Catholics and marriage licenses


Yeah. This is NOT a legal practice.

For the most part, it is used by people who wish to defraud the US from tax dollars. Many people want to use it to hide, control and abuse their children. What it boils down to is that the child never gets a birth certificate, SSN or any of the things that make them a legal citizen. Without those rights they are beholden to their family for everything.

They cannot hold a job, they cannot drive, they cannot vote, they cannot attend school or college, they cannot go to the hospital or seek medical care beyond a doctor who has fallen into this line of thinking.

Not even the Amish do this.

For the most part, these fanciful cults exist in the Protestant community. It is incredibly grievous, and really, against Catholicism, to act in this way. It is clear that we are to pay just taxes. If you don’t like your state’s taxes then move to a state without income tax. Federal taxes pay for many things besides objectionable ones. Jesus said to “rend to Ceaser”

Not long ago there was a very famous case of Alecia Pennington, a girl who was faced with this exact scenerio. She escaped her family compound with help from a concerned grandparent. It took her over 2 years to get a birth certificate, SSN and be able to legally work. It’s awful.

Let’s be real here.

This is NOT a case of someone simply acting in their best interest to avoid taxes.

This is the thought process of a deranged cult.


The church does not exist in a vacuum. They, unlike your friend’s family, recognize the need for civil authority. This is not ridiculous.


What I do know is that no Catholic priest is going to do this. No real Catholic priest. Sure, you can easily find one who will claim to be a Catholic priest, but no priest in good standing with the local diocese is even able to do what you’re asking.

First, a Catholic marriage ceremony cannot be performed if it would violate civil law. Now, it’s possible to do this anyway, but no bishop is going to entertain giving permission for this kind of marriage under the circumstances.

Second, Catholic priest cannot just go around free-lancing, performing Sacraments for people who just want to circumvent Canon Law or civil law. Again, you can easily find a fake-Catholic to do this, but not a legitimate one.

Thirdly, for a Catholic marriage to be valid, it must be witnessed by the local pastor, or another priest who has canonical jurisdiction, either direct or delegated. That means no priest is going to just perform a marriage without contacting the pastor(s) of the bride and groom. Even if he manages to get potential delegation, that still goes back to point #1 that he cannot perform the marriage without a civil license.

Whether you want the priest to come to you, or you go to him, no Catholic priest can do what you’re asking.


The law is not going to change. States require a marriage license for very good reasons. They want to make sure the person getting married is of legal age, is a citizen or legal resident, isnt already married to the best of their knowledge, and in some states, doesn’t have certain sexually transmitted diseases. Why pray tell would any Church in its right mind object to these reasonable requirements?


It’s a good point.

In the past, marriage licenses were sometimes used as a form of oppression, preventing mixed-race marriages, for example.

In a case like that, the bishop can give a dispensation (might be “permission” I have to check) for a Catholic marriage. That’s because the good of the sacrament outweighs the negative value of racism. The bishop needs a legitimate reason to give such permission. Participating in a fraud against the state is not a good reason.

If someone lacks documentation to get a marriage license for some legitimate reason; such as the person is homeless or the person lives in a rural area and just never had any kind of state documents, the first solution is to get those documents. In a case like this, there’s nothing actually preventing the documents, it’s that the family doesn’t want them. They’re actively refusing to get them because the final goal is to defraud the government.

Again, searching for a free-lancing Catholic priest is going to prove futile.


yes, and no. The Church can bestow the Sacraments as it sees fit. Yes, there is a civil recognition of marriage, but that is distinct from the Sacrament itself.

That is why the Code of Canon Law has a provision for a dispensation for such circumstances.

Can. 1071 §1. Except in a case of necessity, a person is not to assist without the permission of the local ordinary at:

2/ a marriage which cannot be recognized or celebrated according to the norm of civil law

My wife and I leveraged this when we were married. She is a Canadian, and her visa had not finished processing by the time our wedding rolled around. Our priest simply contacted the bishop, explained the situation, and got permission to go ahead with the wedding ( without a marriage license).

That broke no laws, as we did not present ourselves as having entered into a civil marriage contract. But we were Sacramentally bound to each other.

Her visa came through, we got a JoP and got the civil contract signed.


Even though this is kinda derailing the topic, I am feeling the need to defend my friends family. They are NOT anti government law breakers and have a very good relationship with their state and local officials who (unlike the church) recognize their political status. They have no controversies with the government and have a very good understanding of their rights. You are very wrong in assuming they are in a cult. They have a home with lots of love. Their children go to college and have been admitted into catholic schools. They drive and work and are not being abused by any stretch of the imagination. They do things differently than the average family but that doesn’t make them wrong or sinful or Protestant.

The only controversy they have at the moment lies with the church. Not the state. And I’m surprised so many Catholics have no issue with the states control of one of our most important sacraments.


