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General Service Training

Performing Weddings
Rev. D. E. Hickman

Before we discuss the steps taken in performing a wedding, let us look at legal authority, and how ordination grants the Minister such rights. Legal authority is not the same as God's authority. While God made the universe, man has tried to regulate it. God ordains all of us within the word. This word gives us the authority to solemnize the weddings of others and ourselves but man has once more decided that He knows more than God in most ways.

When we look at Federal and State laws we find religious organizations are given special authority under the rights of religious practices. This is not the case in all countries. Some countries only allow persons appointed by the State to perform weddings, often done only within a civil ceremony. In the U.S., Ministers along with many elected officials have the ability to perform legal weddings of both religious and civil nature. Religion has the authority as well as the State to appoint representatives to provide legal services.

The Universal Ministries, by right of Constitutional Law, ordains persons of all faiths for life. This authority carries as much legal weight as any other religious organization in this country. This authority may not be taken away without congress revoking the First Amendment, and all of our freedoms. The scary side of this is that politicians are constantly trying to steal our freedoms.

Each State has given itself the right to determine through law who may perform weddings. Most States continue to follow the Constitution and not attempt to remove God's authority by legislating away the Ministers authority. Some States do require additional proof before allowing the Minister to provide wedding services. Though this is an infringement of God's law, it is one we as religious people can deal with.

In cases where States require proof of religious authority, we offer official credentials for a minor price to share the costs of the Ministries. A few States go further with their laws, so we send a letter of authority for our Ministers in those areas. No State can legally remove our constitutional authority, so they make us prove ourselves more worthy than their elected officials.

Once the Minister meets the requirements of the State, and county they live in it now becomes necessary for the Minister to have a plan to work under. Ministers that wish to provide weddings, or any kind of religious rites are responsible for knowing the laws of the State and county in which they work in. The Universal Ministries are not responsible for Ministers not checking the laws that they must work under. We provide in our Faq Section the basics of each State, and suggest that every Minister check with the county they plan to provide services in. The Universal Ministries will not accept responsibility for Ministers that do not comply with local laws. Each Minister must file according to the laws of the area, and handle all filings and licenses as stated within the legal codes of the County and State they are working in at any given time.

It is a crime in every State for a person to provide marriage services without legal authority. A marriage service may be found to be illegal if the Minister does not meet with the local laws, and carry severe legal and civil actions.

What are some of the ways that a marriage service may be found illegal and possibly void under law?

Ministers that try to help someone get around immigration laws by marrying a couple with the intent to receive legal residence by one party through marrying a citizen of this country. This is a violation of federal immigration codes, and the Minister found guilty of intentional abuse of the codes will be prosecuted.

Intentionally providing services without a legal marriage license as a binding marriage contract, performing services without legal consent for a minor beneath the legal age laws, providing services for someone legally incompetent, legally intoxicated, or for some other reason unable to cognisently be joined with another. Performing same sex marriages where prohibited by law as a legal service. (Services may be performed if both parties understand that the service is not legally binding under law.) Solemnizing a wedding when one or both parties are known to be legally married to a third party.

In every State, a contract of marriage is a legal contract where both parties have a valid and vested interest in joining with each other. Though there are usually emotional feelings to be considered in most marriages, there are civil issues that involve liability, entitlement, responsibility and the establishment of a line of decency within the newly formed family that the State is more concerned with. No Minister providing marriage services is immune from litigation when errors occur on the Minister's part. We suggest that the Minister purchase Professional liability insurance to cover this aspect of performing their duties. Conducting a marriage is a once in a lifetime event and cannot be redone. If a Minister fails to perform there is financial liability that may attach so it is important that the Minister feels comfortable with his or her abilities prior to accepting a request to solemnize a marriage.

The Minister should invest a period of time to meet the couple and to share ideas as to what the ceremony may include. Couples often wish to make their own vows and this is to be encouraged. The meaning of the vows is different for each couple so the Minister should be receptive to the couple's desires. The basic, do you take, and I do, may be enough for the State, but it may not leave a meaningful memory for many new couples. Often this is all the ceremony a couple wishes, which is considered to be a civil wedding without religious invocations. For many, the addition of a God's blessing, and scriptural authority is desired. Both kinds of ceremonies are equally legal and valid, yet it should be the couples choice as to the kind of service the Minister performs.

The Minister should have several suggestions to present to the couple so that a choice of vows can be made. Often the location of the ceremony will have some impact upon the choice and length of the ceremony. Whether the ceremony is to be conducted in a church, hall, outdoor setting, department store, or correctional institution, it is the Minister's responsibility to handle all of the necessary requirements such as being presented with a valid state marriage license. The Minister may wish to secure permission from correctional staff for any special privileges there may be. The Minister is to maintain the solemnity of the service, and to conduct the ceremony with respect and honor due the couple.

The Minister should discuss arrangements with the couple as to the marriage license. It should be presented before the ceremony and the availability of two witnesses other than the couple and the Minister must be secured. The Minister's responsibility is to ensure that all of the required spaces on the marriage license are completed and signed where required by each individual. After the ceremony it is very important that the Minister handles the return of the license to the appropriate office for legal validation of the ceremony. Many states impose a time requirement upon the Minister for the mailing, or hand carrying of the completed marriage license back to the registering office. The Minister must never allow the completed license to leave his or her personal possession.

We suggest that the Minister make a photocopy of the license as a professional courtesy. It is not unknown for mail to not reach its destination, and a copy will provide some proof of compliance. We also suggest that if you mail the license back that you send it return receipt requested. This validates that the office received the original certificate.

The following suggestions will help in providing a professional service:
The Minister accepts a request to perform a marriage ceremony.
The Minister meets with the couple to discuss time, arrangements, witnesses, selection of vows, amount of the Minister's fee for the services, and it should be decided in advance when the fee is to be paid. It is not a professional practice to take money during the completion of the ceremony. The fee should be paid in advance and this is the best practice so that the couple does not need to worry about after the ceremony.

The Minister provides a variety of ceremonies to choose from, and the decision is made whether the ceremony will be religious or civil in nature.
Ceremony rehearsal, if needed or desired, should be discussed at this time.

The Minister arrives at the chosen location in advance of the ceremony, and the Minister accepts the marriage license, and makes certain there will be the necessary witnesses to sign the license. The Minister then stands in place to officiate the ceremony.

After the completion of the ceremony and exchange of vows, the Minister signs the marriage license, (if denomination is asked for, the Minister is empowered to use Universal Ministries), the Minister hands the license to each witness for their signature.

The Minister then photocopies the license for his or her professional files. The Minister should then mail or hand carry the license to proper state/county office.

A few days to a week after the honeymoon, it is good practice to send a note, or call the new couple to wish them well, offer your services to their friends, and to possibly invite them to visit your church for worship. Keep it simple, and do not press the issue. The happiness of the occasion should not be marred by overzealous insistence of your services.
There are several types of services you may wish to offer, from the basic civil service, to the elaborate religious forms. We suggest that if you plan to offer your services that you become familiar with several types. We offer a Wedding Ceremony Books through our catalog.

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