August 2nd, 2012
Ministers of the Universal Life Church Monastery, and other men and women who have become legally ordained online, will now have their ordinations recognized by Knox County, Tennessee. This means that those who have received their minister’s license through the ULC will now be able to perform weddings in the Volunteer State. This is a major victory for the ULC Monastery and its ministers, because up until recently they were not able to perform legally-recognized wedding ceremonies in Tennessee, as in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Our staff made this breakthrough after we contacted the Knox County clerk’s office to inquire about the legal language of their marriage codes. Will Johnson, the staff person who responded to our queries, had the following to say about Tennessee’s marriage laws:
“The statute provides that 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.”
Mr. Johnson had the following to say concerning the county clerk’s responsibilities vis-a-vis allowing ULC ministers to file for marriage licenses
“The county clerk… has neither the authority nor the duty to examine the qualifications of persons seeking to solemnize the rite of matrimony. Op. Tenn. Att’y Gen. 97-139 (10/9/97). 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).
A county clerk has no authority to require proof that an officiant is a ”a regular minister of the gospel” or other authorized person who meets the criteria of T.C.A. ‘ 36-3-301, and must presume that the marriage is valid. Op. Tenn. Att’y Gen. 87-151 (9/17/87).”
The laws referenced by Mr. Johnson come from the Tennessee Code Annotated (and specifically TCA 36-3-301(a)(2)), the laws that determines State of Tennessee policies. These laws essentially state that no one can tell Universal Life Church ministers that their online ordinations are not admissible AND that ULC ministers do not need to present ministerial documentation to county clerks in order to file for a marriage license.
This development is particularly exciting because the Tennessee marriage laws, as explained to us by Mr. Johnson, seem to allow our ordination in the rest of Tennessee as well. The ULC is eager to be able to say that 48 US states accept our ordination (as opposed to the 47 that currently do), and our staff is currently researching ways for it to receive recognition from other counties in that state, though we are not sure how successful our attempts will be. Please visit this blog regularly to keep abreast of the news concerning the marriage laws of Tennessee and other states that do not yet accept our ordination.
Knox County is one of the most populous and prominent counties in Tennessee. It hosts Knoxville, the third largest city in the state, and is the center of the Knoxville Metropolitan Area, which is home to almost 700,000 people. A little more than 430,000 people live in Knox County itself. The Universal Life Church is proud that such a populous region of Tennessee now allows our ordination; many more men and women from Tennessee will be able to officiate weddings – or have their weddings officiated by – ULC ministers now that they will no longer need to go out of state to perform them.
Tennessee is now the second state that generally does not accept our ordination to have an “island” county in the middle of the state where our ordination is legally-recognized. A Bucks County, PA judge ruled in early 2009 that Universal Life Church ministers have the authority to officiate weddings there, even if they do not have a congregation or a physical church building. While this was hardly a landmark case, it – and other court rulings like it – gives our staff hope that one day all states that do not accept our ordination will change their legal codes so as to allow them. Despite the forward progress entailed by this court ruling, ULC ordinations are unfortunately still not recognized in the rest of Pennsylvania.
State marriage laws can cause quite a headache. Feel free to contact us or the county clerk of the county where the marriage license is to be filed to determine if your ULC ordination will be accepted there. A guide to state wedding laws can also be found here.