Does NY State recognize Universal Life Church (ULC) as a legal organization to marry someone? If my friend gets "ordained" by them online, and she marries us will it be legal?
1 Answer from Attorneys
This is an undecided issue under New York State law, Therefore, having a marriage ceremony performed by Universal Life Church ordained manger puts the couple at risk of having their marriage later found to be legally invalid at a future date.
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.) Fifteen years before that, Ravenal v. Ravenal, a Manhattan lower court had also previously ruled the same, 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.
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 they did NOT actually decide whether or not marriages performed by a Universal Life Church ordained minister are legally valid or not in New York State. .
Therefore, 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