First Nation Church

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Category: Marriage Law

Among the most complex and perplexing laws are those pertaining to marriage and, specifically, who can (and cannot) perform marriage ceremonies. Marriage laws vary widely from country to country, state to state, and even city to city. Even if you are legally ordained as a minister and are in good standing with your church, you may find it difficult to decipher the legalese of whether or not you can serve as the Officiant or Celebrant for a wedding in a specific location. We cut through the jargon and present the information you are looking for in simple, straightforward terms.

Are You Qualified To Perform Premarital Counseling In Tennessee?

A First Nation clergy member recently asked if being ordained as a ceremonial minister qualified him to provide premarital counseling in Tennessee, which entitles the bridal couple to a discount off of the regular $100 marriage license fee:

Tennessee Code Annotated §36-6-413(b)(5) provides that couples who complete premarital preparation courses shall be exempt from the $60 fee otherwise imposed by that code section. The course must not be less than four (4) hours and completed no more than one year prior to the date of application for the license. Parties may attend separate classes. If they do, separate certificates must be filed.

Our reply:

Simply being ordained does not qualify a ceremonial minister to provide counseling, but Tennessee law does not restrict legally ordained ministers from doing so.

Tennessee Code Chapter 63-22-204 (a) states:

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as limiting the ministry, activities, or services of a rabbi, priest, minister of the gospel or others authorized by a regularly organized and functioning religious body in performing the ordinary duties or functions of the clergy; nor shall anything in this chapter apply to or be construed as limiting the activities or services of Christian Science practitioners. Nor shall any rabbi, priest, or minister who offers counseling services, even if fees are charged, be subject to the limitations of this chapter, as long as they do not hold themselves out as licensed pastoral therapists or licensed pastoral counselors and as long as they do not purport to provide the integration and professional application of resources and techniques from the religious community’s traditions of pastoral care and counsel along with recognized principles, methods and procedures of clinical psychotherapy.

We highly recommend that anyone planning to provide such counseling should undertake training specific to performing this role.

You may request Tennessee-based ordination at FirstNationMinistry.org/us/tennessee.

Have any questions regarding this subject? Please let us know!

State Of The Union: Performing Marriage Ceremonies In Tennessee

Tennessee Marriage Law For Ministers

We recently received an inquiry from an out-of-state (non-resident) minister who was concerned about performing a marriage ceremony in Tennessee.

His concern was not only about not being a resident of the state, but whether the local court clerk — who would be issuing the marriage license to the bridal couple — would accept and recognize the validity of his ministerial credential.

The Tennessee attorney general has issued several opinions in the past about whether ministers or spiritual leaders of various religions (including imams, rabbis and other clerics and teachers) were authorized to perform marriage ceremonies in the state. Also addressed by the attorney general was his opinion regarding whether or not instant online ordination through the Universal Life Church or other religious organizations met the state’s standard for being performed as “a considered, deliberate, and responsible act.”

(Note that the attorney general issued opinions on the state’s law — these are his interpretations only and have no legal effect, although they are carefully and thoughtfully written, and are excellent guides for all concerned.)

Our correspondent received this reply from the Deputy Clerk of the Sumner County Clerk’s Office in Gallatin, which gets straight to the bottom line:

Pursuant to the Tennessee Attorney General, the County Clerk does not have the authority to examine the qualifications of persons who perform marriage ceremonies.

The first thing we will point out is that we do not provide instant online ordination as others do.

We meet and exceed all of Tennessee’s statutes and legal requirements — each ordination request is reviewed and vetted by our staff, and must be approved by a member of our board in compliance with Tennessee’s directive for the process to be “a considered, deliberate, and responsible act.” We have been legally and lawfully ordaining ceremonial ministers in Tennessee for decades, without a single challenge to our authority to do so, or to the authority of those in our service.

In addition, as noted by the Sumner County Clerk’s Office, no County Clerk or other official anywhere in Tennessee has the authority to examine or rule on the qualifications of persons who perform marriage ceremonies; however, any legal authority (including judges, district attorneys and certain state-appointed officials) can request you to present your active credentials, as can the bridal couple and their legal representatives.

Keep in mind that most of the challenges to the legal authority of a marriage officiant from any church or religious organization is not because of the officiant’s legal status — it’s generally because one or both of the parties to the marriage are looking for a way to annul their union. In a divorce, one party may be looking for an advantage (financially or otherwise) over the other. If the other can get the marriage annulled because of a technicality, such as the legal status of the officiant, or perhaps because a certain box wasn’t checked off on the marriage license application, then the financial or custodial advantage can be wiped out as well.

The bottom line is that if the couple is looking to dissolve their marriage, then they’ll use any method at their disposal. If they are happily married, then no legal challenge will be made to their union — the state isn’t going to come along and say that Bob Smith wasn’t legally ordained, so the marriage is null and void.

