2019 Tennessee Law on Online Ordination

Special Note: Huge thanks to State Representative Bud Hulsey , from TN House District 2, for working closely with me as we figure out what this new law means for the Tennessee wedding industry and the couples affected. While we haven’t found a positive solution yet, I know that Mr. Hulsey is still actively discussing and investigating various options with the state legal team. His efforts are greatly appreciated and I’ll be sure to provide an update to this post as soon as I have additional information to share.

What we’re talking about:
On April 11th, 2019, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed House Bill 213 which, among other things, prohibited anyone who obtained their ordination online from solemnizing a marriage in the state. On April 30th, the Tennessee Senate approved the bill and it was signed into law on May 21st, 2019 by the Governor.

As enacted, authorizes members of the general assembly, duly appointed law enforcement chaplains, and members of the legislative body of a municipality to solemnize marriages; prohibits persons receiving online ordinations from solemnizing the rite of matrimony; requires members of the general assembly who want to solemnize marriage to opt in by filing notice of the member’s intention with the office of vital records. – Amends TCA Section 36-3-301.


Who does this affect?

  • Those getting married after July 1st, 2019 when the law goes into effect.
  • Wedding Chapels and All-Inclusive Venues
  • Persons who have obtained an online ordination in order to perform the marriage of a friend or family member, or those who operate a “wedding officiant business” using this form of ordination as their legal route to conduct their ceremonies.

What does it mean for those affected?

Officiants and venues who’ve used online ordination methods, will no longer be able to perform legal ceremonies anymore. This doesn’t mean they can’t be involved, just that other, legally recognized officiants will have to be involved as well.

For couples who were planning on having a friend or family member obtain an online ordination to perform their marriage ceremony, you’ll no longer be able to have them legally marry you. That special person can still perform the majority of the ceremony or be involved in another meaningful way, but when it comes to the “I do’s”, those will have to be done in front of a legally recognized officiant like a pastor, court clerk, judge, or elected official.

How to proceed if you’re planning a Tennessee wedding:

For the couples who’ve had their wedding dreams dashed by this new legislation, there are steps you can take to save all your wedding plans in the best ways possible.

  1. Consider having a civil ceremony done before or after your actual wedding date. This can be done by making an appointment with a judge, court clerk, or other official who can legally perform marriages under state law. They file the paperwork and you can still have the wedding day go as planned with whatever officiant you choose. The only difference is that the wedding ceremony will now be symbolic rather than legally binding. (Note: This method will give you a different legal marriage date than your “wedding day”. You’ll always need to use your legal marriage date on any important documents like insurance forms, family history documents, etc.)
  2. Contact local pastors or officials to see if they would attend your ceremony to solemnize your vows and sign off on the marriage license while your chosen officiant performs the majority of the ceremony as you originally planned. (You may have to pay them to attend.)
  3. Consider finding another special way to honor and include your original officiant while having a legally recognized person perform the ceremony instead. This may be the only option for those who’s pastors or officials require that they perform the entire ceremony in a specific manner. (You may have to pay them to attend.)
  4. If you are planning your wedding through an all-inclusive venue which provides an officiant for the ceremony, contact them immediately to verify that the officiant is still able to perform legal marriages in the state of Tennessee. If they are no longer able to provide this service, ask for a list of officiants in the area that you can contact to fill the void. (May affect your cost with both the venue and the officiant.)
  5. Tell your story! Contact State Representatives and Senators to let them know how this law is impacting your dream wedding! Many didn’t even realize this clause was in the law they voted on and they certainly don’t understand the impact it’s having on the wedding industry! Raise your voice and you can be part of the change in future laws that may remedy this situation!

While I can’t guarantee that there will be updates and changes to what you’ve read here, we are hopeful that a positive work around can be found for the engaged couples of Tennessee. If you would like to be notified as any new information becomes available, please comment “Update me!” and I will record your email address for future notifications.


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