If you’ve been following along here or receive the Minnesota Atheists monthly newsletter, you know we’ve been working toward changing Minnesota marriage law so that religious clergy are not the only non-government-employees who can legally officiate a marriage in Minnesota. We’ve discussed the issue with members of both the state house and state senate. In December, we met with Senator John Marty, who asked us some very good questions about our options for changing the law and the support that these options have.
In response to those questions, we surveyed atheists and secular humanists across Minnesota to get their opinions on the options they would support. The results of that survey appear in this month’s newsletter and will be shared on the Minnesota Atheists website shortly. I’ll link to them when they’re posted.
In addition, Senator Marty also asked how non-government-official, non-religious officiants are handled in the law of other states. Having a research background and finding this sort of digging fun, I volunteered to pull together this information. Below is the information I pulled together, along with links to the relevant law. These are the states that extend the ability to officiate marriages to more than elected officials (mayors, county commissioners, legislators, lieutenant governors, and governors may all officiate in some states) and judges or clerks of the court. Emphasis is mine, to draw attention to the relevant part of the legal code.
Hopefully this will make things easier for any other group that wants to change the law in their state. Be aware, however, that what I quote is a snapshot. Laws change continually, and the information should be verified before being used for another purpose.
Marriage Without Officiants
There are several ways in which states have chosen to open up marriage officiating to more people. The most liberal of those is to allow couples to legally declare themselves married without the services of a third-party officiant. A few states allow this specifically in the context of Quaker marriages, but one state provides this option to any couple.
14-2-109. Solemnization and registration
(1) A marriage may be solemnized by a judge of a court, by a court magistrate, by a retired judge of a court, by a public official whose powers include solemnization of marriages, by the parties to the marriage, or in accordance with any mode of solemnization recognized by any religious denomination or Indian nation or tribe.
Temporary Marriage Officiants
Some locations allow the appointment of temporary marriage officiants. These allow a couple to be married by anyone they choose but does not grant the officiant broader powers to marry others without registering again.
401. (a) For each county, the county clerk is designated as a commissioner of civil marriages.
(b) The commissioner of civil marriages may appoint deputy commissioners of civil marriages who may solemnize marriages under the direction of the commissioner of civil marriages and shall perform other duties directed by the commissioner.
(Enacted by Stats. 1992, Ch. 162, Sec. 10. Operative January 1, 1994.)
Massachusetts allows the governor to appoint a temporary marriage officiant for a particular wedding. See text below in the section on Long-Term Marriage Officiants.
Vermont (also provides for justices of the peace; see below in the section on Long-Term Marriage Officiants)
§ 5144a. Temporary officiant for marriages
(a) By registering with the secretary of state, an individual may temporarily be authorized to solemnize a marriage in this state. When registering, the individual shall provide:
(1) A completed registration form provided by the secretary of state.
(2) A $100.00 fee.
(b) Upon registration as a temporary officiant, the individual shall be authorized to solemnize only the civil marriage designated on the registration form, and shall receive proof of that authority from the secretary of state. The individual’s authority to solemnize that civil marriage shall expire at the same time as the corresponding license. (Added 2007, No. 148 (Adj. Sess.), § 2.)
46-406 Persons authorized to celebrate marriages
(3) “Temporary Officiant” means an individual authorized to solemnize only the marriage registered with the Clerk of the said Court, and shall receive proof of that authority. The individual’s authority to solemnize that marriage shall expire upon completion of such solemnization.
Long-Term Marriage Officiants
Some states provide appointments that are specifically for the officiating of marriages, including justices of the peace. It should be noted, however, that “Justice of the Peace” carries different meanings from state to state. In some states, this is a term recognizing a type of judge. In the states listed below that use justices of the peace, this is not a judiciary appointment, though it may confer duties beyond performing marriages.
Sec. 25.05.261. Who may solemnize.
(a) Marriages may be solemnized
(1) by a minister, priest, or rabbi of any church or congregation in the state, or by a commissioned officer of the Salvation Army, or by the principal officer or elder of recognized churches or congregations that traditionally do not have regular ministers, priests, or rabbis, anywhere within the state;
(2) by a marriage commissioner or judicial officer of the state anywhere within the jurisdiction of the commissioner or officer
Sec. 25.05.081. Marriage commissioners.
The presiding judge in each judicial district may, if the public interest requires, appoint one or more suitable persons as marriage commissioners. The presiding judge shall describe the marriage commissioner’s area of jurisdiction in the order of appointment. A marriage commissioner may, within that jurisdiction, solemnize marriages in the same manner as a district judge or magistrate and may exercise any power, other than the power to issue marriage licenses, necessarily incident to the duties of a marriage commissioner. The clerk of court shall issue to the marriage commissioner a certified copy of the order of appointment and send a copy of it to the bureau.