Keep in mind also that Title 36 of the Tennessee Code includes several statutes that state, in essence, that if the parties to the marriage believe that they are legally married, then such marriage is valid and is declared to be in full compliance with the laws of Tennessee.

Ready to become ordained to perform ceremonies in Tennessee? Please click here.

On a related subject, we discuss whether or not ordained ministers are permitted to perform premarital counseling in Tennessee. Why is this subject important? Read more…

State of the Union: Serving As A Wedding Officiant In Virginia

PLEASE NOTE: As a result of the continued actions of Virginia circuit courts to obstruct legally-ordained ministers from performing their constitutionally-authorized duties in the Commonwealth, the church has temporarily discontinued granting new ordinations with the Virginia endorsement, effective 10 October 2016 and continuing until the situation is resolved. All currently-ordained ministers may continue to serve in Virginia without restriction.

Perhaps the most common question we get from our ministers regards the brick wall that is put up to block them from serving in some cities and counties in Virginia — but, frustratingly, not by all of them.

Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia - Marriage OfficiantOver the years, it has been very much hit-or-miss for ceremonial ministers serving in Virginia — not just for our church, but for many others as well.

Some states require ministers to register prior to performing a ceremony there, but it’s usually a simple, hassle-free procedure and, usually, the registering authority works with you to expedite the process.

And then there is the magnificent and sovereign Commonwealth of Virginia.

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California Ordination, Marriage License and Ceremony Information

Adapted from information provided by the State of California Department of Public Health, this article covers the most common situations involving the state’s marriage laws, and some of the complexities as well. And if you are interested in becoming ordained as a wedding officiant to perform marriage ceremonies in California — a very uncomplicated process — please click here.

State Seal of CaliforniaThis article will provide you with general information regarding the requirements for the issuance and registration of both public and confidential marriage licenses in California, as well as answer many frequently asked questions regarding the laws pertaining to marriage licenses and ceremonies in California.

If you are getting married in California, for further information please contact the County Clerk/Recorder’s Office in the county where you will be applying for the marriage license. Information regarding contacting the County Clerk/Recorder may be obtained at:
http://1.usa.gov/JK7766

The registration of public and confidential marriages in California is a local and state function. The California Family Code provides for a continuous and permanent marriage registration system. The system depends upon the conscientious efforts of local officials, clergy and other officiants in preparing the original records and in certifying the information on these records.

“Laws are mutually accepted rules by which, together, we maintain a free society. Liberty itself is built on a foundation of law. That foundation provides an orderly process for changing laws. It also depends on our obeying laws once they have been freely adopted.”

— From the Freedoms Foundation’s “Bill of Responsibilities”

County Clerk

The County Clerk issues public and confidential marriage licenses. The County Clerk is the local registrar of confidential marriages (Family Code, Section 511). The County Clerk maintains a permanent index of all confidential marriages registered.

Marriage Officiant

The marriage officiant, e.g., clergyperson or authorized individual who performs the marriage ceremony, is required by law to complete the marriage license and return it to the County Recorder’s office within 10 days of the event for registration. For confidential marriages, the marriage license is returned to the County Clerk’s office for registration. The State of California does not certify persons who intend to perform marriage ceremonies, and does not maintain a registry of persons permitted to perform ceremonies in the state. Bridal couples should ask their minister or officiant to present his or her active ordination credentials prior to the marriage ceremony.

For information on becoming ordained to perform marriage ceremonies in California, please click here.

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State of the Union: Serving As A Marriage Officiant In Rhode Island

This article is part of a series for ministers on performing marriage ceremonies in the United States and elsewhere. In this article, we focus on the magnificent state of Rhode Island and its rules and regulations.

Rhode Island has some of the most breath-taking scenery and some of the most picturesque places to have a wedding ceremony anywhere in the world. If you are legally ordained as a ceremonial minister, it’s also a very uncomplicated place to perform marriages.

Rhode Island Great SealAccording to Rhode Island law, everyone who is or has been the minister of any society professing to meet for religious purposes, or incorporated for the promotion of such purposes, and holding stated and regular services, and who has been ordained according to the customs and usages of such society may perform marriages.

Sounds complicated? It’s really not. If you are in good standing with the church, you can perform the ceremony. Rhode Island does not require ceremonial ministers to register with any agency in the state, but — as with most jurisdictions — you are required to present your active credentials to any legal authority, as well as the bridal couple, upon their request.

In addition, Rhode Island does not restrict non-resident ministers from serving in the state, as long as your ordination is in good standing.

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State of the Union: Serving As A Wedding Officiant In New York

This article is part of a series for ministers on performing marriage ceremonies in the United States and elsewhere. In this article, we focus on New York State, as well as New York City, which has its own specific set of rules and regulations.

