A word about wedding officiants who were ordained online

With the Supreme Court set to rule on marriage soon, many people are planning weddings.  One part of getting married is finding someone who can officiate the wedding and sign the license legally in Tennessee. 

Many people who were ordained online as ministers are stepping forward to offer their services.  Does that translate to a legal marriage?  Google searches pull up lots of ads and sites that say they are legal.  Is that true, marketing, some of both?

We're not attorneys at the Tennessee Equality Project, so we're not going to make a blanket statement.  We urge you to proceed with caution and consult an attorney.

Here's some information that may be of help to you:

*A 2015 Tennessee Attorney General opinion reiterating the Tennessee Code's stringent requirements for ministers to be able solemnize marriages generally and denying the right of Universal Life Church ministers specifically to solemnize marriages in Tennessee.  See the link.

*A 2012 New York Times piece indicating that Tennessee and a few other states generally do not consider online ordination valid for legal marriages.  Here's the link.

*A 2007 New York Times piece indicating that couples married by an online minister in some states are at risk.  The full story at the link.

What if you make a mistake?  This 1997 Tennessee Attorney General opinion indicates that mail-order or online ordained ministers are generally not permitted to officiate weddings in Tennessee, but that if couples have a ceremony, live together, and think they're married, the State will typically treat them as married, though there is the possibility of the marriage being challenged.  Read the whole thing here.  Note:  The County Clerk cannot, according to Tennessee law, challenge the ordination of the person marrying you, but others may be able to do so. 

So before agreeing to be married by someone, read this section of the Tennessee Code.  It lists current and former elected officials who may marry couples and it contains qualifications for clergy acting as officiants.  So if you choose a member of the clergy, you may want to ask whether they are 18 or older, whether they have the care of souls (typically meaning a congregation), and how they were ordained or designated a minister.  The law says their ordination must have been a "considered, deliberate, and responsible act."  The 2015 Tennessee Attorney General opinion cited above should be consulted on what that means.

In summary...proceed with caution, ask questions, and consult an attorney if you have doubts.

Showing 3 reactions

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  • Trevor Sorrento
    commented 2019-03-01 17:05:59 -0600
    This is great information. Thank you for sharing this, it’s super important for people, and couples to know, and be extremely cautious. Please continue sharing information like this!


  • Deaghlan Finn-kelly
    commented 2018-10-12 19:16:27 -0500
    Like everything in life we are urged to check and check again, but if someone is ordained and there is no apostolic line is that the greatest crime or the greatest worry for the world and the USA. I can not talk about the USA as I am Irish by birth and lived in the UK for most of my life. I did train to be a priest, I joined a monastery and it is very hard. but if somebody says hey I am a minister as I was ordained in whatever year, but during that time he or she has done good works, served the poor and needy, gave comfort were there was none, is that such a crime, It is freedom of religion. as the song says “let it be.”
  • Reiki Temple
    commented 2016-10-04 10:25:02 -0500
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