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Pastors Can Be Subject to Criminal Penalties for Not Complying with Legal Requirements for Valid Marriage under State Law
North Carolina
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Key point 3-04. All states permit clergy to perform marriage ceremonies. However, some states permit only "ordained" or some other classification of clergy to perform marriage ceremonies. It is important for clergy to determine if they are legally authorized to perform marriages under applicable state law, and in addition to be aware of the legal qualifications for marriage and any license and reporting requirements prescribed by state law.

A North Carolina court ruled that the failure of a couple to obtain a valid marriage license prior to their wedding will not invalidate the wedding, but may expose the officiating minister to criminal prosecution pursuant to state law. A couple was married in 1993, and divorced in 2007. The couple later reconciled, and the wife moved back into the husband's home in 2012. They attended church every Sunday and established a relationship with their pastor. The pastor at first assumed that the couple was married, but they informed her they had divorced and reconciled, and that they intended to remarry, but "never made a solid date." According to the pastor, the couple "just said they wanted to do it, and I said, you know, give me a call and we'll get together and discuss it. And, you know, he got ill and we never had that meeting that they wanted to have."

The husband had chronic medical issues, and his wife cared for him. The husband became ill in November 2013, and required hospitalization. He was twice transferred from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility before returning to the hospital in December 2013. The couple discussed marriage while the husband was hospitalized, and decided to marry while he was still in the hospital. The wife asked a friend to be her maid of honor and witness, and she asked her son to be best man and a second witness.

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