Under most circumstances, a marriage is legally binding only if it is performed by someone authorized to officiate marriage ceremonies. The criteria that an individual must meet to be authorized to perform weddings varies from state to state. In Tennessee, there is a higher barrier to becoming a licensed minister and officiating weddings than there is in most other states. Although a person from Tennessee can become a minister online with just a small exchange of information and a few clicks, she cannot perform legally binding weddings in her state unless she also pursues another avenue to ordination.
Who Can Officiate a Tennessee Wedding?
As in many other states, an individual does not necessarily have to be ordained as a minister to perform wedding ceremonies. Tennessee law permits persons with any of these qualifications to conduct marriages:
- Mayor of any municipality.
- The governor of the state.
- Current and former speakers of the senate.
- Current and former speakers of the house of representatives.
- Current and former county executives.
- Current and former county mayors.
- Current and former members of county commissions.
- Current and former members of county legislative bodies.
- Current and former judges and chancellors.
- Current county clerks.
- Former county clerks who held this role on or after July 1, 2014.
For religious leaders, Tennessee law states that an individual must be deliberately and responsibly ordained or otherwise designated in conformity with the customs of a church, temple or other religious organization. Quaker ceremonies, which are not presided over by an officiant, but instead involve the couple pledging their commitment to each other in front of the congregation, are also recognized by Tennessee law.
Beyond being authorized to perform marriages in Tennessee through his role as a legislator or religious leader, an individual must be 18 years old or older to officiate a wedding. He is not required to live in Tennessee to perform marriages in Tennessee.
Become a Minister Through Academic Study
Many ministers become ordained through academic studies at seminaries or other religious institutions. Every religious organization and even individual churches and temples set their own educational and experience requirements for ordination. Anyone looking to become a minister through this avenue should choose the religious organization with which she plans to become ordained and then complete the required education to do so. In many religious organizations, ministers and other spiritual leaders are required to complete master’s-level work in theology programs.
Beyond officiating marriages, an individual ordained through academic study and recognition by a religious organization can perform other tasks, such as baptisms, conducting religious services and leading congregation members through religious activities and experiences.
Becoming a Licensed Minister Online
In many states, anyone who wishes to officiate a wedding can become ordained as a minister online through organizations like the Universal Life Church or American Marriage Ministries. Through these organizations, it is free, quick and easy to get ordained as a minister and to start conducting legal marriages.
In Tennessee, however, becoming a licensed minister online does not grant you the ability to perform legally recognized marriages. In 1998, Tennessee’s state law regarding who can perform marriages was amended to explicitly state the qualifications individuals must meet to legally officiate weddings; in 2015, Attorney General Herbert Slatery III affirmed that this amendment excludes persons ordained through quick, inexpensive mail-order and online services. This also includes individuals from other states who have been ordained this way.
Marriages performed by officiants who were authorized to perform them when the marriages occurred, but who are not authorized to perform marriages today, remain legally valid.
Tennessee law does not recognize ministers ordained through online services.
Lindsay Kramer is a freelance writer and editor who has been working in the legal niche since 2012. Her primary focus areas within this niche are family law and personal injury law. Lindsay works closely with a few legal marketing agencies, providing blog posts, website content and marketing materials to law firms across the United States.