Saturday, June 07, 2014

Mexican Destination Wedding Using Internet-Ordained Clergy Did Not Create Lawful New York Marriage

In Ponorovskaya v. Stecklow, (NY County Sup. Ct., May 29, 2014), a New York state trial court dismissed a divorce action, finding that the parties were never legally married.  At issue was what the court described as:
a license-less marriage supposedly solemnized in what can only be described as a "pseudo-Jewish" wedding ceremony conducted at a Mexican beach resort by a New York dentist who became a Universal Life Church minister on the internet solely for the purpose of performing weddings for friends and relatives.
The wife who was suing for divorce claimed that even though the ceremony was invalid under Mexican law, the parties were still married because  New York Domestic Relations Law §25 provides in part:
Nothing in this article ... shall be construed to render void by reason of a failure to procure a marriage license  any  marriage  solemnized  between  persons of full age....
However the court held that "DRL § 25 should be construed to apply to weddings that take place outside of New York State only under the most extraordinary of circumstances."

The court went on to discuss, but not decide, whether the marriage was properly solemnized:
These provisions call into question whether a person like Dr. Arbeitman, the dentist/Universal Life Church minister who conducted the ceremony here, is a "clergyman" or "minister" under New York law and thus authorized to officiate at weddings.....
Whether the ULC is a church or not, and whatever its belief system may be, compared to other online "religions" that enable people to pay a small fee, obtain a certificate of ordination and then perform religious wedding ceremonies, it seems practically mainstream. There is, for instance, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a religious group comprised of atheists, which, upon the payment of a $20 fee, will make an online applicant a "pastafarian minister." Then there is Dudeism, also referred to the Church of the Latter Day Dude, which portends to be a religious philosophy based on the protagonist in the Coen Brothers' cult classic The Big Lebowski. One can be ordained online for free and be authorized to perform weddings as a Dudeist Priest.
Fortunately, this court need not wade into the treacherous waters of attempting to determine what is a "real" religion and what is not, something that would seem to "necessarily involve an impermissible inquiry into religious doctrine or practice".... Given the finding that ... the parties' purported marriage is invalid because it was "an absolute nullity" under the law of the jurisdiction where it took place, it is not of great moment whether Dr. Arbeitman was legally entitled under New York law to solemnize the marriage.