Post # 1
We asked our friend to officiate our wedding, assuming that he would be able to do the whole online ordination and we could go on with our (secular) wedding like we’ve heard of so many times. Upon further research, it seems like the state we live in/are getting married in, Tennessee, is one of the more strict states and doesn’t always honor online ordinations. Does anyone have any experience with this?
Post # 2
This isn’t legal advice, but I recently got married in TN and looked this up for myself.
The Davidson County (Nashville) clerk’s office has some info on their website about who can solemnize a marriage. There’s a citation to an Attorney General opinion that says the person has to be ordained by a “considered, deliberate and responsible act” but the county clerk cannot question the qualifications of the officiant.
From the Davidson County Clerk’s website:
“For all marriages after April 15, 1998, in order to solemnize the rite of matrimony a minister, preacher, pastor, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader must be ordained or otherwise designated in conformity with the customs of a church, temple, or other religious group or organization, and such customs must provide for ordination or designation by a considered, deliberate, and responsible act. T.C.A. § 36-3-301(a)(2) (added by 1998 Public Chapter 745). The county clerk, however, has neither the authority nor the duty to examine the qualifications of persons seeking to solemnize the rite of matrimony. See Tenn. Att’y Gen. Op. U97-041. The county clerk cannot require proof that an officiant is, in fact, a minister or other authorized person. Op. Tenn.
Att’y Gen. 87-151 (9/17/87).”
The AG opinion was directed at Universal Life Church, and a new one came out in 2015 reiterating the ULC still does not meet the statutory requirements. However, someone I know was ordained through American Marriage Ministries (similar to ULC I think) and solemnized a friend’s marriage and their license was accepted by Davidson County last year. It seems like it’s not technically legal but as a practical matter you can still do it because the clerks are (allegedly according to the AG opinion) not supposed to question the officiant. We (being attorneys and painfully risk averse lol) chose to hire an officiant who was definitely legal and not take any chances but I think it would have been fine if we had gone with the friend instead. I have a good recommendation for a minister if you are in the Nashville area and would like one.
Post # 3
Thank you so much for the detailed advice! This is essentially what I had discovered online and by contacting the county clerk too; a weird policy of “yes we won’t question it but maybe down the line if it’s challenged in the courts it won’t be valid” – it’s very frustrating! We’ve already asked our friend and he was so excited & touched, I would hate to take it back but we also come from a family of attourneys and are similarly risk-averse. I would still love your recommendation just in case!
Post # 4
I’d suggest getting the paperwork out of the way either ahead of time or just after. Then your friend can officiate whether they are legal to do so or not. This is how we were able to have my Father-In-Law officiate our ceremony. The only way this isn’t reasonable is if you don’t care about the emotional aspect of the wedding, just the legal technicalities. We didn’t consider ourselves at all married after filing the paperwork – it was the family blessing and vows that did it for us, two days later.