Pa. marriage law in ‘upheaval,’ questioned in suits, disputes:

Officials who issue marriage licenses in Pennsylvania have been busy this year defending Pennsylvania’s marriage law, or at least each county’s interpretation of it.

In recent months, judges have been called upon to answer these questions:

_Must a county issue marriage licenses for couples who want to self-unite in nonreligious ceremonies, that is, get married without anybody officiating? ANSWER: They must.

_May counties refuse a license to an undocumented alien who wants to marry a citizen if the alien fails to provide proof of legal residence? ANSWER: They may not, according to a federal judge who ruled on such a case in Luzerne County.

_Are marriages valid if performed by people who were "ordained" by online churches in a matter of minutes and have no congregation? ANSWER: Not according to a judge in York County.

In the York County case, a Common Pleas judge invalidated a woman’s 10-month marriage, finding that the friend who officiated at her wedding didn’t have the power to do so under Pennsylvania law even though he was ordained online by the Universal Life Church. The judge ruled the woman’s friend didn’t qualify as a minister under state law because he had no regular congregation or place of worship.

The trouble is, Pennsylvania first put its marriage law in writing in 1682, but that has not stopped it from being interpreted differently, county by county, ever since.

Complicating matters was the Legislature’s decision to do away with common law marriage, effective Jan. 1, 2005.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others disagree with Cleaver and some county officials who argue that the abolition of common law marriage somehow affects the way the remaining law for licensed, ceremonial marriages should be interpreted.

The article includes an interesting Q&A that dives into a number of policy hypotheticals that law students know all too well.