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Can laypersons Ordained Online as Universal Life Church Ministers, or the Like, Officiate at Weddings? In Some States, the Answer Is No

February 17, 2015

This is taken from Attorney Grossman where she talks about laws and trials  that have taken place in Virginia, North Carolina and New York.  I have copied and pasted a portion of it, if you are interested in the full article there is a link on my page bar.

" As I discussed in Part One of this series, the Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled that the ULC was “enough of a religious body,” and one of its ministers “enough of a spiritual leader” to validate a marriage.  By contrast, though, the Virginia Supreme Court refused to recognize a ULC minister as a valid officiant given how “casually and cavalierly” the status was acquired.

Moreover, there are several other states in which the validity of marriages presided over by ULC ministers has been challenged.

A 1980 North Carolina case, State v. Lynch, involved the prosecution of a man for bigamy.  James Lynch had first married Sandra, and then, without divorcing Sandra, had also married Mary Alice.  For this, he was charged with bigamy.  His defense was that his marriage to Sandra, which had been solemnized by her father, a ULC minister, was invalid.

The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed his conviction, holding that because the marriage between James and Sandra was not valid, James was not guilty of bigamy.  Although the court in Lynch said that the state does not have the power “to declare what is or is not a religious body or who is or is not a religious leader within the body,” it nonetheless held that “A ceremony solemnized by a Roman Catholic layman in the mail order business who bought for $10.00 a mail order certificate giving him ‘credentials of minister’ in the Universal Life Church, Inc.—whatever that is—is not a ceremony of marriage to be recognized for purposes of a bigamy prosecution in the State of North Carolina.”

To protect the expectations of other married couples who had used ULC ministers, the North Carolina state legislature adopted a law to make clear that pre-existing ULC marriages were all valid as long as they had not already been specifically invalidated by a court.  As to marriages after that date in 1981, the statute was silent.  The implication was that such marriages could no longer be celebrated in North Carolina.  Moreover, a later North Carolina case suggested, but did not definitively rule, that ULC marriages are no good there.

In Utah, the legislature passed a statute in 2001 prohibiting mail-order or Internet ministers from solemnizing marriages.  Doing so, moreover, was deemed a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.  But this law was challenged shortly thereafter.  A ULC minister, J.P. Pace, who had performed several marriages in Utah challenged the law on a variety of federal constitutional grounds.  The court rejected his free exercise claim—holding that there is no constitutional right to solemnize civil marriages—but upheld his due process claim because the law employed arbitrary means to protect the integrity of marriages, especially since it seemed to allow for the possibility of ministers being ordained by fax or telephone.

In Pennsylvania, trial courts have reached different conclusions about the validity of ULC marriages.  A 2007 case from York County, Heyer v. Hollerbush, ruled that a mortgage was invalid because the couple’s marriage was solemnized by a ULC minister.  But three other courts have held to the contrary in similar cases.

Marriage Law in New York: ULC Marriages

As I discussed in Part One of this series, the Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled that the ULC was “enough of a religious body,” and one of its ministers “enough of a spiritual leader” to validate a marriage.  By contrast, though, the Virginia Supreme Court refused to recognize a ULC minister as a valid officiant given how “casually and cavalierly” the status was acquired.

Moreover, there are several other states in which the validity of marriages presided over by ULC ministers has been challenged.

A 1980 North Carolina case, State v. Lynch, involved the prosecution of a man for bigamy.  James Lynch had first married Sandra, and then, without divorcing Sandra, had also married Mary Alice.  For this, he was charged with bigamy.  His defense was that his marriage to Sandra, which had been solemnized by her father, a ULC minister, was invalid.

The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed his conviction, holding that because the marriage between James and Sandra was not valid, James was not guilty of bigamy.  Although the court in Lynch said that the state does not have the power “to declare what is or is not a religious body or who is or is not a religious leader within the body,” it nonetheless held that “A ceremony solemnized by a Roman Catholic layman in the mail order business who bought for $10.00 a mail order certificate giving him ‘credentials of minister’ in the Universal Life Church, Inc.—whatever that is—is not a ceremony of marriage to be recognized for purposes of a bigamy prosecution in the State of North Carolina.”

To protect the expectations of other married couples who had used ULC ministers, the North Carolina state legislature adopted a law to make clear that pre-existing ULC marriages were all valid as long as they had not already been specifically invalidated by a court.  As to marriages after that date in 1981, the statute was silent.  The implication was that such marriages could no longer be celebrated in North Carolina.  Moreover, a later North Carolina case suggested, but did not definitively rule, that ULC marriages are no good there.

In Utah, the legislature passed a statute in 2001 prohibiting mail-order or Internet ministers from solemnizing marriages.  Doing so, moreover, was deemed a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.  But this law was challenged shortly thereafter.  A ULC minister, J.P. Pace, who had performed several marriages in Utah challenged the law on a variety of federal constitutional grounds.  The court rejected his free exercise claim—holding that there is no constitutional right to solemnize civil marriages—but upheld his due process claim because the law employed arbitrary means to protect the integrity of marriages, especially since it seemed to allow for the possibility of ministers being ordained by fax or telephone.

In Pennsylvania, trial courts have reached different conclusions about the validity of ULC marriages.  A 2007 case from York County, Heyer v. Hollerbush, ruled that a mortgage was invalid because the couple’s marriage was solemnized by a ULC minister.  But three other courts have held to the contrary in similar cases."

 

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This is taken from Attorney Grossman where she talks about laws and trials  that have taken place in Virginia, North Carolina and New York.  I have co...

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