Assembly Weddings

M. Irons

Is there an issue with legal non-conformance with weddings performed in non-traditional groups like the Geftakys Assembly? The main question is whether the Leading Brothers who performed the ceremonies were legally authorized to do so in their state. Refer also to A Summary of Marriage Laws by State.

Before too much alarm is raised over this issue, it is well to remember that due to the second amendment, our government is rather relaxed about religious ceremonies, and this issue may not become a problem. To our knowledge, there has never been an Assembly marriage license that was not allowed to be filed by a government entity due to impropriety. Attorney Bob Anderson's reassuring comments on this issue are quoted below.

But on the other hand, it is possible that a contested inheritance or divorce might turn up an irregularity in a marriage license, with unforeseen consequences. So we urge each couple married by a Leading Brother in the Assemblies to become familiar with the information presented below, to determine whether there are further steps that might be desirable in a particular individual case.

Legal Requirements for Marriage

Generally, there are four components required by states to make a marriage legal:

  1. Obtaining a marriage license
  2. Solemnizing the marriage by a recognized authority in the presence of witnesses
  3. Filling out and signing the license
  4. Filing the license with the appropriate government entity within the required period of time.

Refer to the summary of marriage laws for more specific information on the requirements in each state.

To our knowledge there has not been a problem with the first or fourth requirements--licenses have been obtained and filed. It is the second and third component that seem to be in question in the case of Assembly marriages: Were Leading Brothers legally authorized to perform marriages? And were the licenses properly filled out? Each state has its own laws, so there aren't simple across-the-board answers. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the laws are vague in some states, and therefore subject to differing interpretations in different counties within the state. 

In many states, the code recognizes any minister who is authorized by his church. Hawaii is an example. Other states require ordination, or licensure, and some require that the minister present proof at the county office before the ceremony. Some states, such as California, recognize that there are religious groups that do not believe in clergy, and make special provision for this. California requires that in such a case, either the Leading Brother be officially appointed as a deputy commissioner, or a special statement be attached to the license naming the religious group and stating that the marriage was conducted in accordance with the groups requirements. Refer to the California Legal Codes on marriage for further details.

An Attorney's Opinion on This Issue

Bob Anderson has this to say regarding California:

It is probable that most Leading brothers who conducted Assembly marriages in California did not technically comply with the requirements of Family Code Section 307, (but I don't think any of the leading brothers or the engaged couples would have had any problem complying with this stipulation). Each probably also technically committed a misdemeanor as set forth in Penal Code Section 360.

The practical import probably doesn't amount to any significance. I doubt any police department or district attorney's office would have any interest in filing charges against former Leading Brothers (or even current ones). Unless a party (either the man or woman) were to come into court and seek a nullity, as set forth in Family Code Section 309, for all intents and purposes the question will probably never come up regarding inheritance, community property or the legitimacy of children.  Section 306 goes so far as to indicate it would take more than noncompliance with the statutes for a marriage to be invalid.  

In fact, the courts treat "common law" marriages the same as the formal, traditional marriages, even though there's never any attempt to do anything other than live together and have children.  You'd probably be surprised how many families consist of a man and woman with children who have never been in a wedding ceremony of any kind, yet are in many contexts considered "married."

I really don't think this is an issue that will come back to haunt anyone, and even believe if someone tried to make an issue of it, they'd eventually look silly, even in the eyes of those who hate George the most. That being said, if anyone is concerned about the status of their marriage, they simply need to comply with either Family Code Section 425 or 500, neither of which is a big deal.


Confusion arises because even though a major emphasis was made in the Assembly that we didn't believe in clergy, in practice we did have clergy. Elders and Leading Brothers were carefully selected and officially recognized by the group. These were the only people who were sanctioned by the group to perform weddings. This being the case, they had no problem representing to a government agency that they were qualified to solemnize marriages as clergy. However, the strong teaching denying clergy has raised problems in people's minds, as the following story illustrates.

A True Assembly Wedding Story

The former Assembly member from California who alerted us to this issue told us of his own personal experience. He said,

"In our wedding, our parents were concerned about the legality of the ceremony, so my father went down to the county office to find out the details. It turns out that the Leading Brother who was performing our wedding had no authority to "solemnize" marriages, according to that county's interpretation of the code. He had never at any time been down to the county to be sworn in or licensed to do so. Therefore, it is possible that marriages conducted by him in the past have no legal weight today. My father had himself sworn in on the spot. He signed our wedding license and made it legally binding."