We often hear from ministers and officiants that are concerned about the complexities of performing marriage ceremonies in New York. While it may seem complex on the surface, it’s actually fairly simple and straightforward — as long as you follow the rules.

Becoming ordained as a New York wedding minister

In New York, you’re free to perform marriage ceremonies … if you follow the rules.

Basically, you must be legally ordained before performing a wedding ceremony in New York. If you are currently ordained and in good standing with the church, you are ready to perform the ceremony this very moment. (If you aren’t currently ordained, you may request New York-based ordination by clicking here now.)

With one major exception, you are not required to register with any agency in New York before performing ceremonies in the state, but always keep in mind that you must present your credentials to any legal authority upon their request — which can include the town clerk, county clerk, or any representative of the state — as well as the bridal couple.

That one major exception on registering relates to whether the ceremony is taking place in any of the five boroughs of New York City — Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx. Regardless of where the marriage license is being issued in the state, if the wedding ceremony itself is taking place anywhere in New York City (not just Manhattan, not just Brooklyn) then, as the officiant, you must register with the Marriage Bureau at 141 Worth Street in Manhattan.

Is there a way around this requirement? No, there isn’t. But the wonderful folks at the city’s Marriage Bureau actually try to make it as simple and painless as possible for you. But keep in mind that you should not wait until the last minute to get registered with them!

If you plan to perform ceremonies specifically in New York City, the church will provide you with the documents and forms required by the Marriage Bureau. If you intend to become ordained, you may request the New York City endorsement as part of the process. If you are currently ordained, but want to receive the New York City endorsement from the church, you may request it from us by clicking here.

The Marriage Bureau has a very nice website with very detailed information about their processes and procedures. We recommend that you take at least a few minutes to carefully read through their instructions.

More good news: as long as you are actively ordained, you can begin the registration process online on the Marriage Bureau’s website. Here’s a link to the Bureau’s online minister registration application.

What happens next? As noted on the Marriage Bureau’s website: “Once you have completed the form using the correct option … you must visit the Manhattan office to complete your registration if you are a resident of the City of New York. If you reside outside of the City of New York you may mail the signed and notarized application, a photocopy of your proper identification and your fee of $15 by credit card or money order payable to the City Clerk.”

So easy! Now get out there and perform that ceremony!

Interested in becoming ordained to perform ceremonies in New York? Click here now for more information.

But wait — you knew there’d be other variables to consider

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Can A Ship Captain Perform A Marriage Ceremony?

There are certain questions we receive day in and day out, generally about whether a ceremonial minister who lives in one state (let’s say Texas) can legally perform a wedding in another state (let’s say Hawaii*), but one that pops up occasionally is also one that can be quite perplexing.

So … can a ship’s captain perform a marriage ceremony?

The simple answer is yes, as long as he or she is legally ordained by a church or religious organization. Earning the position of ship’s captain does not automatically give you the right and responsibility to serve as a wedding minister.

Can a ship captain perform marriage ceremonies

The Skipper may be permitted to perform your marriage ceremony on the Minnow. Gilligan? Not so much.

The more complicated answer is maybe, depending on where the ceremony is taking place.

When a wedding ceremony takes place on dry land, the law that takes precedent is that of the country, state or territory that you are standing on. If you’re in Iowa, then Iowa’s marriage laws are in full effect; the local county clerk in Iowa must issue the marriage license, the marriage license must be used (solemnized) within Iowa’s state boundaries, and it must be filed with that same county clerk to be legal and valid. Want to take your Iowa marriage license to Wichita, Kansas, and have your ceremony there? Can’t do it. Not legal.

Meanwhile, back on the boat: let’s say we’re sailing from Bermuda to the Bahamas (come on, pretty mama) and you’ve decided to tie the knot. Cool your jets. It isn’t that simple. Some cruise lines, such as Cunard, do have wedding packages that include a shipboard ceremony. Check with the cruise company or your travel agent (yes, there are still travel agents) for information.

If you’re off the coast of Maine, sailing in the Florida Keys, island hopping in Hawaii or on a bay cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge, and if the captain is legally ordained — and you have a valid locally-issued marriage license — then it’s full steam ahead.

But if you’re taking a three-hour tour out on the high seas, chances are that the Skipper isn’t going to be able to help you get hitched, even if he’s an ordained minister. (Gilligan can’t do it, either, so don’t bother asking.)

Need additional information specific to your shipboard ceremony situation? Tell us where you plan to get married, and we’ll fill in the details for you.

Are you a ship’s captain? Do you want to perform shipboard marriage ceremonies? The process is quick, simple and affordable. Click here to become legally ordained right now! (That link works for land-lubbers, too.)

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* — The answer is actually yes! Hawaii does not restrict non-resident officiants from performing ceremonies anywhere in the state, as long as you are legally ordained and have registered in advance with the Department of Health in Honolulu. It’s a fairly fast and simple process! To find out more, please visit our Hawaii information page.

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