Are Ministers Authorized to Officiate Weddings?
The answer to this question depends totally upon the U.S. State and county where the marriage takes place. In many States, ordained ministers may conduct (legally binding) marriage ceremonies without the requirement to register with the county. However, marriage laws vary from State to State. It is the minister’s responsibility to know the expectations of the laws in their state. This link (click here) will provide general information about each state’s expectations, as well as contact information for county clerk’s offices.
American history of marriage:
The early American forefathers that settled the Plymouth Colony in the 1600s (now Plymouth, Massachusetts) were faced with the issue of the first marriage that was to take place on what is now US soil. Not knowing whether marriage was to be administered by our government or an ordained minister, they searched the scriptures fan an answer. Their conclusion was surprising:
“The first marriage in this place which, according to the laudable custom of the Low Countries, in which they had lived, was thought most requisite to be performed by the magistrate, as being a civil thing, upon which many questions about inheritances do depend, with other things most proper to their cognizance and most consonant to the Scriptures (Ruth iv) and nowhere found in the Gospel to be laid on the ministers as a part of their office.”
(William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, ed.) (Samuel Eliot Morison (New York : Knopf, 1991), p. 86.)
The early settlers in America concluded that weddings were nowhere found in the Gospel to be laid on ministers as a part of their office.
What are the implications?
There is no Biblical example of a minister performing a wedding ceremony. This does not mean that it is wrong for ministers to solemnize marriages, but simply that the Bible does not seem to support it as a religious practice. Therefore, it is American culture that has made the officiating of weddings a religious duty of the clergy.
Marriage was governed in Biblical times as well as today by the established government of the land.
In Biblical times the Law of Moses was in fact the governmental laws of the land of Israel. God gave Moses the law, for the Jews to obey, in the land of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:5, 14, 5:31, 6:1). Throughout Leviticus, Moses speaks to the children of Israel with clear instructions for living in the land, under the Law.
By way of example, consider this portion of the Law of Moses regarding divorce:
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, (Deu 24:1)
From verse 1 it is clear that the law had a process for divorce which means that it held the authority of recognizing marriages as valid and legal.
The source of confusion regarding weddings, ministers, and law is probably due to the vast differences between American government and the way Israel “was” governed under Moses’ law. Nevertheless, it has become an American custom for ordained ministers to officiate weddings -and this is indeed honorable. However, it is not a matter of burden that the responsibility be laid upon the office of Christian clergy. For these reasons, we grant the privilege to officiate weddings to all ministers which are recognized by our organization. Yet, it should be noted that it is their responsibility to know the laws in the state/county in which they plan to officiate weddings.