Assemblywoman Sandy Galef has written legislation (A.1137) that would make it easier for lay individuals to officiate marriages in New York state.
The bill, introduced in the Senate (S.5858) by Senator Patricia Ritchie, would expand the ability to perform legal marriages in the state of New York to those who apply for a single-day license to solemnize marriages through the Department of State.
The goal of the bill, the sponsors say, is to help an increasing number of couples with an eye on creating a personal ceremony. Today, many couples are choosing to be married by a friend or relative, but in order to do this, the lay person must request and obtain ordinations from online churches as ministers in a conscious belief that it confers legality to the marriage.
Current state law allows weddings to be presided over by a “clergyman or minister of any religion,” as well as certain elected officials within their jurisdiction, including judges, town clerks, mayors, and the governor.
The Galef-Ritchie bill would allow an individual to apply for one-day marriage officiant designations from the New York State Department of State in order to solemnize marriages.
“There are many questions that soon-to-be-weds are worried about as their wedding approaches, and whether or not their chosen officiant is legally recognized should not be one of them,” Galef said. “It is not clear how New York state handles credentials such as online ordinations. The lack of clarity over the qualifications needed to bless a union has caused numerous problems in divorce, annulment, and estate planning.
“At the same time, couples are more and more interested in having a meaningful relationship with the person who solemnizes their weddings, and a lack of religious connection or political office should not preclude someone from the wedding of which they have always dreamed,” Galef said.
The proposed law specifies that the one-day marriage officiant permission will only be granted for the individual ceremony specified on the application and will expire upon the conclusion of the solemnization.
California, Massachusetts and Vermont have passed laws that legally allow individuals to become temporary marriage officials for one day in acknowledgement of these contemporary trends in ceremony preferences.
Based on those models, this legislation will allow the Secretary of State to authorize an individual as a “one-day marriage officiant” to officiate at a specific marriage in New York, thereby providing a remedy to the question of validity of a marriage performed by a layperson.
The Assembly and Senate bills have both been referred to the Judiciary Committee in their respective houses.