform a marriage ceremony. If you’re not ordained yet, you can begin the process here. 


2. Any outside officiant must clear a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) background check and have Superintendent/designee approval based on the following: 


a. An officiant performing a religious ceremony must: 

1. Be qualified under RCW 26.04 to perform marriages in Washington State, 
2. Have no felony convictions within the past 10 years, and 
3. Submit a certified document verifying authority to perform the ceremony as recognized by the religious or faith-based organization of the incarcerated individual, along with a current letter of appointment or a letter stating the officiant is in good standing from the ordaining body/religious authority. 

b. A member of the judiciary performing a civil ceremony must submit a letter of appointment or oath of office. 


AMM Ministers must participate in a NCIC background check before being approved by the facility Superintendent. You won’t be allowed to officiate if you’ve been convicted of a felony during the past 10 years (Item ‘2’ listed above). 


As an ordained minister with AMM, you’re qualified to perform marriages under §26.04.050, titled Who May Solemnize (Item ‘1’ listed above). To review all sections of Chapter 26.04 RCW, visit our Washington State Marriage Laws. 


You will need to submit a copy of your Ordination Certificate and Letter of Good Standing from AMM to prove that you’re a qualified minister (Item ‘3’ listed above). These official ministry documents can be ordered through our online store. 


B. The couple will be responsible for costs associated with the ceremony. 


C. The ceremony will be private and conducted without media coverage. In addition to the couple and officiant, the following individuals may attend the ceremony: 


1. Ceremony participants required by the religion or faith-based organization of the incarcerated individual or intended spouse/state registered domestic partner. Participants must clear an NCIC background check and require Superintendent/designee approval. 
2. Children of the incarcerated individual and/or intended spouse/state registered domestic partner. 
3. A professional photographer, who must clear an NCIC background check and requires Superintendent/designee approval. 
4. Up to 6 other attendees, as approved by the case manager. Attendees must be on the individual’s approved visitor list or be approved through the special visit process. 
5. One incarcerated individual, if approved by the Superintendent/designee. 


 D. All attendees must comply with dress standards in DOC 450.300 Visits for Incarcerated Individuals. Exceptions require Superintendent/designee approval. 


1. The intended spouse/domestic partner may bring clothing for the individual to wear during the ceremony, if approved in advance. 


As the officiating clergy, you will be identified as a ‘Professional Visitor’ and should follow the clothing standards dress code carefully when planning what to wear to the ceremony (from Item ‘D.’ above). This includes dressing conservatively, wearing clothes without rips or tears, wearing clothing with sleeves, avoiding camouflage print and cargo pants, limiting jewelry, and other specifics. Ministers will be asked to remove their shoes to go through security, and will be asked to leave personal items in a locker or car. 



E. Any items brought into the facility by an outside officiant or attendee require approval from the Superintendent/designee in advance. Religious items will be consistent with the requirements for allowable religious items per DOC 560.200 Religious Programs


1. Unless religious in nature, items brought into the facility that are outside the visit guidelines are intended for the visitor only. 


 F. The incarcerated individual and intended spouse/state registered domestic partner must read, sign, and follow DOC 20-219 Acknowledgment of DOC 590.200 Marriages and State Registered Domestic Partnerships


G. After the ceremony, the Superintendent/designee will complete the Authorized Marriage/State Registered Domestic Partnership Report section of DOC 20-218 Marriage/State Registered Domestic Partnership Approval Routing. The form will be scanned into the electronic imaging file, along with a copy of the certificate and/or license. 


As the officiant, you’ll complete and sign the marriage license in the same way you would at any other type of service. You can learn more about the marriage license here



A close up of two gold wedding bands, set on top of a white rose, as part of a wedding bouquet



Some qualified officiants may also be able to offer counseling to the couple before the ceremony. This process is also outlined in this policy document: 



III. Counseling and Final Approval in Prisons 


A. The incarcerated individual and the intended spouse/domestic partner will participate in counseling prior to marriage or entering into a state registered domestic partnership. 


1. The counseling will be conducted by the officiating clergy, if qualified, or a certified professional counselor obtained by the couple. 


a. The clergy or certified professional counselor will be provided with the individual’s criminal history and DOC 20-444 Marriage/State Registered Domestic Partnership Counseling. The form will be used to document the counseling session and all participants must sign it. 


 2. The couple will be responsible for any costs associated with the counseling. 


 3. The counseling will include a full disclosure of the criminal history to the intended spouse/domestic partner. 


 4. Minor children and other family members living in the home may be included in the counseling. 


5. Counseling may be conducted by telephone or in person. If conducted by phone, DOC 20-444 Marriage/State Registered Domestic Partnership Counseling may be signed electronically. 


AMM Ministers without professional training probably won’t be qualified to provide this type of counseling to inmates and their future spouses. If you have professional experience in this area and want to learn more, we recommend you reach out to the facility directly. 




Additional resources


After reviewing the sections above, you should have a much better idea of how to get started. We strongly recommend you contact the facility where the marriage ceremony will take place early in the planning process, to learn site-specific information and instructions. 


Contact information for individual facilities can be found on the WA DOC website



For a general introduction to prison weddings:  
How to Officiate a Prison Wedding - Performing an Inmate’s Marriage Ceremony



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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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