Summersgill testifies on Marriage Officiant Amendment Act
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Summersgill testifies on Marriage Officiant Amendment Act

Testimony by Bob Summersgill on the
“Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2010,” B18-0821
To the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, October 14, 2010


Chairman Mendelson:

Thank you for holding this hearing on the “Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2010;” and thanks to Councilmembers Mary Cheh, David Catania, and Jack Evans for introducing it; and Councilmembers Jim Graham and Tommy Wells for co-sponsoring it.

The bill would permit notaries public to officiate marriage ceremonies in the District of Columbia. This is important for a variety of reasons and I support this bill. There are some changes that would improve it.

Weddings and officiants are very important to couples getting married, as well as their friends and families. Weddings are significant personal and emotional events, often the major ceremony in peoples' lives. For the government, the ceremony is not important. The government's interest is in ensuring that the marriage license is signed by the same people that applied for it; and that the procedures are followed to ensure that the marriage contract is recorded. Limiting the categories of people who can officiate does not serve a government purpose.

There are at least two groups of people who would like to be officiants. There are people who would like to be in the business of being an officiant, and people who only want to officiate one time at the wedding of a friend.

Dan Furmansky is a gay rights activist. This year he became a professional wedding officiant. http://ameaningfulday.com/. He works with couples to plan their ceremony simple to very elaborate.

David Mariner is the Executive Director of The DC Center for the LGBT Community. http://thedccenter.org/ He regularly receives calls from couples from outside of the area looking for an officiant. Couples must name their officiant at the time they apply for the marriage license. These couples are generally not looking for a big ceremony in D.C. They are looking to meet all of the legal requirements of getting married in the District, and going home for their unofficial ceremony with family and friends.

Councilmember Tommy Wells officiated at the wedding of two friends in Florida. Their wedding was not recognized by the State of Florida, so Councilmember Wells did not need to be a registered officiant. The couple has since married in the District, but Mr. Wells was not able to officiate.

As in the case of every state, the District grants the authority to officiate to judges and clergy. This is very limiting for couples who are un-churched, secular, atheist, agnostic, not a member of a local congregation, etc. Weddings by judges are limited in number and in size of the attendants.

Dan Furmansky became an ordained minister on the internet for free from the Universal Life Church. That—and $35—satisfies the legal requirements for authorization with the Marriage Bureau Section of the Family Court. This ordination is not particularly respectful of clergy who have gone through school and training to be ministers, rabbis, priests, etc. Mr. Furmansky is clear that he is not a minister with the exception of being able to officiate at weddings. This was the only way he could become an officiant.

David Mariner and Tommy Wells have not become internet ministers and cannot become officiants.

There are numerous other instant online ordinations advertised on the internet. I find the practice of becoming an online minister solely to be able to get around laws restricting who may officiate objectionable. It is disrespectful to clergy who have studied and trained for their profession. However, it is the often only way to have the ceremony that the couple chooses.

Clergy rightfully take their rites and ceremonies very seriously and usually adhere to restrictions on who they will marry: members of their congregations, their adherents, people who have taken their classes, etc. However, there are a great number of us outside of organized religion that would still like to marry with more than the 10 to 15 friends and family that can fit in the Court’s marriage ceremony room.

We should accommodate people in situations similar to Dan Furmansky, David Mariner, and Tommy Wells. We should allow them to officiate without becoming internet ministers.

In reviewing the officiant laws in various states, all of them appear to allow clergy and judges to officiate. Some states have expanded the judge category to include justices of the peace and retired judges. Pennsylvania and Colorado permit couples to marry themselves. Mayors may officiate in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania. Notaries may officiate in South Carolina, Maine, and Florida. Deputy for the Day is available in California. Massachusetts has a One-Day Marriage Designation.

I support expanding the categories of who can be authorized to perform marriages to professional officiants, including notary, and a One-Day Marriage Designation.


Notary Publics

Notaries authentic documents and help prevent fraud. Precisely what the D.C. government needs from an officiant. To become a Notary Public you need to apply, pay $75, post a $2000 surety bond—which will cost approximately $50 from an insurance company—take a class, and receive your seal. The process to be commissioned takes 6-9 weeks of sending in your application. This is on top of the authorization process with the Marriage Bureau.

Notaries have to follow a number of regulations and restrictions. Among these are the limits placed on what they can charge for their services. The current limit is $15 for authenticating documents. That is quite a deal for a couple getting married, but an obstacle to being a professional officiant.

If the legislation passes, the internet minister route is far less complicated and expensive then becoming a notary. Most people would become an online minister for free instead of the $160 total and classes required for a notary to be an officiant.

This legislation will need to make clear that the eligibility of authorization to be an officiant is a benefit of being notary, but officiating is not a service of a notary. This should free notaries of charging only $15, for what may be many hours of work.

If $15 is the maximum that a notary can charge for officiating; Dan Furmansky would still want to get ordained online to be a professional officiant. If he is free to negotiate his fees for the extent and scope of his services; becoming a notary would be preferable—although still more expensive and restrictive—than being an online minister.

