Who can solemnize a marriage?

The rite of matrimony may be solemnized by any of the following persons listed in T.C.A. § 36-3-301:

  1. All regular ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders of every religious belief, more than 18 years of age, having the care of souls.
  2. Current and former members of county legislative bodies.
  3. County mayors/executives and former county mayors/executives.
  4. Current and former judges and chancellors of this state.
  5. Current and former judges of general sessions courts.
  6. The governor.
  7. The county clerk of each county.
  8. Current and former speakers of the senate and speakers of the house of representatives.
  9. Mayors of municipalities.

In 1997 the General Assembly authorized all elected officials and former officials who are authorized to perform marriages to do so in any county in the State of Tennessee. T.C.A. § 36-3-301(i).6

For all marriages after April 15, 1998, in order to solemnize the rite of matrimony a minister, preacher, pastor, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader must be ordained or otherwise designated in conformity with the customs of a church, temple, or other religious group or organization, and such customs must provide for ordination or designation by a considered, deliberate, and responsible act. T.C.A. § 36-3-301(a)(2) (added by 1998 Public Chapter 745). The county clerk, however, has neither the authority nor the duty to examine the qualifications of persons seeking to solemnize the rite of matrimony. See Tenn. Att’y Gen. Op. U97-041. The county clerk cannot require proof that an officiant is, in fact, a minister or other authorized person. Op. Tenn. Att’y Gen. 87-151 (9/17/87).

For marriage purposes, the several judges of the United States courts, including United States magistrates and United States bankruptcy judges, who are citizens of Tennessee are deemed to be judges of this state. However, the term former judges does not include any judge who has been convicted of a felony or who has been removed from office. T.C.A. § 36-3-301(a). The term “retired judges of this state” shall be construed to include persons who served as judges of any municipal or county court in any county which has adopted a metropolitan form of government and persons who served as county judges (judges of the quarterly county court) prior to the 1978 constitutional amendments. T.C.A. § 36-3-301(e). Also, any person who was a member of a quarterly county court on August 1, 1984 can perform marriages. T.C.A. § 17-1-206. All judges, including city judges, are included among the officials who may solemnize marriages. An elected city judge may perform a marriage in any county in Tennessee, but an appointed city judge is authorized to solemnize a marriage only in the city where the judge holds office. Op Tenn. Att’y Gen. 02-112 (10/10/02).

Deputy county clerks under the authority of T.C.A. § 18-1-108(4) have full power to transact the business of the county clerk and therefore, according to Op. Tenn. Att’y Gen. 85-243 (9/18/85), have the power to solemnize a marriage.