The New York Times reported about a 1989 decision in whihc the Appellate Division of New York’s Supreme Court ruled on a couple’s peculiar divorce case. A divorce, it turned out, wasn’t necessary — because they had never been legally married.
New York law stipulated that only ordained members of the clergy and certain government officials could solemnize a marriage. The couple were wed in 1986 by an officiant ordained by the Universal Life Church, a nondenominational religious group that offered fast certificates of ministry. But the Universal Life Church wasn’t an “ecclesiastical body,” the court ruled. It said the pair’s marriage — along with a contested prenuptial agreement — was thus null and void.
“The last thing you want to find out when you’re getting divorced is that you were never married,” said Bob Woletz, who at the time edited The New York Times’s Society News pages. (Those pages later became the Weddings section.)
The 1989 case set a precedent: Marriages performed by nontraditional ministers of organizations like the Universal Life Church were not recognized by the state. The case also created a problem for Mr. Woletz and his colleagues: Some couples writing to The Times in hopes of being announced in the wedding columns didn’t know that their impending unions might not be legitimate, in the eyes of New York. The problem grew as the Universal Life Church and other ministries began offering even easier ordainment through online certification.
CLICK HERE to read more.