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What does law say about marriages?

Being a paper journalist has its moments.

Witnessing first-hand many of the historic events that shape our community is definitely uplifting and energizing. Talking to people who have and continue to leave a lasting legacy is humbling to say the least.

Making mistakes is neither energizing nor uplifting. It is definitely humbling.

Unfortunately, mistakes are a real part of the newspaper business. As hard as we try to make sure we print the facts truthfully and accurately, there are times when we miss the mark.

Last week was one such occasion, when I wrote about Natchez Mayor Butch Brown and his newfound ability to marry people.

Brown mentioned in front of a small crowd before the city’s July 23 finance meeting that he had recently learned he could officiate at weddings.

“Not true,” said a fellow reporter who called the newspaper from north Mississippi this week to see where I got my information.

Knowing I needed to check facts before I wrote my July 26th column, I did some research on the Internet, including a Website that publishes the Mississippi Code.

The code lists many people who have the ability, under Mississippi law, to marry people. Indeed, judges and county supervisors are on the list.

So too are mayors. But this is where it gets murky. The code states, “Any marriages performed by a mayor of a municipality prior to March 1994 are valid provided such marriages satisfy the requirements of Section 93-1-18.”

It doesn’t mention post 1994.

Reading the passage, made me curious enough to seek an answer from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.

Their answer was only to copy the Code passage that left me confused in the first place and a copy from a Supreme Court case that was just as confusing.

Subsequent research confirms that mayors cannot solemnize marriages.

Still, I wonder why this is so.

After all, why are mayors kept away from the altar and county supervisors not?

My initial research has yet to provide an adequate answer to that question.

What may be even more interesting, however, is the part of the Mississippi Code that defines which ministers can officiate at weddings.

The passage begins, “Any minister of the gospel ordained according to the rules of his church or society, in good standing.”

This may be the opening for which the mayor is looking.

By not mentioning a specific religion, Brown could easily make a quick trip through cyberspace to one of the many websites like www.themonastery.org. In just 15 minutes or less, Brown can click on the large blue button titled “Become a Pastor,” fill out a form and become an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church Monastery. The church’s fundamental task is to promote the freedom of religion and asks for no money in return for its services.

With ordination credentials and a letter in good standing by it or any church, Brown would be accepted as an ordained minister in Adams County and be given the right to preside in any wedding. Fifteen minutes is all it takes.

This fact alone has left me wondering what has finally become of the institution of marriage? Never mind the judges and the county supervisors, what does it mean when anyone with a 15-minute, Internet-quickie ordination can preside over weddings and the mayor of Natchez cannot?


Ben Hillyer is design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.