The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich. Dept. of Attorney General Web Site - http://www.ag.state.mi.us)
STATE OF MICHIGAN
BILL SCHUETTE, ATTORNEY GENERAL
Duplicate certificates of marriage as proof of marriage.
Employers may, but are not required to, accept duplicate certificates of marriage as proof of marriage for human resource purposes, and can instead require employees to obtain and submit a certified copy of their marriage certificates as proof of marriage.
Opinion No. 7298
October 5, 2017
The Honorable Steven Johnson
Lansing, MI 48909
You have asked whether an employer must accept an employee’s “original” certificate of marriage as evidence of the fact of marriage.
Your request quotes MCL 551.18, which appears in Chapter 551 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, concerning marriage, and reflects a recodification of the Revised Statutes of 1846:
The original certificates and records of marriage made by the person solemnizing the marriage as prescribed in this chapter, and the record thereof made by the county clerk, or a copy of such record duly certified by such clerk, shall be received in all courts and places, as presumptive evidence of the fact of the marriage. [MCL 551.18.]
Nearly identical language is found in MCL 600.2132, which appears in Chapter 600 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, the Revised Judicature Act of 1961:
The original certificates and records of marriage made by the minister, judge, or other person authorized to solemnize marriages, as prescribed by law, and the record thereof made by the county clerk, or a copy of such record, duly certified by the clerk, shall be received in all courts and places as presumptive evidence of the fact of the marriage. [MCL 600.2132.]
The key language in these provisions is the mandate that “original” marriage certificates and certified copies of such certificates “shall be received in all courts and places as presumptive evidence of the fact of the marriage.”
Your request indicates that some employers are not accepting “original” certificates of marriage for human resource purposes, but are instead requiring employees to obtain and submit a certified copy of their marriage certificates.
In addressing your question, it is necessary to distinguish an “original” certificate of marriage from a “duplicate” or “certified copy,” as those terms are used in Chapter 551 of the Michigan Compiled Laws. MCL 551.102 requires that blank forms for a marriage license and certificate of marriage shall be made in “duplicate.” Under MCL 551.103, when a marriage license is issued, the county clerk gives the license—filled out and signed, together with the blank form of certificate—to the person applying for the license, for delivery to the individual who is to officiate at the marriage. MCL 551.7 provides a list of individuals who may solemnize a marriage and notes that those officiants must return licenses and certificates as required by MCL 551.104. In turn, MCL 551.104 details the procedures the officiant must follow in returning the certificate:
It shall be the duty of the clergyman or magistrate, officiating at a marriage, to fill in the spaces of the certificate left blank for the entry of the time and place of the marriage, the names and residences of 2 witnesses, and his own signature in certification that the marriage has been performed by him and any and all information required to be filled in in the spaces left blank in the certificate shall be typewritten or legibly printed. He shall separate the duplicate license and certificate, and deliver the half part designated duplicate to 1 of the parties, so joined in marriage, and within 10 days return the original to the county clerk issuing the same. It shall be the duty of such clergyman or magistrate to keep an accurate record of all marriages solemnized in a book used expressly for that purpose. [MCL 551.104 (emphasis added).]
In other words, the officiant provides the married party a “duplicate” but ensures that the “original” certificate is returned to the county clerk who issued the marriage license. In fact, an officiant who fails to return the original certificate to the appropriate county clerk is guilty of a misdemeanor “and shall be punished by a fine of not exceeding 100 dollars or 90 days’ imprisonment, or both, in the discretion of the court.” MCL 551.107.
Because the original certificate of marriage is retained by the county clerk who issued the marriage license, it appears employees are presenting their duplicate certificates of marriage to employers for human resource purposes. MCL 551.104. But because the duplicate is never filed with the county clerk, it would not be certified by the county clerk. With respect to the situation you describe, an employer may consider a certified copy of a certificate of marriage more reliable because it bears some form of certification by the county clerk, while the duplicate certificate retained by the employee does not bear any form of certification from a public official. See People v Lambert, 5 Mich 349, 364-365 (1858) (discussing the unreliability of a suspicious copy of a New Jersey marriage certificate).
Notably, neither the language you quote from MCL 551.18 nor the quoted language from MCL 600.2132 provides that duplicates are presumptive evidence of a marriage. And MCL 551.104 clearly differentiates the original marriage certificate from the duplicate. Thus, applying the statutory text of Chapter 551, the duplicate is not the “original” certification of marriage within the meaning of MCL 551.18 or the virtually identical MCL 600.2132.
In addition, the phrase “all courts and places” as used in MCL 551.18 and MCL 600.2132 does not encompass the human resource departments of public or private employers. Neither statute defines the terms “courts” or “places” or the phrase as a whole, although the Michigan Supreme Court has explained this language to mean that courts, from an evidentiary perspective, may conclude that an original marriage certificate establishes the fact of marriage, provided the original certificate is not contradicted by other evidence. Mead v Randall, 111 Mich 268, 270-271 (1896). As to the term “places,” one might assume that the word would, in a general sense, include employers. But the phrase “courts and places” is a term of art.
