Wedding Officiants Outlawed in Tennessee

officiant1Thinking about becoming a wedding officiant to marry your friends in Tennessee?

Think again.

The State of Tennessee is going to ban the practice beginning July 1st when House Bill 0213 prohibits people receiving online ordinations from solemnizing the rite of matrimony.

Unless you have a church or religious group that meets regularly, you can’t legally marry people by becoming a wedding officiant online.

Elvis can’t even marry people now – unless he has a building or religious organization.

A few years ago I became a wedding officiant by applying for a license with the American Marriage Ministries (AMM) based out of Seattle.  I will tell you that there was no official training only an application and paying the fee.  About a week later I received my certificate and a box full of “training” materials about being an officiant but mostly as reference and not mandatory training.

Okay, I get it that maybe Tennessee doesn’t want just anyone going online and getting license to officiate weddings but I also think it is wrong to only limit officiants to ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, rabbis or other spiritual leaders from a church, temple or other religious group.  After I was licensed by this AMM group, it took about a year before I got a call to officiate a wedding.  When I checked to make sure it would be legal, I called to find out that the Tennessee Attorney General had added an opinion to the code in 2015 that “other than the click of a mouse” to the code.  I called the AMM about this issue and they fired back a rather curt response to me about it and how it was legal but I did not go through with it at the time and now, this amendment has gotten their attention.

The AMM is now planning to work with members of Tennessee’s legislature to resolve this issue.

I can tell you how to “resolve” this issue so that both sides are satisfied.

If you want to get a license to perform a wedding, it absolutely needs to be more than just paying a fee and getting a license online.  It needs to be more than just a click of a mouse.  Marriage is a serious thing and needs to be done properly.   I think that the AMM and these other online wedding officiant organizations need to work with the states perform actual training and not just sit back and collect the fees.  Officiants need to know what they are doing and how important their role is- not only in performing the ceremony – but also in counseling the parties who want to be married.  When a wedding officiant is properly trained and licensed, they should be on the state’s list as officially recognized wedding officiants.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

So why this and why now?

That’s a good question.  Why has this become an issue now?  Well, you can draw your own conclusions about that.  Some say it is Tennessee’s underhanded way to stop same-sex marriages in the state.   Regardless, Tennessee is excluding people who want to officiant the marriage of their friends or family members.  The AMM says about half of weddings in the United States are performed by family or friends.   The exact proportion of couples being married by a friend varies depending on the data you look at, but the numbers are clearly growing. The wedding site The Knot has been conducting a survey on wedding trends for the past 11 years. In 2009, 29 percent used a friend officiant, and by 2015, that number jumped to 40 percent. A different study by the Wedding Report, a data-tracking company, found that 25.7 of polled couples were wed by a friend or family member in 2017, a jump from 16.4 percent in 2010.

So what do you do now in Tennessee if you don’t attend a church or part of religious organization?   The current law allows the following to perform marriage ceremonies:

  • Current county clerks and former clerks who were in office after July 1, 2014
  • Ordained religious leaders
  • Current and former county commissioners
  • City mayors
  • Current and former county mayors
  • Current and former judges
  • Governor
  • Current and former speakers of state and house of representatives

Any of these people your friends?

To be fair, paying $100 to get a certificate online doesn’t mean you are an ordained minister.  It should take a little more than that to be a wedding officiant.

When my wife and I were planning to get married one of the obstacles we faced was finding someone to perform the ceremony.  At the time we were living in Georgia and with neither of us attending a church or member of any religious organizations, we asked a couple of ordained ministers that we knew but for some reason it didn’t work out.  We ended up asking a wedding officiant who had performed our commitment ceremony.

Both the State of Tennessee and online ordination services need to make some concessions.  They should work together to ensure that proper training and licensing are done.  Simply “offering” online training to potential wedding officiants, training should be more involved and responsible for such an important role.