I used to indulge myself in this habit to see if I knew any of the couples or went to the same schools they had attended. Now, as I have gotten older, and have passed the age that is typical for first marriages, I find that I rarely know the people whose weddings are described in the announcements.
But I still read them, in part as a barometer of changes in marriage practices, which interest me as a feminist and a family law scholar. How many, and which kinds of, women keep their names? How many retain their names professionally? How many couples have had previous marriages that ended in divorce? At what age do people marry the first, second, or even third time?
And now, since the Times made the decision a few years back to start including same-sex marriages, how many couples are made up of two men or two women? And how do the marriage practices of same-sex couples vary from those of straight couples? Now, I have added another question to my completely unscientific, anecdotal wedding-data collection project: What type of officiant solemnized the marriage?
In the case of clergy as opposed to judges, village justices, city clerks, and assorted other secular officials who might be authorized to conduct marriages in a particular jurisdiction , the announcements identify the officiant by both the name and the denomination: Then there are those announcements that say something like this: The number of marriages officiated by such ministers seems to be growing, and many of them take place in New York.
This is curious given that there is good reason to believe such officiants do not have the authority to solemnize marriages under New York marriage law. In this, Part One of this two-part series of columns, I will explain the basic procedural requirements for marriage and the questions raised when weddings are presided over by ministers ordained online, who have no congregation or other trappings of religious power.
In that part, I will focus with special detail on New York, where, while online minister weddings are clearly common, there is case law suggesting that the resulting marriages are not valid. The Requirements for a Valid Marriage Marriage law, and especially marriage procedure, is governed by state law.
Every state has a set of statutes governing marriages—resolving questions such as who is eligible to marry, what procedures must be followed to create a marriage, and when and how marriages can be dissolved. Two people who consent to marry and are eligible to marry—because they are not closely related, not already married to someone else, old enough, etc. About a dozen states also still recognize common-law marriage, which can be created by the agreement and consent of the parties, without a license or formal ceremony.
The two basic requirements are a marriage license and the solemnization of the marriage by a valid officiant. To apply for a license, couples generally need to provide proof of their age and identity. A blood test for syphilis or other communicable diseases used to be a standard part of the requirements for a marriage license, but most states have repealed these requirements.
Most states also impose a waiting period of at least 24 hours after the couple applies for the license before the wedding can take place. This waiting period can be waived in many jurisdictions, though. The marriage license also has an expiration date: The wedding must take place within 30 or, in some states, 60 days or a new license must be sought. And, a small fee must be paid.
With the marriage license in hand, couples can proceed to the next step: The statutes generally do not specify any necessary form or content for a wedding ceremony. The statutes specify only that a recognized officiant must preside over a ceremony during which the parties express their consent to marry and the officiant declares them to be married.
The ceremony must then be finalized by the signature of two witnesses and the officiant on a marriage certificate, which is then filed and kept as a public document. Contrary to popular myth, the consummation of a marriage is not a formal requirement for a valid marriage to exist, although the inability to consummate can be grounds for an annulment. Who Has the Power to Solemnize Marriages? Who can be an officiant at a marriage ceremony? All states allow an array of civil officers to solemnize marriages—mayors, judges, magistrates, court clerks, and others.
They also allow religious figures to solemnize civil marriages. But who qualifies as an appropriate religious figure? Marriage officiant laws also reflect local idiosyncrasies. The answer has generally been that these ministers do not meet the standard definition of the term. The largest supplier of online ordinations is the ULC, a non-denominational church founded in Modesto, California in that claims to have ordained more than 20 million ministers.
Do only that which is right. Other clicks make possible online confessions and prayer requests. The ordination request then must be approved, which takes about 24 hours. I became a minister of the Universal Life Church while writing this column. A Difficult Question The legal validity or lack thereof of marriages officiated by ULC ministers, or other similar churches, varies by jurisdiction.
Take a case from Mississippi, In re Will of Blackwell. At the time the couple had married, Blackwell was a fifty-eight-year-old widower in Walthall County, Mississippi.
When Blackwell died less than three months later, his seven brothers and sisters stood to inherit everything except the share designated for a surviving spouse under Mississippi law. No marriage would mean no surviving spouse, and no spouse would mean no elective share for Nadine. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the validity of the marriage. The Virginia Supreme Court, for example, held in , in Cramer v.