Technically this is old news, but it has recently been brought to my attention by my Pennsylvanian Pagan peeps (that’s right, I have peeps). What it comes down to is that marriage laws, are in fact, horribly confusing…and just got made worse.
Here’s the set up. On August 24, 2006 a couple from York County Pennsylvania married. The ceremony was officiated by a friend, who obtained internet ordination from the Universal Life Church Monastery. Seven months later they decided the marriage wasn’t working out, so they split. Then they read in the paper that unions performed by internet ordained ministers may not be upheld if they went to court. So they took it to court.
On Friday September 9, 2007 they found out that their marriage never existed. Talk about the quickiest of divorces!
This is the first instance in Pennsylvania and according to a solicitor for the state association of Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphans Court as quoted in The York Dispatch “All persons issuing marriage licenses should comply with the precedent-setting decision.”
What was the problem? In York County it was many factors. The friend who performed the ceremony was not a member of the Universal Life Church before receiving his ordination, he doesn’t have a congregation that meets regularly or a place of worship, neither the bride or groom were members of the of the ULCM, also, there were no witnesses.
Honestly, the state of marriage laws these days are enough to make you pull your hair out. In a fantastic article by The New York Times, they point out that “Connecticut is one of a half-dozen places that do not recognize marriages performed by someone who became a minister for the sole purpose of marrying people.” That same article focuses on a pair of attorneys that had a friend, who again received ordination from the Universal Life Church Monastery, marry them only to find out it wasn’t a valid marriage. The groom is quoted as saying, “If two lawyers can be duped into getting married illegally, then anybody can.” True dat!
In fact, did you know that Connecticut, Alabama, Virginia, and Tennessee prohibit weddings performed by ministers who do not have active ministries? As pointed out in the Times’ piece, “Even in Las Vegas, that city’s no-holds-barred image notwithstanding, it is illegal for individuals to perform a marriage if they do not have a congregation.” They go on to quote a clerk at the Marriage License Bureau in Philadelphia as saying, “People call us and ask if it’s legal or not, and we don’t know if it’s legal.” You’re beginning to get the idea, right? It’s a mess out there and no one knows how it works. (My girl Shira at www.handfastings.org can tell you ALL about it. We still haven’t figured out what makes an officiant in NY, well, official.)
Back to the York County precedent. G. Martin Freeman, Universal Life Church Monastery president, is quoted in The York Daily Record calling the ruling “capricious” and “arbitrary”. He goes on to say, “It violates the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
Emily MacDonald, who is a member of the South Central PA Pagans, agrees with Freeman. “Many people have chosen to be ordained in this manner because they ideologically eschew more popular denominations of ‘organized religion’ and physically established mainstream churches in their geographic area. Often, as a result, they do not have a physical meeting place and sometimes do not have a congregation who meet regularly as such (although what one may mean by ‘congregation’ and ‘regular meetings’ is certainly an open question). Does this make a person’s belief system, experience and ability to officiate a ceremony less valid than someone from a mainstream church with a regularly meeting congregation? I do not believe so. I believe this is discrimination and a flagrant violation of our religious freedom protected by both the US and Pennsylvania Constitutions.”
What’s got my PA Pagans all riled up? Well, as Rev. Brandy Boswell, of Nature Church in York, PA, points out, “Religions like Paganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft are usually very private. It is extremely difficult to gather a group together when each person’s experiences in connecting with Divinity are so personal. On occasion groups do pop up, like the Nature Church. The unfortunate thing is these places are few, and far between. As you can see, finding an already established “church” for Wiccans, Witches, Pagans is difficult.
To add salt to the wound, Wiccans and Witches do not always meet in churches. They have Covens, Groves, and sometimes Circles. PA does not recognize these forms of religious organization. The fact is, PA is again not being told to see beyond what is most predominate.”
As you can see, some followers of certain faiths may only be able to study and achieve ordination online. They may never be able to set up a congregation, or may have no desire to do so. That’s not what you really want to talk about though, is it? What you really want to discuss is not true religious seekers only able to find faith through connections online, but average Joes getting quickie ordinations online to marry friends.
What about it? Seriously. You have a problem with this, then hey, don’t ask your buddy to marry you. The now invalidated bride in the York County case is quoted in The York Daily Record saying, “It makes a mockery out of the whole marriage system.” Hey lady, you know what’s really a mockery of the system? Couples, who aren’t religious, shelling out wads of cash and devoting their time to classes at a church they don’t attend, just to have a marriage ceremony. What about a Justice of the Peace or a Court House wedding? Well you know what? Excuse me for wanting something more romantic than filing paperwork in triplicate for my wedding. The duped attorney in Connecticut told the Times, “The most important thing to us was that someone who we knew and liked wo
uld marry us.” Why not? Why not have a close friend, who more often than not is who you turn to in times of joy and sorrow, be the one that oversees one of the most important days of your life? As long as they know how to fill out the paperwork and you pay the state, who’s it hurting?
Consider yourself warned Pennsylvania, my friends are ticked off and I don’t think they’re going to settle for the new status quo. Rev. Boswell says. “PA is clouded in their views of who is worthy of officiating marriages and it is up to us to tell our leaders what way they need to lean. Write letters, send e-mails, stand on the street corner and hand out flyers! Do something, anything, to get the word out! Let the people and our leaders know that our religious rights are being violated.”