Knowledgebase-Judges' and Mayors' Authority to Perform Marriages


Information Product

Title:Judges' and Mayors' Authority to Perform Marriages
Summary:MTAS was asked who has the authority to solemnize/perform marriages.
Original Author:Bingham, Pamela
Co-Author:
Product Create Date:12/02/99
Last Reviewed on::06/26/2017
Subject:Courts--Judges; Mayor; Marriage
Type:Legal Opinion
Legal Opinion:

Reference Documents:

Text of Document: You requested an opinion on whether it is permissible for you to perform/solemnize a marriage in Tennessee. As we discussed, there is a statute and other relevant resources concerning the solemnization of marriages in Tennessee and I have found the following information.

The Tennessee Legislature has authorized numerous persons to conduct ceremonies to solemnize marriages. T.C.A. 36-3-301(a) conveys such authority upon:

All regular ministers of the gospel of every denomination, and Jewish rabbis, more than eighteen (18) years of age, having the care of souls, and all members of the county legislative bodies, county executives, judges, chancellors, former chancellors and former judges of this state, former county executives of this state, the governor, the county clerk of each county, speaker of the senate and former speakers of the senate, and speaker of the house of representatives and former speakers of the house of representatives, the county clerk of each county, and the mayor of any municipality in the state, may solemnize the right of matrimony.

As a matter of interest, in Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 87-151 (September 17, 1987), the Attorney General opined that a person ordained in conformity with customs of any denomination and authorized to perform religious functions is a "regular minister of the gospel of every denomination" and can solemnize a marriage even if that individual’s regular residence is outside State of Tennessee; and, the county clerk has no authority to require proof that officiant is minister. T.C.A. 36-3-301. But see Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. U97-041 [a person ordained by the Universal Life Church, Inc., which apparently has ordained anyone who filled out a mail order application, without a background check, verification or obtaining of any information, did not appear to meet the criteria of T.C.A. 36-3-301(a) in order to be qualified to solemnize marriages.] In summary, under state statute, the legislature has designated the persons who may solemnize marriages. This list includes ministers, rabbis, members of county legislative bodies, county executives, judges, chancellors, former chancellors, former judges, former county executives, the governor, the speaker of the senate, former speakers of the senate, the speaker of the house of representatives, former speakers of the house of representatives, county clerks and mayors of any municipality in the state. Tenn. Code Ann. 36-3-301(a).

It should be noted that no matter which authorized person performs the ceremony, Tennessee marriage laws require the parties to obtain a marriage license from the appropriate county clerk as a condition precedent to the solemnization of a valid marriage. In accordance with T.C.A. 36-3-103(a):

Before being joined in marriage, the parties shall present to the minister or officer a license under the hand of a county clerk in the state of Tennessee, directed to such minister or officer, authorizing the solemnization of a marriage between the parties. Such license shall be valid for thirty (30) days from its issuance by the clerk.

In addition, the Legislature has expressly set forth the requirements for the issuance of a marriage license. Such requirements have been made a condition precedent to the issuance of the license. See T.C.A. 36-3-104. Thus, it is clear that Tennessee law requires the parties desiring to be married to obtain a marriage license before a marriage ceremony may be properly solemnized. The general rule is that a ceremony performed in Tennessee without a marriage license will not result in a valid marriage. Therefore, a minister or officer performing a marriage ceremony should not proceed until and unless the parties produce a marriage license for his or her signature.

Please remember that these legal opinions were written based on the facts of a given city at a certain time. The laws referenced in any opinion may have changed or may not be applicable to your city or circumstances.

Always consult with your city attorney or an MTAS consultant before taking any action based on information contained in this database.