This policy update is being provided in an effort to provide clarification and guidance regarding this week’s change to the IAPWO Standards of Membership and Code of Ethics, specifically related our non-discrimination policy.
If you are an IAPWO member and have questions or concerns about this or any other recent updates to our policies and procedures, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The International Association of Professional Wedding Officiants (IAPWO) has updated its IAPWO Standards of Membership and Code of Ethics for the first time since 2015, providing additional clarity and specificity around association policies and procedures. These changes were made after careful consideration and consultation with IAPWO members and our legal team – we deeply appreciate the input of everyone who participated in this process.
Of particular note is our update to the non-discrimination policy in the IAPWO Code of Ethics, which now reads as follows:
ARTICLE 2: Non-Discrimination. IAPWO members must provide equal access to their established services for all couples regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, age, disability, or country of national origin of any party.
Wedding officiants and celebrants and their businesses are uniquely situated directly on the “fault line” of the cultural and legal debate around same-sex marriage. While the IAPWO is a secular organization of professional officiants and celebrants, many of our members are ordained clergy with religious and ecclesiastical considerations in addition to concerns over required legal authorization to perform marriages by local, state, and national governments around the world. This unique position makes it even more important to clearly identify potential discrimination for our members.
Our purpose in updating the IAPWO non-discrimination policy is to provide a simple, clear, and direct method for identifying and addressing discriminatory practices. I encourage all IAPWO members to thoroughly re-examine the policies, procedures, and messaging of their businesses to ensure that they are not in conflict with this updated policy.
Simply put, our expectation is that IAPWO members will not discriminate against same-sex or non-cisgender couples and comply with the laws of their local jurisdiction. It may be a difficult needle to thread depending on the laws in your area, but it’s our responsibility as professionals to operate our businesses both legally and professionally. Discrimination is unprofessional, and IAPWO members are prohibited from engaging in discriminatory practices as a condition of membership in our organization. If there’s ever a question of whether you are potentially discriminating against a couple in violation of IAPWO policy, simply ask yourself:
“Would I say yes if it was a different couple asking?”
If the answer is yes, then reconsider your response. We’ve now implemented a clearly defined process for evaluating and responding to reported violations of the IAPWO Code of Ethics, so please read about that process if you are interested.
Definitions are provided for the following terms as included in Article 2 of the IAPWO Code of Ethics:
- Equal Access – Equal access means that all couples may pay for and receive goods and services from your business, regardless of their status (or perceived status) as a member of a protected class.
- Established Services – Established services means the menu of goods and services regularly offered by your business to the public.
The most simple, clear, and direct way to explain what “equal access to their established services” means is this:
“If you do it for anyone, you must do it for everyone.”
It’s an incredibly simple test, and incredibly simple to apply to your business practices. You, as a professional and the owner of a business that serves the general public, get to determine what you offer, but you do not get to determine who you offer it to. If you’re willing to provide a particular product or service to one type of couple but not another, then you and your business are engaging in prohibited discrimination under Article 2 of the IAPWO Code of Ethics.
This does not, however, mean that you and your business are required to accommodate the demands of any couple to provide something is not part of your established services. For example, if your business offers customized ceremonies for each couple in either a traditional Jewish religious format or a secular non-religious format, you are not required to accommodate a Christian couple who asks you to write and perform a traditional Christian religious ceremony. That would not be part of your established services, it’s not something you provide to anyone and you are not discriminating against them by declining their business. However, if that same Christian couple asks you to write and perform a customized secular non-religious ceremony, something you regularly offer as part of your established services, then you may not refuse their business because they’re Christian. If you’re willing to perform a secular non-religious ceremony for anyone, then you must be willing to perform that service for anyone.
When applying this test to something other than religion, it becomes even more clear and unequivocal. If a same-sex couple wants to hire you for the type of services that you regularly provide to opposite-sex couples, then refusing their business would be discriminatory – there’s no such thing as a “gay” ceremony. If an African-American couple asks you to perform the same type of ceremony you regularly perform for Caucasian couples, the same rule applies.
Some IAPWO members have had specific questions about how the IAPWO’s non-discrimination policy applies to ordained clergy when a conflict arises between church policy and IAPWO policy. To be clear, the IAPWO is a secular organization for professional officiants and celebrants who openly solicit bookings from the general public. Anyone can be a member of the IAPWO as long as they meet the Standards of Membership and agree to adhere to the Code of Ethics, regardless of their religious affiliation, ordination credentials, or lack thereof. We have members who are civil celebrants with no religious affiliation (for example, a retired judge or justice of the peace) as well as ordained clergy, and the IAPWO makes no distinction between members on this basis.
If the policies of your church or religious organization make it impossible for you to meet the IAPWO Standards of Membership or adhere to the IAPWO Code of Ethics, then you are not eligible for IAPWO membership. For example, if you are a Rabbi at a Jewish congregation and your synagogue prohibits you from performing marriage ceremonies for a couple unless both parties to the marriage are Jewish, then you are not eligible for IAPWO membership. If you are a Catholic Priest and you only perform marriage ceremonies for couples inside your church and you don’t solicit bookings from the general public, you are not eligible for IAPWO membership. If you are the minister at a Christian church and your church prohibits you from performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, you are not eligible for IAPWO membership. If scenarios like this are an issue for you, we encourage you to take the matter up with your religious organization and advocate for changes to their policies. As far as IAPWO policies are concerned, discrimination is discrimination whether it’s a matter of personal beliefs or church policy.
Advice for Compliance
The most important thing that IAPWO members can do to ensure compliance with our non-discrimination policy is to be clear and explicit about what is (and isn’t) part of your established services. If you claim to be willing to do anything for anyone, then you need to be prepared to do so – no matter what.
However, if you have certain types of services that you regularly offer and would be uncomfortable with or unwilling to perform other types of services, then you need to be very clear about what your services are (and are not) to avoid confusion from couples. Include detailed descriptions of your services on your website or price lists, and communicate any limits or restrictions in your FAQ or information packet. Double-check the text of your advertising and social media profiles to ensure that they clearly communicate what you do and don’t do.
Hopefully this article has been helpful in clarifying the IAPWO’s policies and position regarding non-discrimination. If you are an IAPWO member and have any questions or concerns about this policy change, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com or join the discussion in the IAPWO Members-Only Facebook Group. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and thank you for your continued support of professional officiants and celebrants everywhere!
Rev. Laura C. Cannon is the President of the International Association of Professional Wedding Officiants (IAPWO) and has personally performed over 1,000 marriages over her 15-year career as a professional wedding officiant. She is also a professional member of the National Speaker’s Association (NSA) and is the owner of Ceremony Officiants™, one of the largest booking agencies for officiants in the United States.