Wedding Workaround 

Nonprofit helps those who still want to get ‘internet married.’

On July 1st, "internet married" is over in Tennessee.

State lawmakers this year passed a bill that prevents online-ordained ministers from marrying couples. The new rule (Public Chapter No. 415) gives that power to a broader array of government officials but demands more from "ministers" of any stripe.

"Under present law, in order to solemnize the rite of matrimony, a minister, preacher, pastor, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader must be ordained or otherwise designated in conformity with the customs of a church, temple, or other religious group or organization, and such customs must provide for such ordination or designation by a considered, deliberate, and responsible act," reads the bill summary.

click to enlarge A couple married thanks to American Marriage Ministries. - AMERICAN MARRIAGE MINISTRIES/FACEBOOK
  • American Marriage Ministries/Facebook
  • A couple married thanks to American Marriage Ministries.

But American Marriage Ministries (AMM) was in Memphis Monday for a free and easy (and legal, they say) workaround. The group, an official, nonprofit church, performed in-person ordinations for anyone hoping to "internet marry" couples.

"With thousands of ministers stranded by the discriminatory Public Chapter No. 415, our ministers and the communities they serve are entitled to wedding ceremonies that reflect their values and beliefs, despite what the Tennessee legislature says!" reads a statement from AMM executive director Lewis King.

— Toby Sells

Memphis Flyer: Why are you doing this?

Lewis King: We're here because Public Chapter No. 415 discriminates against non-traditional Tennessee ministers, preventing thousands of our ministers from exercising their freedom of religion by officiating wedding ceremonies. While we are doing everything we can to get this discriminatory law repealed, it is important that we do right by our ministers. By providing in-person ordination and training, AMM is giving our ministers a way to remain in compliance with Tennessee's marriage law and meet their obligations to couples across the state.

Solemnizing marriage is an important spiritual service of love that requires getting ordained, spending hours working on a ceremony, practicing it, and then delivering it on the wedding day. The disregard that Public Chapter No. 415 displays is not only offensive, it's also an indication of how out of touch Tennessee's legislature is with the way that Tennesseans practice their faith.

MF: How does it work?

LK: As a nationally recognized church, we are able to ordain ministers, which gives them the legal standing to conduct certain ceremonies such as the solemnization of weddings. It's the same process, more or less, that all other churches use. Ours just happens to be much more user-friendly and less caught up in dogmatism.

MF: Does it satisfy Tennessee law?

LK: We've carefully reviewed the latest version of Tennessee's marriage law, including consulting internal and external legal counsel to make sure that our ordinations meet the letter and spirit of the law — and they do.

AMM is registered in Tennessee as a foreign nonprofit corporation, and we are providing in-person ordinations and training to our ministers like every other state-sanctioned institution does.

MF: Has this worked in other cities and states?

LK: Almost 50 percent of weddings in the U.S. last year were officiated by friends, family, and neighbors — ie. non-traditional ministers. Society has embraced this expression of spirituality. It's time for Tennessee's lawmakers to catch up.

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