Sec. 46b-22. (Formerly Sec. 46-3). Who may join persons in marriage. Penalty for unauthorized performance. (a) Persons authorized to solemnize marriages in this state include (1) all judges and retired judges, either elected or appointed, including federal judges and judges of other states who may legally join persons in marriage in their jurisdictions, (2) family support magistrates, state referees and justices of the peace who are appointed in Connecticut, and (3) all ordained or licensed members of the clergy, belonging to this state or any other state, as long as they continue in the work of the ministry. All marriages solemnized according to the forms and usages of any religious denomination in this state, including marriages witnessed by a duly constituted Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is, are valid. All marriages attempted to be celebrated by any other person are void.
Maine allows lawyers to officiate marriages. See below in the section on Notaries Public.
Section 38. A marriage may be solemnized in any place within the commonwealth by the following persons who are residents of the commonwealth: a duly ordained minister of the gospel in good and regular standing with his church or denomination, including an ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church or in the Roman Catholic Church; a commissioned cantor or duly ordained rabbi of the Jewish faith; by a justice of the peace if he is also clerk or assistant clerk of a city or town, or a registrar or assistant registrar, or a clerk or assistant clerk of a court or a clerk or assistant clerk of the senate or house of representatives, by a justice of the peace if he has been designated as provided in the following section and has received a certificate of designation and has qualified thereunder; an authorized representative of a Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is in accordance with the usage of their community; a priest or minister of the Buddhist religion; a minister in fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association and ordained by a local church; a leader of an Ethical Culture Society which is duly established in the commonwealth and recognized by the American Ethical Union and who is duly appointed and in good and regular standing with the American Ethical Union; the Imam of the Orthodox Islamic religion; and, it may be solemnized in a regular or special meeting for worship conducted by or under the oversight of a Friends or Quaker Monthly Meeting in accordance with the usage of their Society; and, it may be solemnized by a duly ordained nonresident minister of the gospel if he is a pastor of a church or denomination duly established in the commonwealth and who is in good and regular standing as a minister of such church or denomination, including an ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church or in the Roman Catholic Church; and, it may be solemnized according to the usage of any other church or religious organization which shall have complied with the provisions of the second paragraph of this section.
Churches and other religious organizations shall file in the office of the state secretary information relating to persons recognized or licensed as aforesaid, and relating to usages of such organizations, in such form and at such times as the secretary may require.
Section 39. The governor may in his discretion designate a justice of the peace in each town and such further number, not exceeding one for every five thousand inhabitants of a city or town, as he considers expedient, to solemnize marriages, and may for a cause at any time revoke such designation. The state secretary, upon payment of twenty-five dollars to him by a justice of the peace so designated, who is also a clerk or an assistant clerk of a city or town or upon the payment of fifty dollars by any other such justice, shall issue to him a certificate of such designation.
The state secretary may authorize, subject to such conditions as he may determine, the solemnization of any specified marriage anywhere within the commonwealth by the following nonresidents: a minister of the gospel in good and regular standing with his church or denomination; a commissioned cantor or duly ordained rabbi of the Jewish faith; an authorized representative of a Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is in accordance with the usage of their community; the Imam of the Orthodox Islamic religion; a duly ordained priest or minister of the Buddhist religion; a minister in fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association and ordained by a local church; a leader of an Ethical Culture Society which is recognized by the American Ethical Union and who is duly appointed and in good and regular standing with the American Ethical Union; a justice of a court or a justice of the peace authorized to solemnize a marriage by virtue of their office within their state of residence; and, it may be solemnized in a regular or special meeting for worship conducted by or under the oversight of a Friends or Quaker Monthly Meeting in accordance with the usage of their Society. A nonresident may solemnize a marriage according to the usage of any church or religious organization which shall have complied with the provisions of the second paragraph of section 38. A certificate of such authorization shall be issued by the state secretary and shall be attached to the certificate issued under section twenty-eight and filed with the appropriate city or town clerk. If one of the nonresidents enumerated above solemnizes a specified marriage anywhere within the commonwealth without having obtained a certificate under this section, the state secretary, upon application of such person, may issue a certificate validating such person’s acts. The certificate of validation shall be filed with the certificate issued under section twenty-eight of chapter two hundred and seven.
In addition to the foregoing, the governor may designate any other person to solemnize a particular marriage on a particular date and in a particular city or town, and may for cause at any time revoke such designation. The state secretary, upon the payment to him of twenty-five dollars by said other person, shall issue to said person a certificate of such designation. Such certificate shall expire upon completion of such solemnization.
457:31 Solemnization Of Marriage
A marriage may be solemnized in the following manner:
I. In a civil ceremony by a justice of the peace as commissioned by the state and by judges of the United States appointed pursuant to Article III of the United States Constitution, by bankruptcy judges appointed pursuant to Article I of the United States Constitution, or by United States magistrate judges appointed pursuant to federal law; or
II. In a religious ceremony by any minister of the gospel in the state who has been ordained according to the usage of his or her denomination, resides in the state, and is in regular standing with the denomination; by any member of the clergy who is not ordained but is engaged in the service of the religious body to which he or she belongs, and who resides in the state, after being licensed therefor by the secretary of state; or within his or her parish, by any minister residing out of the state, but having a pastoral charge wholly or partly in this state.
