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Meet Elizabeth Oakes of MarriageToGo in Santa Monica

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Oakes.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I founded MarriageToGo in 2001 to offer creative and affordable alternatives to the standard-issue white wedding. Since the beginning, MarriageToGo couples have had complete control over the style, content, and location of their wedding ceremonies; our on-site marriage licensing makes the legal part easy and seamless.

Fifteen years ago it was nearly impossible to find on-site wedding officiation that was truly inclusive and non-judgmental; the response was tremendous and I am proud to have been part of the cultural vanguard in nondenom, interfaith, humanist, “offbeat,” and LGBT marriage services. I like to think that MarriageToGo has helped make inclusive, customized weddings part of the new normal.

I’ve married people in parks, beaches, boats, limos, airplanes, private suites, meadows, museums, mountaintops, theme parks, historic homes, hospitals, theatres, warehouses, ranches, rooftops, gardens, surprise parties, holiday dinners, barbecues, ballrooms, balconies, and dozens of other innovative locations. MarriageToGo has been featured on NPR and in the NYT, and I continue working hard bring my years of experience to a newer generation of couples seeking ceremonies that express their unique stories and outlook on love, marriage, and community.

Whether a simple elopement at home or an epic wedding for hundreds, MarriageToGo’s mission is to make getting married personal, sweet, and enjoyable. Our new imprint Golden Oak Weddings will be rolling out in early 2017, focusing on weddings of natural beauty–not just beautiful locations, but the inner beauty that comes from getting married with a calm and happy heart.

From the beginning, MarriageToGo has been about offering our clients choices so they can best fulfill their unique wedding needs. The work is deeply gratifying, and I hope to continue helping couples find ways to share the love for a long time.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
New ideas are often met with ridicule before curiosity. Education is key. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve had people came up to me laughing at the notion of “marriage to go,” but–usually–coming away from the conversation with something to think about.

Now that “wedding officiants” are a thing, more and more people want to try their hand at conducting weddings–mostly to make a little pin money on the weekends. I’ve had a few guys call me who were just divorced, wanting me to tell them how to start officiating weddings….uuuh, k. Since couples can’t really comparison shop for wedding providers–i.e. have a dozen weddings then pick the one they like best–it can be hard for them to discern what makes a good officiant vs. a not-so-good one before they make a decision. Again, education plays a big part.

Recently, technology is bringing both positive and not-so-positive things to the wedding world. I love the easy access to an international clientele and the ability to stream weddings to those who can’t attend, but the rise of visual marketing sites like Pinterest and Instagram have created crazily unrealistic expectations that leave most wedding vendors shaking their heads.

Though the internet has also been a huge boon for consumers who want a lot of choices, it has also driven engaged couples to overspend and over-schedule themselves as never before. It’s Keep Up With The Joneses for the New Millennium, and it’s something I try to make clients aware of so they can reduce their tech-induced anxiety levels. I think couples should be able to enjoy the wedding planning process as well as the wedding itself; helping people stay calm and sane when they feel like they’re drowning in wedding choices can be a challenge.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about MarriageToGo – what should we know?
I offer custom wedding ceremonies centered around my clients’ unique needs, and I’m authorized to issue California confidential marriage licenses on-site for couples who qualify. MarriageToGo is known for friendly, reliable service with a creative spirit. I think I’m most proud of the work I’ve done (and continue to do) advocating for couples who are struggling with cultural or family biases, or families where mental illness or addiction issues arise during wedding planning. I have also volunteered my officiation services for the County of Los Angeles for fourteen years now, and this spirit of giving back to the community is part of what makes MTG unique. It’s not about making money for me; it’s about making the world a happier, more loving place, and my goal is to always walk that talk.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I was always an eclectic kid and fascinated with different cultures and traditions. I also didn’t like being told what to think or believe, and always made up my own mind about things. I was interested in animals, reading, gardens, dance, yoga, horses, forests, travel, writing, and social activism; that’s all pretty much true today too.

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