The state isn’t "controlling " the sacrament. Father just explained the bishop can give a dispensation or permission. If the bishop has chosen not to do so, he likely has a good reason why.

As good Catholics, we don’t generally go against Church authority and you honestly haven’t shown any evidence why we should here. This doesn’t seem to be a case of racial oppression or an immigrant who can’t get a visa. This is just somebody who seemingly doesn’t want to follow normal rules that the vast majority of us have dealt with having no problems.


Because we are to be a good example to the world. That includes obeying the laws of the land unless those laws require one to sin.


Yeah, no, it doesn’t work that way. They cannot legally drive, yet they do anyway. They ARE lawbreakers. Not getting a birth certificate is identity abuse. There’s so much wrong with what they are doing, there is no justification.

It’s not “states control” it’s that the church recognizes civil authority. The church chooses to follow the laws in this country. They could choose not to. Vaild recognition of authority is very important to the Church.


My now wife and I encountered this problem. We aquired a marriage license in one state and were to be married in another. Both county clerks from each state assumed it would be valid. However, when we presented it to the priest he had us run immediatly to the courthouse to get one from the state we were now in because even though it is valid, it is only so after the marriage. However, the problem was the state we were getting in had a mandatory cooling off period of 3 days between license and marriage. The priest said we could not get married until we met the state requirements. The priest and I called the offices of the Bishop and asked the canon lawyer (as well as a secular lawyer) if we could be simply married in the eyes of the church since thay was all we cared about. The lawyer said no and it had to do with the fact thay when a priest marries anyone he acts on behalf of the state and that the US bishops have asked that all marriages be valid in the eyes of the goverment so that they will not have a reason to ever attempt to revoke the churches right to legally wed people. Sounds to me like the church wants its bases covered from a legal sense. It a little ironic considering the goverment always preaches seperation of church and state.


What I DO have a problem with is people whining nonsensically that “The big bad Catholic Church won’t do what I want. waa waa waa listen to me whine !!!” :sob: :baby_bottle:

The Catholic faith is not Burger King. We don’t have a sign outside that says “have it your way”

The Church is not some service industry that you get to call upon and hire to do something for you. The Sacraments are available to the faithful. The faithful must in-turn request them according to the norm of law, according to the terms defined by the Church. That’s why we have the Code of Canon Law.

You, apparently, have a problem with that.

You want your friend to have a Catholic wedding, but not on the terms of the Catholic Church, no, you want it on your friend’s terms. Your friend should have just as much ability to say to the Church “I will take whatever I want from you, but don’t you dare tell me that there are rules in life I have to follow” as they say to the government. Instead, you want the Church to do whatever you happen to find convenient, whatever fits your own personal views of right or wrong.

Your friends are playing some sort of game with the law. That much is obvious. They might be otherwise good people, but they have no right to expect that the Catholic Church play along with their little charade.

I have already explained to you that if the bishop decides that they have a legitimate reason to be unable to obtain a marriage license, he can give permission for a Catholic marriage without a civil license, but that’s not good enough for you. No, you want the entire Catholic Church to bow to your wishes, defer to your wisdom, and accept your judgement of Her.


You have repeatedly criticized the Church here. These are your statements, so don’t you, or anyone else, dare think that you do not deserve this criticism. YOU ASKED FOR IT so there it is.

Quotes from your posts:

I think this is so wrong!

I am becoming more and more convinced that US Catholics should not contract with the state before marriage.

I think this rule is a draconian overreaching of government mixing with our sacraments

I’m surprised by the lack of Catholics concerned by this. (which means, everyone must agree with you)

no priest will marry you without one cause [that] would be breaking the law. (how dare those priests not go to jail for you)

Marriage is a sacrament. state recognition should be voluntary. IMO (the Church is wrong for not sharing your opinion)

My friends situation really made me see how wrong this all is. (you are not the judge over the Church)

I think regardless of her legal status, she and her fiancé should be able to receive the sacrament of marriage. (false accusation)

Does anyone know of a priest who would be willing to take off his state hat and preside over their marriage as a sacrament only? (a good priest is one who does what you demand, one who obeys the Church is just a minion of the state)

Do you hear the obsurdity in what you are saying? (the Church is absurd. You, however, are wise)

This ridiculous law has to change! Sorry for the inconvenience. (you demand the Church obey you.)

I’m surprised so many Catholics have no issue with the states control of one of our most important sacraments. (you falsely accuse the Church of handing a sacrament over to the state)


I am going to to say this as a priest, because I am one of the potential accomplices you want to recruit.

If you think that I am going to risk a felony conviction with prison time, fines, legal fees, lifetime consequences, and the damage to my reputation that all follow from such a conviction of performing an illegal marriage ceremony, all because you want me to play along with your friend’s little scam to defraud the federal government: you have another thing coming. Do not dare come to me and ask me to make myself an accomplice.

