Legal Question in Family Law in New York

Who is considered a spiritual group in regards to Section 11 of the Domestic Relations Law for marrying someone in NY State?

Here is my predicament, my boss is getting married in Roxbury, NY and would like to have his friend marry them, without her getting ordained. I called Roxbury town clerk and she said she is not qualified to answer those questions. My boss obviously would like his wedding to be legal. Most sites I have found say "a member of the clergy or minister who is NOT authorized by a governing church body but who has been chosen by a spiritual group to preside over their spiritual affairs;" is legally able to marry someone. But what constituents "spiritual group", my boss and his fiance are "spiritual" can they constitute a "spiritual group"? And furthermore, what is a member of the clergy or minister defined as?

Asked on 3/18/19, 12:00 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Lawrence Silverman Law Firm of Lawrence Silverman

Domestic Relations Law Section 11 states that No marriage shall be valid unless solemnized by either:

1. A clergyman or minister of any religion. " ,or by leaders at various specified regional headquarters of the Society for Ethical Culture or of the Ethical Society or by various politicians, e.g. ,mayors, governors, or by magistrates.

Note that the Society of Ethical Culture and Ethical Society referred to in the law are those headquartered at various locations specified in the law: Starting your onw unaffiliated Roxbury Society of Ethical Culture or Roxbury Ethical Society probably WON'T allow an appointed leader thereof to perform a legally valid marriage in New York.

Domestic Relations Law Section 11 further defines "clergymen" and "ministers' authorized to perform marriages as : "The term 'clergyman' or 'minister' when used in this article, shall

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

The word "include" would seem to leave a possibility that even some people who are NOT among those defined in Section 2 of N.Y.'s Religious Corporations Law MIGHT in some instances be authorized to perform legally valid New York State marriages.

However, a 1989 New York State Appellate Division case, Ranieri v. Ranieri, ruled that people who have received online certificates as ordained ministers from the Universal Life Church (ULC) are NOT clergymen within the meaning of New York law and CANNOT perform legally valid marriages in New York. (The only requirement to become an ordained Universal Life Church minister is to pay a $25 fee online.)

(A 2013 NY Appellate Division case, Oswald v. Oswald, has ruled that it is time to review that decision in view of possible changes in the Universal Life Church;s organizational structure since the 1989 Ranieri v. Ranieri case, but any marriages New York marriages performed by a Universal Life Church minister are still in jeopardy of being deemed legally invalid in New York).

Therefore, to be "safe rather than sorry" and not risk the possibility that a marriage be deemed invalid, it is best to either retain the services of a magistrate to perform the wedding ceremony or a clergy man / minister as defined in Section 2 of New York's Religious Corporation Law which defines "clergymen" and "ministers" and the religious institutions they serve as follows:

The term "clergyman" and the term "minister" include a duly authorized

pastor, rector, priest, rabbi, pandit, swami, guru, granthi, imam,

moulvi, maulana 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

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Answered on 3/18/19, 9:27 pm

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