The ULC Ministries staff is pleased to announce that it has corresponded with the county clerk's office of Knox County, Tennessee and the two parties have cleared up a miscommunication that, in the past, prevented ULC ministers from performing weddings there.
Will Johnson, a staff person from the Knox County clerk's office, broke down the State of Tennessee's policy on who is and is not allowed to perform wedding ceremonies there in our correspondence with his office:
"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."
The above information is contained in the Tennessee Code Annotated, the body of primary law (also called primary authority) that governs State of Tennessee policies. Specific legal language pertaining to the above statement can be found in the following section of the TCA: 36-3-301(a)(2).
Mr. Johnson elaborated on the restrictions governing what county clerks in Tennessee are and are not allowed to do, vis-a-vis granting ULC ministers and other wedding officiants permission to file for marriage licenses, with the following statements:
"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)."
This means that ULC ministers should not have their ordination called into question by county clerks when filing for marriage licenses in Knox County and that county clerks cannot ask for proof (i.e. ministerial documentation like an ordination credential certificate or letter of good standing) when they try to do so. ULC ministers who find that the validity of their ordination is being questioned or are asked to show ministerial documentation by the Knox County Clerk's office should counter with the information contained in Mr. Johnson's statements.
It is possible that the ULC will be able to use the information discussed above to get permission for our ministers to perform weddings in Tennessee outside of Knox County; the sections of the TCA and the court rulings cited by Mr. Johnson certainly make it seem like all counties in Tennessee would be obligated to have policies similar to those of Knox County. Our staff will make further announcements regarding Tennessee marriage laws as additional developments occur and, with luck, the ULC will make further headway in helping our ministers perform weddings there.
If you would like to become ordained online in order to perform a wedding ceremony in Tennessee or the 47 states that consistently accept our online ordination, please visit the "Become A Minister" section of this site.
As this post might have helped you realize, marriage laws can be confusing and vary wildly from state to state. If you have questions about state marriage laws or what is required of you in order to perform a wedding, feel free to contact us and we will be delighted to assist you.