Published: Wednesday, Apr. 7th, 2021
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.
(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.)
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.
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.
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.
AMM staff and ministers at the 2019 in-person ordination 'tour' in Tennessee
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!
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.
Photo via Pride of Place Weddings
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