Marriage is a legal contract that is regulated by the Marriage Laws in each state. That is why you have to get a marriage license and use an officiant who has the credentials to officiate your wedding as specified in your state. All States are not the same when it comes to who can legally join you in marriage.
It is becoming more and more popular in the United States to have your friend or relative go online and for a modest fee, become an ordained minister without any training or checking of credentials or skills to do this. The first online ordaining institution was Universal Life Church about 40 years ago and since then many other online entities have emerged offering online ordination including American Marriage Ministries.
EVERY STATE HAS DIFFERENT LAWS ON WHO CAN OFFICIATE WEDDINGS LEGALLY.
The North Carolina Marriage Law states:
Marriages in North Carolina are solemnized in one of two general ways:
- By an ordained minister of any religious denomination, a minister authorized by a church, or a magistrate (i.e. judge or civil officer); or
- In accordance with any marriage ceremony recognized by any religious denomination, or federally or state-recognized Indian Nation or Tribe.
This law was challenged in the NC Supreme Court in 1980 in a case in which a couple had been married by a minister who had been ordained online by Universal Life Church (ULC). The court ruled on July 3, 1981 that online ordained ministers are not legally authorized to solemnize marriages in NC. (All marriages prior to that date by ULC ministers were grandfathered in but the court did not address the future.) Another court ruling in NC in 2006 was consistent with the prior ruling.
Wake County Register of Deeds in Raleigh issued a statement entitled “Response for Universal Life Church Questions” in which it stated:
“In 1980 the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a marriage performed by an online minister was invalid. The marriage statute has not changed since that ruling so there is no reason to believe the ruling would be any different today. “
HOW DO COUPLES KNOW?
In North Carolina:
1. There is no registry or licensing to qualify ministers to officiate weddings
2. There is no explanation to couples of who can officiate their wedding in the marriage license acquisition process
3. State and local governments don’t police or enforce the marriage laws
4. Couples think what is legal in one state is legal in others
CAN MY FRIEND OR RELATIVE STILL PERFORM MY WEDDING CEREMONY?
Yes, they can “perform” your ceremony but they cannot “officiate” it. Many professional legally ordained officiants are happy to include friends and relatives in the ceremony. I have officiated many weddings with the couple’s friend or relative by my side and give the couple the option of having that person perform the entire ceremony (except for the pronouncement of marriage which I must do legally in order to sign the marriage license) or have their friend or relative do parts of the ceremony.
A professional wedding officiant has the expertise and experience to work with you to create a personalized and meaningful wedding ceremony and deliver it with ease on your wedding day, knows how to conduct a rehearsal efficiently, and can handle any unexpected incidents that may arise on your wedding day, whereas online ordained friends and relatives lack this experience and expertise.
Another solution would be to go to the courthouse before your wedding day and pay $20 for a magistrate to perform a simple civil wedding ceremony and legally marry you. Then the “public” ceremony later can be performed by your friend or relative since it is not the legal one.
It is also important to know that vendors who recommend online ordained ministers to their couples have been implicated in lawsuits in other states which have the same law as North Carolina.
I am most happy to answer any questions on this subject. I have been seminary-ordained since 1997 and have officiated over 2000 weddings since then. It is important to me that couples marrying in North Carolina not risk the validity of their marriages and I am here to serve them in any way I can.
I can be reached at RevK@AWeddingMinister.com or text at (919) 345-4608.