Is a marriage performed by a Universal Life Church minister valid in NC?

Tough question!  Let’s take a fictional case:

“Sue and Ned, having resolved the issue of Sue’s first marriage, were married in Chapel Hill by Ned’s brother Larry. In
anticipation of the wedding, Larry completed an application on the Internet and, a few days later, printed out a certificate stating that he was an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church. Now a friend has told Sue that her marriage might not be valid. Is Larry an “ordained minister” or “a minister authorized by a church” to perform marriages? Is the Universal Life Church a church for purposes of the marriage statute, when the only doctrine the organization espouses is ‘freedom of religion’?”

The short answer is “No one can say”.  Some states require people to register with or be authorized by a government
agency before officiating at marriage ceremonies. For example, for me to officiate weddings in Virginia, I had to present my credentials to a Circuit Court there to obtain such permission.  North Carolina has no such requirement and does not charge any public official with responsibility for determining before or after a marriage ceremony whether an officiant is legally qualified to perform marriages. Similarly, it is not the role of any government official to determine, before or after a marriage, whether a particular mode of solemnization is recognized by a religious denomination. The parties who are marrying and the person who is performing the ceremony must assess whether the ceremony falls within one of the statutorily authorized modes of solemnization. So, even if Sue and Ned had tried to find out before their wedding whether Larry could officiate lawfully based on his ordination certificate, they would not have gotten a definite answer.

For Sue and Ned and other couples married by a minister ordained via the Internet or via mail order, the question of whether their marriage is void or voidable may never arise. When the license is returned to the register of deeds indicating that the ceremony was performed by “Larry Jones,” whose title is “minister,” the register of deeds has no way to know, and no duty to determine, whether Larry Jones is authorized to perform marriages in North Carolina.

If the marriage is challenged later, it is impossible to predict with certainty what a North Carolina
court would say about the validity of a marriage performed by someone whose only credential was a certificate printed
off the Internet. The court likely would consider, among other factors, the context in which the issue arises, the characteristics of the particular officiant, and the conduct of the parties.

So, in my opinion, let the buyer (in this case, the “bride and groom”) beware!

If you want to read an NC Appeal’s Court case (2014), go here:

It’s not easy reading.

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