Original Author: Bingham, Pamela
Date of Material: 04/21/1998
Laws and regulations--State
Reviewed Date: 07/19/2021
MTAS was asked whether there is a state licensing requirement for designated persons to perform/solemnize a marriage in Tennessee.
You requested an opinion on whether there is a state licensing requirement for designated persons to perform/solemnize a marriage in Tennessee. As we discussed, there is no such state licensing requirement; nor is there a state regulatory board that is charged with administration of licensure of such persons. I have had an opportunity to research the Tennessee statutes and other relevant resources concerning the solemnization of marriages in Tennessee and 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:
In construing a statute, courts are required to give words in the statute their natural and ordinary meaning. Mercy v. Olsen, 672 S.W.2d 1967 (Tenn.1984). Therefore, in determining what constitutes a "regular minister," the words are to be given their natural and ordinary meaning.
A "minister" is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as "a person authorized to perform religious functions in a church." A "minister" is also defined in Words and Phrases as a person who is ordained in conformity with the customs of any organized denomination. Town of Londonderry v. Town of Chester, 2 N.H. 268, 9 Am.Dec. 61. Thus it would appear that the minister of the First Christian Church in your city falls within these definitions.
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.
Very truly yours,
Pamela M.M. Bingham