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A queer Tennessee Minister talks about the importance of online ordination, and the state’s discriminatory new law

Published Wednesday, Apr. 7th, 2021

Cover image via Pride of Place Weddings

Nearly two years ago, AMM rushed to Tennessee to defend the rights of our ministers -- rights that were suddenly challenged by an unjust new anti-online ordination law. In a matter of days, we’d ordained nearly 2000 individuals face to face. 


The law, SB 1377 / HB 0213, was a blatant attempt to strip online-ordained ministers of their right to perform marriage, and couples of their right to choose who officiates their wedding ceremony. It was quickly challenged and put on hold by a judge citing “serious constitutional issues,” until the matter could be settled in court. (The case still hasn’t been decided.


As the anniversary of our extraordinarily in-person ordination tour approaches, we reached out to a Nashville-based minister who attended the event -- AMM Minister Maria Michonski, MDiv. 




Maria describes the community and healing she felt while attending the ordination event with other like-minded ministers, and the importance of online ordination, especially for ministers and couples belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community.


(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.)




AMM: You were ordained with AMM in 2016, long before the in-person ordination tour in 2019. What was it like attending the event face-to-face with other ministers?  



Maria: It was so great to be at the "ordination tour" in TN. I loved showing up to see so many other officiants gathered in one place, to ensure their rights were protected! 


And it has benefited me, because although those laws didn't go through, [AMM: the law is currently suspended], there are still lots of reports from other officiants of getting turned away because they are ordained online, despite doing so being illegal. 


Securing my in-person ordination with AMM felt like the care and healing I needed at the time, above all else. It provided me with the ability to offer the same to LGBTQIA+ couples who cannot get married in their own religious traditions. 





AMM: How does it feel to have your ordination questioned by the state? 



Maria: Online officiants are likely the largest group of officiants in TN to officiate queer weddings, and as a queer officiant and a wedding professional working with mostly queer couples, it felt devastating to have my ordination called into question. 


Just months before, I had officially started my LGBTQIA+-centered wedding planning and officiating business. When I read the news, I was sure that my business and this part of my vocation had been tanked.


To have the state put that capability into question, [to question my ordination with AMM] due to my denomination's unwillingness to ordain me for both my gender and sexuality, reified all of the religious trauma I had already endured. 




AMM: How has online ordination been important to your path as a minister, and your work as a queer officiant, marrying queer couples? 


Maria: I grew up Catholic in the Nashville area, getting my B.A. in Theology and Women's & Gender Studies at a Catholic university. During that time I came out as queer and had a crisis of faith. I experienced wholesale rejection and damnation from the Roman Catholic Church, and didn't know how I could continue to envision a career for myself in a ministerial context. 


I went to Vanderbilt Divinity School (a non-denominationally affiliated school) for my Master's in Divinity to try to figure out where to go from there. I had a wonderfully affirming and challenging education there, and came out still searching for a vocational path forward. 


I realized that, ultimately, I felt purposeful when helping to create sacred and spiritual experiences for LGBTQIA+ people. With a large amount of event planning under my belt, I knew I could find vocational meaning in LGBTQIA+ wedding planning and officiating.


Pursuing this path has been nothing more than one great affirmation of who I am and my ministerial skills. 




A grid of four photos of smiling ministers with AMM staff in Tennessee with their in person ordination certificates

AMM staff and ministers at the 2019 in-person ordination 'tour' in Tennessee


Looking back, and looking forward


In 2019, after Tennessee passed a law that would prohibit online-ordained ministers from performing marriage in Tennessee, AMM traveled to the state to issue in-person ordinations. Nearly 2,000 individuals took time out of their busy schedules to line up and get ordained. 


Folks from every walk of life showed up at the events (some coming from across state borders). Countless Tennesseans volunteered their time and resources, places to stay, hot meals when we were too busy to leave our posts, space to host future ordination sites, and anything else we didn’t think of ourselves. We are still deeply grateful to them all. 


AMM continues to work with our legal counsel to defend the rights of ministers that are ordained online. We’re aware of lawsuits by other groups, and are encouraged by what we’ve seen so far. Our goal is to make sure that our ministers’ interests and rights are represented, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that. 


We had hoped to return to Tennessee last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed our plans. As an end to the most difficult period of the pandemic appears on the horizon, we look forward to interacting with our wonderful community again in person! 



You can learn about recent updates in Tennessee here: 


Tennessee Update: The fight to protect the rights of online-ordained ministers rolls on  




AMM Minister Maria Michonski, MDiv., is a wedding officiant and planner in Nashville, Tennessee, and a passionate advocate for inclusivity, the queer community, and anti-racism. 


Maria runs Pride of Place Weddings. Pride of Place is LGBTQIA+ centered, and regularly donates a portion of their annual income to bail out funds and the Nashville chapter of Black Lives Matter. 


Follow her wedding adventures on Instagram



AMM Minister Maria Michonski, MDiv., stands leaning against a wooden railing, outside in the woods in a brightly patterned skirt smiling, taken from Pride of Place website

Photo via Pride of Place Weddings



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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