ATLANTA — Wedding season will be here before we know it, and one viewer asked us to take a closer look at the legality of a popular nuptial trend: getting ordained online.
Thomas emailed the 11Alive Verify team, asking if "it was legal for those 'ordained' via Universal Life Church to perform or officiate weddings" in Georgia.
That's a fair question given some states have dealt with legal battles over whether to recognize marriages performed by ministers ordained online. ULC is just one of the popular sites offering online ordination but given Thomas' question, the Verify team reached out to the Universal Life Church Ministries for answers.
"We've had very little resistance by the state of Georgia in accepting and acknowledging Universal Life Church ministers ordination credentials," presiding Chaplin George Freeman said in an email. Freeman said he believes the major issues have come arisen as ULC's wedding officiants do not discriminate when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage.
"As to the marriages in Georgia... We have had well over a hundred thousand applicants out of the state of Georgia. Overall, Universal Life Church has ordained 20 million-plus over the years," Freeman said.
Turning to state law O.C.G.A.§ 19-3-30 (c), Georgia provides authority to perform a marriage ceremony to "any judge, including judges of state and federal courts of record in this state, city recorder, magistrate, minister or other person of any religious society or sect."
"Georgia law says you can perform a marriage if you're a judge or if you're a member of a religious sect or religious society," attorney Randy Kessler said. "That's very bland and very basic. So they are such a sect or society that allows you to do it."
Given these sources, 11Alive can verify it is legal under state law for those ordained online via Universal Life Church to officiate weddings in Georgia. Yet, ULC's website does advise checking local laws for any unique ordinances.
"They seem to capture a corner of the market that seems to give licenses to perform ceremonies," Kessler said.