§ 5144. Persons authorized to solemnize marriage
(a) Marriages may be solemnized by a supreme court justice, a superior judge, a judge of probate, an assistant judge, a justice of the peace, a magistrate, an individual who has registered as an officiant with the Vermont secretary of state pursuant to section 5144a of this title, a member of the clergy residing in this state and ordained or licensed, or otherwise regularly authorized thereunto by the published laws or discipline of the general conference, convention, or other authority of his or her faith or denomination, or by such a clergy person residing in an adjoining state or country, whose parish, church, temple, mosque, or other religious organization lies wholly or in part in this state, or by a member of the clergy residing in some other state of the United States or in the Dominion of Canada, provided he or she has first secured from the probate division of the superior court in the unit within which the marriage is to be solemnized a special authorization, authorizing him or her to certify the marriage if the probate judge determines that the circumstances make the special authorization desirable. Marriage among the Friends or Quakers, the Christadelphian Ecclesia, and the Baha’i Faith may be solemnized in the manner heretofore used in such societies.
As with justices of the peace, some states allow marriages to be solemnized by notaries public, another position of service to the state that is neither elected nor directly a part of the court system.
741.07 Persons authorized to solemnize matrimony.—
(1) All regularly ordained ministers of the gospel or elders in communion with some church, or other ordained clergy, and all judicial officers, including retired judicial officers, clerks of the circuit courts, and notaries public of this state may solemnize the rights of matrimonial contract, under the regulations prescribed by law.
1. Persons authorized to solemnize marriages. The following may solemnize marriages in this State:
A. If a resident of this State:
(1) A justice or judge;
(2) A lawyer admitted to the Maine Bar; or
(4) A notary public under Title 4, chapter 19; [2011, c. 111, §2 (AMD).]
B. Whether a resident or nonresident of this State and whether or not a citizen of the United States:
(1) An ordained minister of the gospel;
(2) A cleric engaged in the service of the religious body to which the cleric belongs; or
(3) A person licensed to preach by an association of ministers, religious seminary or ecclesiastical body; and [2011, c. 111, §3 (AMD).]
C. A nonresident of the State who has a temporary registration certificate issued by the Office of Data, Research and Vital Statistics pursuant to subsection 1-A.
Subsection C is a reciprocity clause allowing those certified to officiate in other states to officiate temporarily in Maine.
NRS 122.062 Licensed, ordained or appointed ministers, other church or religious officials authorized to solemnize a marriage, notaries public and chaplains of Armed Forces to obtain certificates from county clerk; temporary replacements; solemnization by minister or other authorized person who resides in another state or who is retired.
1. Any licensed, ordained or appointed minister or other church or religious official authorized to solemnize a marriage in good standing within his or her church or religious organization, or either of them, incorporated, organized or established in this State, or a notary public appointed by the Secretary of State pursuant to chapter 240 of NRS and in good standing with the Secretary of State, may join together as husband and wife persons who present a marriage license obtained from any county clerk of the State, if the minister, other church or religious official authorized to solemnize a marriage or notary public first obtains a certificate of permission to perform marriages as provided in NRS 122.062 to 122.073, inclusive. The fact that a minister or other church or religious official authorized to solemnize a marriage is retired does not disqualify him or her from obtaining a certificate of permission to perform marriages if, before retirement, the minister or other church or religious official authorized to solemnize a marriage had active charge of a church or religious organization for a period of at least 3 years.
SECTION 20-1-20. Persons who may perform marriage ceremony.
Only ministers of the Gospel, Jewish rabbis, officers authorized to administer oaths in this State, and the chief or spiritual leader of a Native American Indian entity recognized by the South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs pursuant to Section 1-31-40 are authorized to administer a marriage ceremony in this State.
Nonreligious Nonprofit Officiants
In previous years, Minnesota Atheists has worked to become recognized as a body that could certify officiants without declaring itself a religious group. We are not alone in this effort.
37:1-13. Authorization to solemnize marriages and civil unions.
Each judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, each judge of a federal district court, United States magistrate, judge of a municipal court, judge of the Superior Court, judge of a tax court, retired judge of the Superior Court or Tax Court, or judge of the Superior Court or Tax Court, the former County Court, the former County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, or the former County District Court who has resigned in good standing, surrogate of any county, county clerk and any mayor or the deputy mayor when authorized by the mayor, or chairman of any township committee or village president of this State, [and] every [minister]member of the clergy of every religion and any civil celebrant who is trained and certified to solemnize marriages or civil unions from an established non-denominational or educational non-profit organization dedicated to training such individuals, are hereby authorized to solemnize marriages or civil unions between such persons as may lawfully enter into the matrimonial relation or civil union; and every religious society, institution or organization in this State may join together in marriage or civil union such persons according to the rules and customs of the society, institution or organization.