“The primary goal when interpreting a statute is to discern the intent of the Legislature by focusing on the most ‘reliable evidence’ of that intent, the language of the statute itself.” Fairley v Dep’t of Corrections, 497 Mich 290, 296–97 (2015). If the legislative intent can be gleaned from the statutory language, further construction is neither necessary nor permissible. Id. at 297. When a statutory term is undefined, it must be given its plain and ordinary meaning “unless it is a term of art.” People v Barrera, 500 Mich 14, 18 (2017). “Technical words and phrases, and such as may have acquired a peculiar and appropriate meaning in the law, shall be construed and understood according to such peculiar and appropriate meaning.” Aroma Wines & Equip, Inc v Columbian Distribution Servs, Inc, 497 Mich 337, 347, reh’g denied sub nom. Aroma Wines & Equip, Inc v Columbian Distribution Servs, Inc, 498 Mich 877 (2015).
The word “places” in MCL 551.18 and MCL 600.2132 follows the word “courts.” The phrase “all courts and places” is commonly found in statutes in Michigan and throughout the United States. See, e.g., MCL 74.6; NY CLS Pub Health § 4103; S.D. Codified Laws § 36-18A-38. It appears this phrase originated from medieval England, where laws referred to the King’s Courts and other forums where pleadings took place—“his other Places.” See, e.g. Statute of Pleading of 1362, 36 Edw. III c. 15 (historical English statute requiring legal pleading to be in the English language).
It appears no Michigan court has ever defined the phrase “all courts and places.” But the phrase is used in the Michigan Compiled Laws at least 36 times. Each time, the phrase is used in conjunction with a legal term of art to be applied by a judicial entity, i.e., the application of an evidentiary standard, the capacity of an entity to be sued or to sue, or a holding. Accordingly, the phrase “all courts and places” is itself a legal term of art. And legal terms of art should be construed to have their own “peculiar and appropriate meaning in the law[.]” MCL 8.3a. See also, Grange Ins Co of Mich v Lawrence, 494 Mich 475, 493 (2013).
In reference to the statutes concerning marriage certificates, MCL 551.18 and MCL 600.2132, the phrase “in all courts and places,” is followed by another legal term of art—“presumptive evidence.” In Michigan, “presumptive evidence” is synonymous with “prima facie evidence.” People v Kayne, 286 Mich 571, 583 (1938), quoting State v Intoxicating Liquors, 12 A 794 (Maine 1888). And prima facie evidence is “ ‘[e]vidence good and sufficient on its face . . . to establish a given fact . . . which if not rebutted or contradicted, will remain sufficient.’ ” Yoost v Caspari, 295 Mich App 209, 226 (2012), citing Dep’t of Environmental Quality v Worth Township, 289 Mich App 414, 419 (2010) (rev’d on other grounds), quoting Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed). Accordingly, should there be a dispute between parties regarding the validity of a marriage, a marriage certificate could be presented to a court or other judicial officer, such as an administrative law judge or magistrate, as prima facie evidence of the marriage. That prima facie evidence could then be rebutted by, for instance, evidence that the marriage had later been dissolved.
This analysis is consistent with other Michigan statutes. Apart from the statutory provisions regarding marriage certificates quoted above, there are at least three other Michigan statutes that similarly provide that marriage certificate records serve as prima facie evidence in court proceedings. MCL 551.110 (marriage certificate records and certified copies are “prima facie evidence in any court or proceedings in this state”); MCL 600.2133 (same); MCL 333.2886 (certified copies of vital records are prima facie evidence of facts stated in original record).
In sum, looking at the word “places” as used in its proper context, the term refers to entities, like courts and other judicial forums that are equipped to apply a legal term of art, such as determining the weight of evidence. This interpretation is bolstered by the fact that MCL 600.2132 appears in the “evidence” portion of the Revised Judicature Act of 1961. Therefore, “places,” would not include the human resource departments of employers, meaning that MCL 551.18 and MCL 600.2132 are inapplicable to the facts you present.
It is my opinion, therefore, that employers may, but are not required to, accept duplicate certificates of marriage as proof of marriage for human resource purposes, and can instead require employees to obtain and submit a certified copy of their marriage certificate as proof of marriage.
 See MCL 74.6; MCL 82.1; MCL 128.162; MCL 213.4; MCL 324.2160; MCL 449.313; MCL 453.6; MCL 453.7; MCL 455.4; MCL 457.452; MCL 462.213; MCL 473.1; MCL 473.31; MCL 473.41; MCL 473.83; MCL 484.153; MCL 484.172; MCL 485.4; MCL 486.2; MCL 551.18; MCL 560.212; MCL 565.492; MCL 570.432; MCL 600.1305, MCL 600.2132; MCL 600.2701.
 See e.g., “The grand lodge of Free and Accepted Masons . . . shall be in law capable of suing and being sued, pleading and being [impleaded], answering and being answered, defending and being defended in all courts and places whatsoever, in all manner of action, suits, complaints, matters, and causes whatsoever[.]” MCL 457.231. See also MCL 457.241; MCL 457.251; MCL 457.263; MCL 458.27; MCL 458.49; MCL 458.87; MCL 458.106; MCL 458.425.
 See MCL 565.282.