Legalities, a weekly column that appears in the Help section of the Southern Illinoisan, is a free service of the Self Help Legal Center. You can visit the Southern Illinoisan website at: http://www.southernillinoisan.com/
Q: I saw on the Internet that you can get a marriage certificate from a minister over the Internet through a web-only church. My neighbor, who is a minister, says that can’t possibly be legal because the person would not have a marriage license. Is he right?
A: Not really. I think that what you (and your neighbor) have confused are two legal terms “marriage certificate” and “marriage license” that sound the same, but are very different.
To get married in the State of Illinois, you first have to obtain a marriage license. The license is different than a certificate in that the license is issued by the State of Illinois permitting the marriage, and a certificate is just a document verifying that a marriage ceremony has taken place. Both documents are necessary for a valid marriage in the State of Illinois.
So before you can get your marriage certificate, you first have to get your marriage license. The church (or in this case, the web-only church) does not give you your marriage license, you obtain a marriage license from the county clerk in the county where the marriage ceremony is to take place.
The real question, therefore, is can anyone perform a marriage ceremony and issue a marriage certificate if the couple already has a valid marriage license? Here the law is not so clear.
The Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides that a marriage ceremony can be conducted by a judge, a retired judge, a county clerk (in counties of 2,000,000 or more in population), or any church official in accordance with the rules of any religious denomination, Indian Nation, Tribe, or Native Group provided that when such rules require an official, the official be in good standing with his/her religious denomination.
The Act further states that a marriage ceremony will be valid even if the person who conducted the ceremony was not legally qualified to conduct it as long as one of the the parties believed that the person was qualified.
Consequently, since no specific religions are mentioned by the law, any person from any religion (including one that existed only on the Internet) could (at least in theory) marry a couple and issue a marriage certificate as long as the couple had a valid marriage license; and at least one of the parties truly believed that the person conducting the marriage was legally qualified to do it.
Does that mean that an Internet marriage certificate would be upheld as valid by a court in Illinois? Maybe, maybe not. Legal issues involving the Internet are still relatively new. Consequently, there are few laws (and even fewer cases) that have dealt with these issues.
Do you have a legal question? Write us at Self Help Legal Center, SIU School of Law, Mailcode 6804, Carbondale, Illinois or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not all questions will be answered and may be edited for space or content.
Legalities is written by the Self Help Legal Center, a public service of the SIU School of Law. The Self Help Legal Center cannot provide legal representation. It can, however, help you find the answer to your legal problem. This column is for general legal information purposes only and the advice given in this column may not apply to your situation. For specific legal advice about your situation, you should consult an attorney licensed to practice in Illinois. This column is not meant to give legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.