Starting July 1, Tennessee law will change who can officiate weddings in the state.
Gov. Bill Lee signed House Bill 213/Senate Bill 1377 last month, and the bill has now become Public Chapter 415.
The law expands who may solemnize a marriage in the state while prohibiting those who received ordination online from officiating marriages after July 1.
Several websites offer ordainment, which allows a person to officiate a wedding ceremony. The Universal Life Church website requires a short form and two clicks of a mouse before displaying a web page that says the user is an ordained minister that can perform wedding ceremonies.
From there, the user may pay $40 for official documentation.
That’s what Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville said is the concern — he and other lawmakers said the bill is a way to help people from being scammed.
“Part of it is consumer protection, to be very frank, that you make sure that an online entity that is doing this has some credentials to back up what they’re doing,” he said.
The same legislation validates marriages that were carried out by someone who was ordained online during the past 20 years, a concern that Hawk said he heard during the deliberation on the legislation.
“What this piece of legislation did was several things,” he said. “It created a validity for those marriages that were performed over the last 20 years by someone who may have gotten their certification online regardless of the location of it.”
Those marriages won’t be valid if they are performed after July 1, he added, but he said he sees the law as consumer protection from websites that would scam people, a sentiment echoed by Rep. Michael G Curcio, R-Dickson, during the House’s first consideration of the bill in April.
“We don’t want to have folks think that they are involved in a legal marriage and then find out later, when they’re going through a financial transaction or something else, that they’ve got a legal problem on their hands,” Curcio said in the bill’s first consideration in April.
Hawk voted in favor of the bill, which bars all online-ordained persons from solemnizing a marriage.
He said he doesn’t expect the bill will stay that way for long.
“Normally, when we pass a piece of legislation like that, it gives us an opportunity to give us some corrective language in the years to come,” he said.
“I’d venture to say we’ll probably come up with some legislation in the next year that will clean up this piece of legislation, so we can know better which companies are online.”
The bill also allows members of the General Assembly, past and present, to be able to “opt in” to be able to perform wedding ceremonies, as well as members of any legislative body and law enforcement chaplains.
Reps. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, Timothy Hill, R-Blountville and Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, voted against the bill, which passed its third House reading in a 70-16 vote (with two abstentions.)
None of them returned a request for comment by 4 p.m. on Monday.
When representatives asked if they would need any training to perform the ceremonies or couple’s counseling, Rep. Ron Travis, the bill’s House sponsor, told them that was up to their discretion.
Tennessee Code Annotated 36-3-301 says that county clerks have “neither the authority nor the duty to examine the qualifications of persons seeking to solemnize the rite of matrimony.”