Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Unwedding day

Married couples all over Pennsylvania are freaking out after a judge in York County — my old stomping ground, and just across the Mason-Dixon line from Baltimore County — ruled that only clergy with a regular congregation can perform marriages.

Court of Common Pleas Judge Maria Musti Cook made the ruling last month in a case where a wife sought to void her marriage because the “minister” who solemnized the occasion was ordained online by the Universal Life Church.

The ruling currently applies only in York County. At the same time, Pennsylvania state legislators have introduced a bill that would exclude those ordained by mail or over the Internet from performing marriages.

What do you think of the ruling and the proposed law? Are Cook and the legislators taking a stand against phony clergy? Or are they setting themselves up as arbiters of whose faith is real and whose isn’t?

-CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer


Jeff said...

Leaving aside the entirely inappropriate intrusion of the state into religion and personal liberty, the potentially broader question might be whether a person has to have a congregation to be considered a legitimate pastor. That's a business matter.
When it comes to something as personal as who we marry and how we marry them, I say we get to tell the state how we want to do it, not the other way around.

Francis Smith, Special Publications Assistant Editor said...

This ruling seems like a tremendous waste of judicial time. As an online ordainee who has presided over a wedding with 100-plus people in attendance, I think that decision only belongs in the hands of a bride and groom. It's what's in the hearts of the two people being wed that counts; not what kind of congregational clout the clergy has.

Bruce Godfrey said...

The very preservation of religious ministers as exclusive conductors of marriage ceremonies strikes me as offensive to constitutional values if not the constitution itself. Either a couple should be free to register their marriage by declaration at the courthouse - regardless of whether a minister or ceremony was ever involved or would be involved the next day, etc. - or any notary should be able to certify the ceremony with signatures from the happy couple.

Leave religious ceremonies to religious institutions, and get the government absolutely out of the business. The state has no legitimate business in this area, none whatsoever. It is positively medieval.