Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By PAUL BEACH
In "Another View" on June 22, Freeport Baptist minister Sandy Williams missed the mark -- seriously. The Rev. Williams states that ministers have historically acted as agents of the state to record marriages. That is indeed correct. But Williams stops there, and in so doing, misrepresents the law.
In Maine, a couple can marry if they complete a marriage license and use an officiate authorized by the state. This can be a judge, a notary public or a lawyer (19-A M.R.S.A. Sec. 655). An officiate can also be an ordained minister, a cleric or a person licensed by a seminary or ecclesiastic body. The officiate, religious or not, acts as an agent of the state. Should a couple wish to have a "religious overlay" to their wedding, ministers have traditionally provided that service.
For a marriage to be legal and valid, it is not necessary that there be any connection with a religious organization, beliefs, reference to God or any other supernatural element. Indeed, countless attorneys, notaries public and judges have performed wonderful and beautiful marriage ceremonies in Maine, without any mention of divine interference in the marriage or the participation of any clergy.
While ministers are agents of the state in a religious marriage, the civil requirements and the religious overlay are "distinct." To assert otherwise is to misunderstand the statutes of Maine or worse, to intentionally mislead by making disparaging remarks about "renegade preachers and aberrant religious groups" who call their ceremonies marriages, even though they obviously differ from those preferred by the Rev. Williams.
There are two "notions" of marriage in Maine, the required official one and the optional religious ceremony. The Rev. Williams is, of course, free to express that opinion, but it does his cause no credit by misstating both the facts and the law.
Paul Beach is a resident of Kennebunk.