Internet ordination? Judge unties the knot

Sep 12, 2007 — Dorie E. Heyer and Jacob T. Hollerbush tied the knot during a midnight ceremony Aug. 24, 2006, in their home while a friend, who had obtained an Internet ordination, officiated.

No witnesses attended the quick ceremony. They said their “I do”s, and they were hitched, the couple recalled.

But the marriage didn’t work out, and seven months later, they split.

The two wondered whether their marriage was even valid under Pennsylvania law after reading newspaper articles that unions performed by Internet-ordained ministers might not be upheld if taken to court.

Friday, they found out it wasn’t. York County Judge Maria Musti Cook declared their marriage never existed.

This case is the first of its kind in the state, according to David Cleaver, solicitor for the Pennsylvania State Association of Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphans’ Court.

Under Pennsylvania law, those qualified to officiate a marriage are judges, mayors, or ministers, priests or rabbis of a “regularly established church or congregation.”

The friend who performed the ceremony, Adam Johnston, wasn’t a member of the Universal Life Church before receiving his ordination, and he testified he has not attended meetings at the church, the judge wrote.

He doesn’t have a congregation he meets with regularly or a place of worship, she wrote.

Based upon that, Cook found that Johnson did not meet the qualifications for those who may solemnize marriages.

Cleaver said he predicted years ago courts would not uphold such marriages.

Cleaver is advising county officials not to file marriage returns if officiants have been ordained through the Internet.

Brad Jacobs, register of wills and clerk of orphans court for York County, said his office would do so if they can prove that it was an Internet-ordained officiant. But there is no registry for clergy in Pennsylvania.

The state House also is considering legislation to exclude churches or congregations that offer ordinations by mail or through electronic means.

But G. Martin Freeman, Universal Life Church Monastery president, called the ruling “capricious” and “arbitrary.”

“It violates the First Amendment to the Constitution,” he said, referring to the separation of church and state.

Officials are accepting some ministers but not others, Freeman said. He hopes to challenge the ruling.

Heyer, 21, of Windsor Township, and Hollerbush, 24, of York, said they hope others will learn from their experience. And Heyer agrees with the judge’s ruling.

“It makes a mockery out of the whole marriage system.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday September 13, 2007.
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