"I thought it was kind of an attack on us." Hundreds get re-ordained because of new TN marriage law

Posted at 6:19 AM, Jun 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-28 09:52:51-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The change to Tennessee's marriage law taking effect July 1 is complicating a wedding tradition that's becoming increasingly popular.

The state will no longer sign-off on marriages officiated by ministers ordained online.

Online church American Marriage Ministries has ordained more than 13,000 Tennesseans. Officers with the Seattle-based ministry flew to Tennessee to ordain people in person to get them compliant with the law.

"We have encountered only support...enthusiastic support for what we're doing," said Lewis King, the executive director.

On Thursday, 320 people packed a conference room at the Holiday Inn on West End Avenue to fill out the necessary paperwork.

"It was kind of a panic moment when I realized we were going to lose our opportunity," said Kevin Dunn of Memphis. "I thought it was kind of an attack on us for them to pass this law and say 'July 1st - that's the end of it.'"

An online certification to perform a marriage is not going to cut it in Tennessee after June 30. The legislation that has already been signed by Governor Bill Lee.

"I think that it's almost not fair," said Amy Romain of Hendersonville. "I don't think it's right for someone to tell you who can and can't make you husband and wife."

Tennessee's amended marriage law will make it the only state in the country that doesn't recognize officiants ordained online.

"What's happening here is you have the legislature saying this minister is OK and this minister isn't good enough," said King.

Lawmakers behind the amendment believe it clears up who is allowed to officiate weddings.

This is how the law was written before the change:
In order to solemnize the rite of matrimony, any such 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.

Universal Life Church Monastery filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee over this law change. It asks a judge to issue a restraining order to keep the state from stopping marriages. The church believes the state's law is unconstitutional because it favors certain ordained ministers over others.

Although AMM is not joining the lawsuit, it is exploring all legal options.

"Hopefully there is a better long term solution to this," said King.

Until then, ministers are seeking out ways to keep doing what they love, like getting ordained in person.

"Now that I'm being ordained in person I will be able to be proactive in my exposure to people who want to be wedded," said Dunn.

Officers with AMM will be doing in-person ordinations on Friday at the Holiday Inn on West End Avenue from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.