I am often asked if an online ordained minister is legal and makes a marriage legal, and the answer to that is “yes” and “no.” One legal source for church matters stated that “Online acquired ordination is illegal in 11 states.” According to an Alabama Probate Court official, I was told that ordination online is legal by the letter of law, but not by the spirit of law, and was at best “dubious” and subject to judicial ruling. In other words, should a couple or their family find themselves in court over inheritance or mortgage issues as had happened in various states, an online ordained minister can make the marriage invalid, as had also happened.
The United States Federal Court has said in a January 11, 2012 ruling that the title of minister “does not automatically ensure coverage” and in the Cramer vs Commonwealth decision against an online ordained minister’s claim of legal credentials, that a minister is one who has met a set of criteria of standards, achieved necessary education to that recognition, and is in regular meaningful worship participation with that church congregation.
One online ordination ministry points to a federal case as upholding the validity of an online ordained minister in a case trying to invalidate the said minister, but interestingly, the ruling did not over turn the marriage, because the couple were actually married by virtue of that state’s common cohabitation laws. The good news is that states are not apt to want to rule on a validity of a minister’s legal statues when it comes to the potential of overturning a marriage, because they understand that couples are consumers are expect the officiant to live up to “good faith and fair dealings” lawful standards.
So is it fine to have an online ordained minister officiate your wedding ceremony? Probably, if you don’t end up in court over it. Here are some legal discussion sites on the matter:
Kaplin Stewart Law Firm: http://www.kaplaw.com/CM/PDF/MC-Calternativeservice.pdf