Great question! You see this scenario occur so often on television and in movies that it’s tempting to think it’s legitimate. But in North Carolina, it’s a little trickier than that. You’ll have a hard time getting a straight answer to your question, though, because the State can’t “regulate” churches or ministers for fear of violating the barrier between church and state. But they have issued some “guidelines” for your protection and theirs (see below). Why? If there is ever a question about whether the marriage was valid, the state needs to be able to find the officiant as well as the witnesses to the wedding. They can’t find them if they were ordained on some website that no longer exists. (Sometimes this comes up in the case of annulment or divorce, but also, when the premature death of one of the partners causes other potential heirs to question the validity of the marriage.)
Rather than see this as an obstacle, though, consider it an opportunity. If you have not done it before, now is the time to give some thought to your religious beliefs. What do you believe? Would you like to get involved in a community of people who share those beliefs? What about when you have children? Churches, whether formal or informal, can be a wonderful source of support for your marriage and your family, especially when times are tough. If you’re still not comfortable dentifying with a particular organized religion, there are lots of legitimate ministers out there who offer their services for a fee, and they cover the whole gamut of religious beliefs. Just ask your wedding planner for a recommendation.
NORTH CAROLINA MINISTER GUIDELINES
Who may perform marriages in the state of North Carolina? An “ordained minister of any Faith.” A faith is a group of churches with similar beliefs and structures. The following is a list of faiths generally recognized by this state:
Advent Christian, African Methodist Episcopal, Anglican, Alliance, Apostolic, Assembly of God, Associate Reformed, Baptist, Bible, rethren, Catholic, Charismatic, Christian, Christian Science, Church of Christ, Church of God, Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day
Saints, Community, Congregational, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Evangelical, Fellowship of Christian Assemblies, Foursquare Gospel, Freewill Baptist, Friends (Quaker), Full Gospel, Greek Orthodox, Holiness, Independent Baptist, Jewish, Jewish Christian, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian, Missionary Baptist, Nazarene, Orthodox Catholic, Pentecostal, Pilgrim, Presbyterian, Presbyterian
Church of America, Presbyterian Church USA, Quaker, Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Salvation Army, Seventh-day Adventist, Southern
Baptist, Trinity, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Churches, Unity, Wesleyan.
If not ordained by one of these faiths, does the group issuing the ordination meet the following criteria?
Does it have a written creed, statement of faith, or summary of beliefs?
Does it have regularly scheduled religious services?
Does it have an established place of worship?
Does it have an established congregation or other regular membership group?
Does it conduct baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.?
If in doubt, check with your county register of deeds office. They are the ones ultimately responsible for issuing marriage licenses and recording marriages.