Licensed to wed

Marriage commissioners’ popularity reflects society’s desire for individuality

Judy Knight officiates weddings after retiring from a government job.

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

Brenda McConaghy is a registered non-denominational marriage commissioner. She says that couples tend to see her as someone who can provide a personalized and accurate story about their relationship.

Many Manitoban couples these days are choosing to be married by a wedding officiant, also known as a marriage commissioner. Wedding officiants are licensed by the province to perform wedding ceremonies and legally marry couples. Unlike priests, the ceremonies performed by wedding officiants are civil, which means that they are not affiliated with religion.

Judy Knight is a registered wedding officiant and a member of the Manitoba LGBT* Chamber of Commerce. She says that for most couples, it is important that the ceremony reflects their personal style.

“They have more of an opportunity to have an influence on the ceremony and how things go, and it’s not as prescriptive, and it’s individualized to their liking,” she says. Knight explains that while a religious ceremony includes prescribed rituals, couples choosing a civil ceremony can decide which rituals and vows to include.

Knight provides guidance around different aspects of the ceremony and assists in choosing rituals and readings, as well as writing the vows. She considers herself as a guiding agent for the couples to figure out how to celebrate their special day, and she enjoys assisting them in creating a ceremony that reflects who they are as a couple.

“I like to meet with the individual couple and see what their starting point is for their special day and try to fill in the blanks,” she says.

Knight applied to become a wedding officiant after retiring from her government job. She felt that her experience with public speaking and speechwriting were assets in this new career path, and she says she finds a sense of fulfilment in meeting different people and helping them to plan the rest of their lives. She also sells marriage licences.

To become a registered marriage commissioner in Manitoba, three reference letters are required. As well, the ceremonies are civil and must be secular. Knight believes that the popularity of these civil ceremonies indicates that many people are seeing weddings as a way to express their individuality.

Knight says that the civil ceremony is especially popular for the LGBT community, and she considers herself an ally.

McConaghy meets with a couple a few times before their ceremony to get a sense of who they are and goes over different options for vows and elements of the ceremony. When writing vows, McConaghy discusses with the couples how they would like to refer to each other, be it husband, wife or spouse.

As wedding season approaches, McConaghy looks forward to meeting a variety of different people.

“It’s such a happy thing to be a part of, when two people make that commitment to one another … it’s just a joy - an absolute joy,” she says.

Knight agrees.

“There’s nothing better than seeing two people who are in love wanting to plan the rest of their lives, and it’s so positive,” she says.

Contact McConaghy at and Knight at

Published in Volume 72, Number 19 of The Uniter (March 1, 2018)

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