In keeping with George Geftakys' loose relationship to the law, Leading Brothers were not instructed about the legal requirements of performing a marriage, beyond the necessity of obtaining a license. No attempt was made to reconcile the contradiction between what was taught and what was practiced about clergy. In California, this will probably not be a problem, but in states such as Virginia that require proof of ordination, additional steps might be advised.

Comments from Readers

Leading Brother in Fullerton and the San Fernando Valley:  Many years ago I was asked to perform a marriage. I was concerned about the legality of doing this so I looked into it. You are correct that the law reads: "Any priest, minister, or rabbi of any religious denomination, of the age of 18 years or over may perform marriages. --- Ministers must complete the marriage license and return it to the county clerk within 4 days after the marriage. --- For questions see the county clerk."

Later this law was challenged on the basis that it forced everyone to submit to a religious wedding. The courts in California agreed. The courts broadened the definition of "minister" to mean anyone the the couple regarded as a person of sufficient stature to perform the ceremony. The one example that I remember was "the president of the local Ethical Society."

After the marriage license was signed and witnessed I had to sign it and mail it into the County Clerk's office. Next to my the place I was to sign my name was a box that was labeled "Officiating Person's Title". I left the box blank, signed my name, and mailed it in. About two weeks later it was returned to me with a note telling me to put my title in the box. I wrote "Brother" and sent it back.

About two weeks later it was returned again with another note telling me that "Brother" was not allowed and write my proper title. I thought about "Nothing" or "Nobody", but decided to ask George Geftakys. GG told me to just write Minister or Reverend and be done with it. I did so and mailed it in.

So, the Assembly had at least one Reverend.


Reverend Thomas Maddux. ;-)

Editor: So George himself acknowledged to the State of California that his Assemblies did have functionally recognizable clergy! We weren't just "brethren amongst brethren" after all. The sheep knew that all along; it was the shepherds who didn't.

A reader from outside the Assembly asks this question: "Could you post an explanation of 'salute your wife'? Was 'kiss your wife' considered too racy? If so, what was done at this point in the ceremony?" Here are some responses:

Anonymous has a guess: "I think "salute your wife" was just a macho way to condescend to the woman, humorously allude to a military reference / definition of the man / woman relationship. Funny, I read a book about rape in colonial America. A reference describing the relationship between men and women went in the same manner, "It is the man's responsibility to attack the citadel and the woman's to guard it!" Because the man is now married to her she is his property, Now he can "salute" her because she belongs to him now! O.K. its just speculation. And another thing, in the Assembly there was a lot of this kind of "in good fun" jesting/condescending to women. The funny thing is the women played right long with it. Not so in other churches!

Editor's guess: In the beginning, GG was the one who performed Assembly weddings. "Salute your bride" is very characteristic of something he would say, for several reasons: 1) To be bombastic and show off vocabulary 2) to be formal and standoffish, not warm and personable. The young men he selected for leadership all mimicked GG in every way, so this phrase was always used in Assembly weddings, because "that's how George did it."

Gordon sent this contribution. It is very interesting that the context in this book of traditional children's games is that the child who is "it" must choose a "bride" from the circle. If the one he loves with all his heart is not in the circle, then he must choose another one who is. How like the Assembly "circle"!

October 8, 2008  Here is a reply from the reader who first posed the question about the Assembly phrase, "You may now salute your bride": Hi again. I'm slow. After I read Gordon's comment and link about "salute your bride" (July 11) I realized that I should just google "salute your bride." Turns out it's a traditional phrase in weddings, maybe mostly southern weddings. Anyway, George didn't invent it.

Thanks for your work on the site, you've blessed me.

Wayne Scott Phillips, ALS dx 8/89 vent 11/98 "/

So the laugh's on us, especially the editor, for making GG "an offender for a word", as he would say. Wayne Phillips, who was familiar with the Assembly in Fullerton in the '70's, is an ALS sufferer. Glad we've been a blessing, Wayne.

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