Pa. judge nullifies weddings by online ministers

Anna and Casey Pickett fell in love during a college class on Transcendental literature, reveling in the nature-loving rhapsodies of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
It was only natural, then, that when the couple married last July, they would stand beside a rustic lake in Pennsylvania, with the professor whose class brought them together officiating at the ceremony.

Two months later, however, the couple got a call from a county clerk in Pennsylvania, who told them their marriage might not be valid. And years from now, the clerk said, when they bought a house, applied for government benefits or had children, they might have a problem.

“It was a total shock,” said Anna Ruth Pickett, 27, who works in environmental justice for the New York-based Ford Foundation.

The problem: Their professor, T. Scott McMillen, who was not a minister, got ordained online to perform the ceremony. In September, a judge in York County, Pennsylvania, ruled that ministers who do not have a “regularly established church or congregation” cannot perform marriages under state law.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture

18 comments on “Pa. judge nullifies weddings by online ministers

  1. Nathan says:

    … the beginning of the end for the E-piscopal Church…

  2. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    I look forward to e-baptism but not necessarily to the net-burial

  3. Br. Michael says:

    How about e-balming?

  4. John316 says:

    Wow, this calls into question the validity of services performed in the[url=]Second Life[/url] [url=]Anglican Cathedral[/url]

  5. C. Wingate says:

    The thundering irony in this is that in Pennsylvania you don’t need any minister (or court official) to marry you. But to take the self-uniting route you have to plan ahead and apply for that method in particular.

  6. AKMA says:

    Granted my professional bias, I’m intrigued that I can’t find any evidence that a “T. Scott McMillen” is a [i]professor[/i] anywhere. I’m continuing to search, but so far the only “T. Scott McMillen” that Google turns up is a [url=]dentist in Ohio[/url]. Maybe the course should have been spelled, “Trance and Dental Literature” (but then, why read Emerson and Thoreau?).

  7. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    #6 AKMA – you don’t suppose the Prof. got that on-line as well?

  8. AKMA says:

    Nope, detective work uncovers misspelling in professor’s name. [url=]T. Scott McMillin[/url] teaches a course in “Nature & Transcendentalism” at Oberlin College, where Casey Pickett majored in Politics and Environmental Studies. Case closed, USAToday shown to be in error.

    Weird that T. Scott McMillin and T. Scott McMillen are such close neighbors, though.

  9. Todd Granger/Confessing Reader says:

    Doesn’t this sort of judicial intrusion, deciding who is a minister of religion and who isn’t, go directly to the question of whether ordained Christian ministers should be acting as agents of the state in “marrying” people? Civil marriages all round, I say – and then have a presbyter or bishop celebrate and bless Christian marriages in a rite separate from the civil wedding of the man and woman.

  10. DaveBr says:

    The state should not be deciding who is or isn’t ordained, or for that matter, what is or isn’t a religion.

  11. C. Wingate says:

    Actually, I don’t find it all that unreasonable that the state makes some extremely coarse determination of who is or is not a fake minister. In this case, it’s bloody obvious. And the other side of the coin is that the state is essentially allowing religious ministers to act as its agent. Without looking back at the history of this it’s an overreaction to say that the state shouldn’t have any standards as to how legitimate such a minister should be, and even then it’s not really any skin off a legitimate religion to be put to such a test. Even if it fails, all it means is a trip to the courthouse for the couple.

  12. DaveBr says:

    This clearly is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. In fact, the Supreme Court has been down this road already and determined that the court should not be in the business of deciding what is or is not a religion, although the case was in reference to taxes, not weddings. Do you really want the courts deciding who is a legitimate religion? Or how about who the legitimate Anglicans are?

    Believe it or not, lots of self taught Christian ministers rely on the credentials of Internet ordination which they parlay into legitimate ministries. We can’t all go to Harvard Divinity School.

  13. Ross says:

    #4 John316 says:

    Wow, this calls into question the validity of services performed in the Second Life Anglican Cathedral

    A quick glance at their page doesn’t show what kind of services they conduct. It would seem to me that any kind of Daily Office service should be OK… I see no reason why you can’t “gather” online for the purpose of prayer, reading scripture, and being instructed.

    I wouldn’t think you could do a sacramental service, such as a Eucharist, online… if there’s no substance, there’s no sacrament.

    Still, I should try to dig out my Second Life account and check it out some time. It’s an interesting notion, if nothing else.

  14. recchip says:

    Folks, when you go to a wedding you are likely to hear something to the effect: “By the authority vested in me by the state (commonwealth) of INSERT NAME OF STATE, I now pronounce you man and wife (or husband and wife).” Here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, there is a simple process whereby the minister in question goes to the local court, fills out some forms, turns in proof that they are legitmate (not “ordained” but that they have a congregation and are not “lone rangers”) and then promise that they will fulfil the one major requirement of the marriage service, SIGNING AND RETURNING THE MARRIAGE LICENCE WITHIN 3 DAYS!!!. That’s it. Druids, Wiccans, etc have all been “approved” and the licence is good for the entire Commonwealth. Until about 15 years ago, you had to post a $500 bond unless you were Anglican/Episcopalian. This was a remnant of the “Presbyterian Parson’s Act” from the 1700’s when the Established Church was trying to prevent the spread of Presbyerianism. That is no longer true.

    The only interest the Commonwealth has is that the wedding offiicients sign and return the form!!!

  15. Mark Brown says:

    Greetings! I lead the Anglican Community in Second Life and thought I would respond to a couple of comments. We commenced in Feb of this year and spent around 5 months building a virtual cathedral; for images see: And three months ago we started offering three services each sunday catering for the major time zones. For some images of the service see:

    The community has grown to 242 with around 10 joining each week from around the world. We are under the authority of a visiting Bishop and the Ecclesiastical Law Society in the UK has formed a working group staffed by theologians and cannonical lawyers to consider the theological and sacramental issues around offering a service in the virtual setting. Presently we offer evensong and compline. We do not conduct marriages, funerals, Eucharist or baptisms. The latest development is we are now offering Bible Studies each week and starting to develop a social aspect to the community.

    For more information you are welcome to check my blog out :

    Mark Brown

  16. Just Passing By says:

    [b]recchip[/b] ([url=]14[/url]) wrote:
    [blockquote]Here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, there is a simple process whereby the minister in question goes to the local court, …[/blockquote]
    In Fairfax County VA (at least), any resident of the County who is not a convicted felon [url=]can perform a civil ceremony on a one-time basis[/url] by filing an application to do so. It’s not quite rubber-stamp, but there is certainly no religious requirement whatsoever. Make of that what you will.



  17. recchip says:

    I know about the “Civil Celebrant” thing but I was discussing the “Religious Celebrant” (which is “multi-use”) thing. I have had many friends do the “one time” civil thing. There is no, Permanant civil celebrant thing.

  18. Just Passing By says:


    I did not mean to say that there were permanent civil celebrants, nor to take issue with you in any way. I was simply pointing out that at least in Fairfax, the “online minister” doesn’t fulfill any legitimate function in any case. I do not know what, if any, other jurisdictions have similar arrangements, but surely an authorized “civil celebrant” is superior to a patently fake minister.

    Sorry if I wasn’t more clear. No argument was intended.