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The Big Picture in Tennessee’s Fight for Marriage Equality Must Include Online Ordination

Published Wednesday, Mar. 15th, 2023

AMM Minister Kay Annette McFarlane performs a joyful outdoor wedding

The constitutional right to marry in Tennessee is being challenged on multiple fronts. To fight back, we must consider the big picture – including the right to online ordination


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AMM Audio Articles · The Big Picture in Tennessee’s Fight for Marriage Equality Must Include Online Ordination




Last week, Tennessee’s House passed a bill that would make it legal for any officiant to refuse to conduct any marriage they don’t agree with, including government officials. Now, the fate of this discriminatory bill lies with the state’s conservative Senate, and it’s got a lot of people worried. 



That’s worrying enough, but it’s not the whole picture. Things could get much worse for marriage equality in Tennessee. 


To get an idea of what’s really at stake, you’ve got to look at the big picture… including the state’s concurrent efforts to prevent online ordained ministers there from officiating weddings. 


Tennessee’s attack on religious equity and online ordination 


Remember the anti-online ordination law that was passed in Tennessee in 2019? 


That law attempted to block all online-ordained ministers from performing marriage rites there. (TN HB0213) And although it’s currently unenforceable due to a drawn-out legal battle, it would be a devastating blow to non-traditional ministers in the state if it became active law. If that happens, it could become a felony for ministers ordained over the internet to solemnize marriage and sign a marriage license. 


This would be injurious to the rights of all Tennesseeans, and patently unconstitutional, just on its own. In addition to enjoying the same rights of establishment as any mainstream church, online ordination is vital to religious equity in the state, by offering an affordable alternative to expensive educational programs and ensuring people from all walks of life can follow their unique spiritual calling, including people who might be rejected by mainstream denominations because of their sexual orientation or gender. And it’s one of the only pathways to legal ordination for members of non-traditional or informal spiritual practices, including Agnostics, Buddhists, Pantheists, Wiccans and other Modern Pagans, SBNRs and SBNAs (Spiritual But Not Affiliated people), Spiritual Atheists, Humanists, and many others. 


Without access to online ordination through inclusive non-denominational churches like AMM, people of many beliefs and backgrounds might be unable to become ordained or acquire the credentials to perform marriage rites – and many couples would be unable to find an officiant who shares their beliefs.


How these laws work together to end marriage equality in Tennessee 


Now consider what happens if both of these laws are enacted at the same time: One law that makes it legal for traditional officiants to refuse to marry non-traditional couples, and another law that makes it illegal for most other non-traditional officiants to perform weddings.


See what’s happening? If both laws become active, there’s no one left to marry ‘non-traditional’ couples. This will impact same-sex and other LGBTQ+ couples, interracial couples, interfaith couples, and any other couple that an officiant decides they object to, for any reason. 


This bigger picture captures a catastrophic impact on marriage equality in Tennessee: Lawmakers want to restrict who can and can’t get married in the state, in a direct violation of the constitutionally protected rights of all Tennesseeans to marry. 


This attack on marriage equality is intentional 


The lawmakers who support these bills want to eliminate same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, and interfaith marriage in the state by making it impossible for these couples to find an officiant… All without technically breaking marriage equality laws protected by the Supreme Court. 


(And of course, marriage equality is also at risk in the Supreme Court, making state-level legislation like this more insidious – and more urgent for us to reject.)


It’s certain that the constitutional right to marry in Tennessee is being challenged on multiple fronts. To fight back effectively, we need to consider the big picture – which includes the right to online ordination. 


If Tennessee lawmakers decide that any officiant – even government officials – can refuse to solemnize the marriages of any couples they don’t agree with, then we must ensure that these couples can find someone supportive to marry them instead. Affordable and accessible online ordination ensures this.


We can’t lose sight of the big picture: the right of every person to marry and solemnize marriage according to their beliefs. 



What's Next: Online-ordained ministers can legally officiate weddings in Tennessee. The law that attempted to make this illegal is currently on hold pending an ongoing court case, and is unenforceable. 


TN HB0878 passed the House on March 6th, 2023 and was transmitted to the Senate; it's companion bill, SB0596, has been deferred in Senate Judiciary Committee until Jan. 23rd, 2024. 






Online-Ordained Ministers

Can Officiate Weddings in Tennessee


Get Ordained Online to Officiate Weddings!

Read How to Become a Wedding Officiant in Tennessee

Conviértete en un Oficiante de Bodas en Tennessee


Friends and family members can officiate weddings in Tennessee if they’ve been ordained. Online ordination is free and easy with American Marriage Ministries. 

♡ Get ordained online with AMM here 






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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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