If you don’t like that, fine. There is the office exit. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


If someone got married and then immediately divorced, but lived together, would the Church have an issue with that? On the one level, the Church would consider them to be validly married. On the other hand, there could be fraud involved.


Wow, I am finding this topic extremely interesting. I came here to the form after some time away to post another marriage question, but its nothing to do with this (I will post it after in a new thread). But what a dilemma the OP’s friends are in! I find myself extremely curious about that “non-citizen”'s family and their choices, and why they made them! I want to know more!

However I respect that the OP said she really wants to stay on the topic of her question and not focus on this family’s choices. It sounds like the answer to the OP’s question is that they need permission from the local bishop. Which could be difficult, in some cases, as besides, of course, following the norms of the church, there is likely room for a judgment call in this unique situation, and so really, a lot may depend on the particular bishop. The bishop could be disposed to be for or against such a unique Catholic family, who sound to be living according to their own conscience. But it seems lately some very moral priests and bishops around the world have been treated rather poorly for taking what appears seems to me heroically moral Catholic stances…so, who knows how it cold go. The couple who went to marry in Italy so they could be married in the eyes of the church - that sounds like a useful choice. Though finding a “free-range priest”:grin:, even in another country, could be pretty difficult.

Remember that we fight not against flesh and blood, but powers and principalities, So the real problem is the spiritual war they are in, and they must remember some battles are lost but the war will be won by God. And though it may seem impossible, as long as they are doing God’s will and relying on him, they will succeed. All things are possible with God.

It occurs to me that the OP’s friend’s family may be taking what is the only real true moral stance to take with this lifestyle choice because they have intelligent minds and hearts that are highly attuned to moral issues at a level the rest of us are only baby-beginners at. They may be living martyr-like in this choice, doing the truly right things but without support from those Catholics around them because the rest of us are not smart enough or attuned in our morality enough to get it. It might be the right and best choice, and that would make the evil ones very angry, and the family may well be under attack. So serious prayer is needed by and for for this couple and this family.


You have said it very well indeed, @FrDavid96

I share your outrage.


The rule for validity are very precise in this matter

Can. 1108 §1 Only those marriages are valid which are contracted in the presence of the local Ordinary or parish priest or of the priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who, in the presence of two witnesses, assists, in accordance however with the rules set out in the following canons, and without prejudice to the exceptions mentioned in cann. 144, 1112 §1, 1116 and 1127 §§2 - 3.


FrDavis96, Oh, wow, you came on strong here. I admire a priest who stands for the Catholic Church’s teaching so strongly! Well then, I admire a priest in general. Just especially one who defends the Church teaching.

Although, maybe - if you please pardon me saying – possibly, its so strong in how you stated it that its like you are hitting her with a 2 by 4. So, maybe a little too strong? Because you have to factor in that you bear the hefty power of a respected position behind your words, so, they can come out a bit stronger.

I am a convert and spent most of my life as a Protestant. And back when I was still staunchly Protestant (“just Christian”, I’d have said then), a devout Catholic friend was discussing a situation with other devout Catholic friends, and they explained to her that the Church is slow to change practices, as a whole, as she is like a large ship that takes a lot of time and space to make a turn to change a direction. That still sticks with me as a truth.

And yet, we are in a fast-changing society, one changing rapidly in the direction of paganism, immorality and disobedience in general. This is the same society that we contract with for marriage. And though it is clearly now God’s will (or allowance) for the Church to do exactly what she is doing, as far as uniting with society in marriage, as, things are not yet so bad. But its clear that things are changing, such as the definition of “what is marriage” according to our government [i think heard that marrying one’s pet dog is up next on the agenda for marriage equality:open_mouth:].

So you see, if nothing explodes and instead things keep going in the same direction they are now - and society has been sticking to its course with increasing velocity for some time - it could certainly, soon and very soon, become a problem. And as the Church generally changes slower than current law and culture, we can anticipate an increasing number of “but what about?” problems like the OP writes of here. Even if we decide the OP’s case is no exceptional thing, certainly, we are headed to more and more exceptional cases before the Church takes that big wide turn to change direction in her practice of yoking herself with our civil government’s definition of marriage. And before then there will be increasing times when God’s people will in fact have reason to say, “The Church is not acting fairly/justly/morally.”

Am I right, Father?

Yes, so, then what? At that time, will it then be appropriate to question church practice, and seek what seems to be God’s direction?? Can you see it coming to that? I mean, a time when it IS right and just to say, “I am becoming more and more convinced that US Catholics should not contract with the state before marriage.”??

(Also I was thinking’s along the lines that since we don’t know the full story of the family mentioned by the OP, maybe its possible they do have a higher moral reason for their choice, and they may even be acting in obedience to God’s will as to their family’s personal response to civil government).

Respectfully yours, your sister in Christ


The Church is a huge legal target. If they mess up it is going to be front page news all across the country. The Church would obviously prefer to not have the bad publicity.
This is true of most sizable religions, not just the Catholic Church.

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