The Danger of Being Married by a Mail-Ordered Ministry in TennesseeWith the rise of the Internet, many people and organizations saw creating an online ministry ordination business as a way to make money and help people get married. USA Today reported a story about an easy way to terminate a marriage – show that the marriage was never valid in the first place. The story reported that many ministers who conduct marriage ceremonies in Tennessee do not have the proper qualifications. The lack of qualifications mostly applies to ministers who received through credentials through an online service.

The Tennessee law on solemnizing marriages

Tennessee statute 36-3-301 sets forth who can formally conduct a marriage ceremony in Tennessee. Any marriages conducted by someone without this authority can be invalidated. The key requirements of the statute are as follows:

  • The person who conducts the marriage ceremony must a “regular” minister, preacher, priest, rabbi, pastor, or other spiritual religious leader, at least 18 years of age, who must also “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 such ordination or designation by a considered, deliberate, and responsible act;” or,
  • A member of “county legislative bodies, such as the mayor, a judge, a member of the state congress, a county clerk, etc.

(Some exceptions apply such as the requirement that a judge cannot have been convicted of a felony or have been removed from office. Our office can explain who’s qualified to marry you and who’s not.)

The problem, at its heart, is that a close reading of Tennessee law indicates that many online ministries fail to meet the precise legal definition of the statute. The ministry must be regular. Many online ministries are not regular.

Many online ministries also fail to meet the “customs” requirements. The USA Today story discussed a 2015 opinion by the Tennessee attorney general. The opinion discussed the legitimacy of marriages conducted by ministers ordained by the Universal Life Church. The opinion concluded that there was no “considered, deliberate, and responsible act” other than clicking a mouse – and that, thus, the minister failed to comply with the statute.

Some of the online ministries that may not be qualified in Tennessee are:

  • The Universal Life Church of Sacramento
  • American Marriage Ministries of Seattle
  • The Church of Spiritual Humanism of Jenkintown, Pa.
  • Rose Ministries of Las Vegas
  • And, yes, according to the story, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The validity of online ministries has increased as an issue because many gay couples, now that the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage, are using online ministers to officiate their marriage. The reason for online ministers for gay marriages is that many conservative ministers won’t conduct the ceremony in person.

The best solution is to make sure you get married by someone who is qualified. If there is any doubt, your lawyer can help you choose the right marriage ceremony official. At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, our Franklin family law attorneys understand the current marriage and divorce laws. We work to legitimize your marriage and to legitimize your divorce. For experienced help, please phone us at 615-977-9370 or complete our contact form. We have convenient offices in Franklin, Columbia, and Brentwood.