Confused About New York?


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New York marriage laws tend to be slightly confusing to most. They should be. They are written where even a graduate law student would have difficulty reading them. Filtering through all the confusing text, however, we find two basic situations relevant to authority to marry. One is applicable to marriages that occur outside the city limits of New York City, and the other is applicable to marriages inside the city limits of New York City.

We must first determine the proper definition of "minister" as recognized by the State of New York.

7. The term "clergyman" or "minister" when used in this article, shall

include those defined in section two of the religious corporations law.

The word "magistrate, " when so used, includes any person referred to in

the second or third subdivision.

Ok, so now we must look elsewhere for the definition....
The term "clergyman" and the term "minister" include a duly authorized

pastor, rector, priest, rabbi, and a person having authority from, or in

accordance with, the rules and regulations of the governing

ecclesiastical body of the denomination or order, if any, to which the

church belongs, or otherwise from the church or synagogue to preside

over and direct the spiritual affairs of the church or synagogue.

So, according to New York State law, any ULC minister does, in fact, meet the definition of "clergy."

Now, on to situations. For simplicity we will visit the text of the law applicable to marriages outside the city limits first.

S 11. By whom a marriage must be solemnized. No marriage shall be

valid unless solemnized by either:

1. A clergyman or minister of any religion, or by the senior leader,

or any of the other leaders, of The Society for Ethical Culture in the

city of New York, having its principal office in the borough of

Manhattan, or by the leader of The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture,

having its principal office in the borough of Brooklyn of the city of

New York, or of the Westchester Ethical Society, having its principal

office in Westchester county, or of the Ethical Culture Society of Long

Island, having its principal office in Nassau county, or of the

Riverdale-Yonkers Ethical Society having its principal office in Bronx

county, or by the leader of any other Ethical Culture Society affiliated

with the American Ethical Union.

This is the basic authorization for ministers to conduct marriage ceremonies. Nothing in the text precludes a ULC minister from performing a marriage ceremony, nor does it require any registration.

On to New York City. The Big Apple.....

S 11-b. Registration of persons performing marriage ceremonies in the

city of New York. Every person authorized by law to perform the

marriage ceremony, before performing any such ceremonies in the city of

New York, shall register his or her name and address in the office of

the city clerk of the city of New York. Every such person, before

performing any marriage ceremonies subsequent to a change in his or her

address, shall likewise register such change of address. Such city

clerk is hereby empowered to cancel the registration of any person so

registered upon satisfactory proof that the registration was fraudulent,

or upon satisfactory proof that such person is no longer entitled to

perform such ceremony.

This clearly states that any clergy, prior to performing a marriage ceremony, shall register with the city clerk. It does not say that the clerk has any authority to decline your initial registration, but may revoke the registration upon satisfactory proof that one is no longer entitled to perform a marriage ceremony. But regardless of the law the city clerk has other ideas. Let's look at what the clerk has to say...

From http://www.cityclerk.nyc.gov (which, by the way is owned and operated by the New York City Clerk) we find this page:

NYC Wedding Officiant Information

This page is sometimes confusing, and with good reason. Most persons are drawn directly to this statement on the page:

(Note: Ordination certificates issued by the Universal Life Church or its affiliates are not acceptable evidence of clerical authority)
Note: The above quote no longer appears on the referenced page. Additionally, we have received word from a reliable source that ordinations from the ULC are now being accepted in New York City.

Ok, fine. The City of New York does not accept for proof of ordination an ordination certificate from the ULC. That does not mean that they do not recognize the ULC in general, only that they do not recognize the certificate as being authoritative enough to prove conclusively that you are an ordained clergyman.

Let's look closer at that page. There are three sections. A, which by the way, appears to be missiong in the text, B, and C. Let's have a quick look at Section A.

Persons who wish to register in cases where the denomination publishes a directory of its clergy should present proof that their name appears on such directory. Such proof can consist of:

1. the actual directory or a copy of the cover page of the directory and the page where the registrant's name appears accompanied by a notarized certificate stating that such document is a true and correct copy of such directory; or

2. if the registrant's name does not yet appear in the directory, a letter from the body that issues the directory confirming the registrant's membership; or

3. a certificate or letter proving the registrant graduated from the seminary or theological school relating to the denomination.

This states, in short, that you can obtain a copy of the cover page of the directory kept in Modesto of ordinations together with a copy of the page where your name appears, and submit that as proof. Or, a letter from the ULC that confirms your membership. Does the Letter of Good Standing satisfy this paragraph? It should, in theory. But only the city clerk could say with any certaintity. If I were in NYC I would certainly give it a try and provide a very convincing argument for it. Then, since the ULC Seminary is still in it's infancy the provision in #3 is likely not yet applicable. In time, however, this will be available as proof as well. Note that each paragraph is connected by "or" which means you only need to comply with one paragraph.

Now a look at Section B.

B. If the denomination does not have such a directory the registrant must present the following three items:

1. a certificate of ordination (accompanied by an official english translation, if necessary,) or a letter of appointment from the board of trustees or equivalent body of the church (Note: Ordination certificates issued by the Universal Life Church or its affiliates are not acceptable evidence of clerical authority);

2. a letter from the registrant's congregation verifying that the registrant is the pastor or associate pastor of the congregation and that the congregation consents to the registration of the individual (See Appendix A) and

3. articles of incorporation of the church or, if the church is not incorporated, a written statement as to the location of the church, the reason for its founding, the number of trustees, the approximate size of its congregation and how often it meets (See Appendix B ).

Due to the note attached to #1 this entire section will not satisfy the clerk. (Note that the numbered paragraphs are connected with "and" so an applicant must meet all three paragraphs.)

Moving on to the last Section C.

C. If the denomination does not have such a directory and does not grant certificates of ordination or issue letters of appointment, the registrant must present two items:

1. a letter from the congregation stating that he or she is the recognized spiritual leader of the congregation and that the congregation consents to the registration of that individual (See Appendix C); and

2. a written statement as to the location of the church, the reason for its founding, the number of trustees, the approximate size of its congregation and how often it meets (See Appendix B ).

If you have a church in New York City this appears to be the easiest method of meeting the requirements of the clerk. Simply draft a letter on the church letterhead with the required information and submit to the clerk.

Even considering the above it may be even easier to take another route to satisfy the New York City Clerk. Since the ULC does not prevent you from being ordained from more than one church you may find that it is easier to simply become ordained from one of the other organizations available. There are several available and a quick search on the web or a question posted in the forum will likely result in several choices.

In short, yes, the ULC can perform marriages ceremonies in the State of New York, and jumping through the proper hoops placed by the city clerk, even in the City of New York.

Note: There was a time that the ULC intended to challenge the New York City Clerk and it's policies but it has been delayed by the events of 9-11. Perhaps at some time in the future the ULC will again resume it's quest to challenge the city clerk.

Disclaimer: The normal ones. I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. Any advice you may perceive from this article is worth exactly what you paid for it. For your own protection you should consult an attorney in your jurisdiction for legal advice.

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