David Mariner might find becoming a notary would fit his situation. However it would still be easier and cheaper to become a minister.

A professional class of officiant, distinct from any other profession, and with appropriate regulations would be useful and avoid the disrespectful nature of encouraging internet ministers. A friend was married recently in South Africa and used a “licensed marriage officer.” A similar registration class at the Marriage Bureau would be good.


One-Day Marriage Designation

Couples often want to have a friend or relative officiate at their ceremony. This is an entirely reasonable desire and the D.C. government should accommodate them. Currently, the friend would need to become an internet minister and then apply for authorization from the Marriage Bureau. The cost to officiate is $35 to the Marriage Bureau.

California and Massachusetts offer viable solutions of authorizing a one-time, one-day officiant. Registering as a one-time officiant should be a relatively simple process handled at the same time as the license application. A $35 registration fee is entirely reasonable to cover the costs of the Marriage Bureau.

The California law is limited in that “[r]eligious wording is not allowed during the ceremony.” This is because the officiant is acting as a government official and the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion. To ensure that people may have the ceremony of their choice, the Massachusetts model is better. One-Day Marriage Designation does not create the limitation of “deputy commissioners”.


I ask that you create professional, non-clergy, “licensed marriage officers” in addition to Notary Publics, so that Dan Furmansky, David Mariner, and others in their circumstances do not need to become internet ministers in order to be officiants. Additionally, please create a One-Day Marriage Designation, similar to Massachusetts so that Councilmember Wells, and others, can officiate at their friends’ weddings.

Thank you for your consideration.

-Bob Summersgill


One Day Marriage Designation

Massachusetts’ instructions are online at http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=gov3modulechunk&L=1&L0=Home&sid=Agov3&b=terminalcontent&f=one_day_marriage_designation_instructions&csid=Agov3

Massachusetts Code Chapter 207: Section 39
A non-minister or non-justice of the peace such as a relative of family friend may receive from the Governor special one-time permission to perform a marriage for a $25 fee.

Chapter 207: Section 39. Justice or non-resident clergymen

...
In addition to the foregoing, the governor may designate any other person to solemnize a particular marriage on a particular date and in a particular city or town, and may for cause at any time revoke such designation. The state secretary, upon the payment to him of twenty-five dollars by said other person, shall issue to said person a certificate of such designation. Such certificate shall expire upon completion of such solemnization.
http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/207-39.htm


Deputy for a Day

California Code 401
Some counties in California also have a "deputy for a day" program that allows non-clergy friends and relatives to officiate at a wedding.

401. (a) For each county, the county clerk is designated as a commissioner of civil marriages.
(b) The commissioner of civil marriages may appoint deputy commissioners of civil marriages who may solemnize marriages under the direction of the commissioner of civil marriages and shall perform other duties directed by the commissioner.
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=fam&group=00001-01000&file=400-402

Deputy for a Day explained by About.Com:

Many California counties allow you to arrange to have a friend or a member of your family perform your civil marriage ceremony.

Called the "Deputy for a Day Program", "Deputy Marriage Commissioner for a Day", "One-Time Deputy Marriage Commissioner", or "One Day Deputization", your relative or friend will be required to go through some instruction, fill out a form, pay the fee, and be sworn in as a Deputy Marriage Commissioner.

NOTE: The deputization is for just one ceremony for one couple at just one location at a specific time. Religious wording is not allowed during the ceremony.

http://marriage.about.com/od/california/qt/deputyforaday.htm


The D.C. Office of Notary Commissions and Authentications

"The Office of Notary Commissions and Authentications legally certifies documents for domestic and foreign use. Authentication requires a signature from a DC department head and/or a notary public. A document is considered authentic once the District of Columbia Seal has been affixed to it."

http://os.dc.gov/os/cwp/view,a,1207,q,522462.asp

  • A check or money order for the $75.00 commission fee payable to “DC Treasurer”
  • A letter of request from yourself (Residential) or your employer (Business) on company letterhead, stating why you should be commissioned.
  • Secure a $2,000 surety bond. A $2,000 bond can cost approximately $50 from a variety of insur­ance companies or the National Notary Association.


District of Columbia notaries public must be 18 years of age, live or work in the District of Columbia, and complete the following process.

  • Complete the District of Columbia's Notary Public Application.
  • A letter stating the need for services must be prepared by the applicant's employer and submitted with the application. (If self-employed, submit the request on letterhead.)
  • A representative from the Office of Notary Commissions and Authentications will contact new applicants to schedule the orientation.


Frequently Asked Questions from the Notary Public Handbook
http://os.dc.gov/os/frames.asp?doc=/os/lib/os/services/notary/dcnotaryhandbook2008_final.pdf

Q. How long does it take to become a Notary Public?
A. You should be commissioned within 6-9 weeks of sending in your application. You need to allow time for ONCA to process your application, plus you have to complete the training, and get your seal.

Q. Why is the fee still only $2? Can’t I charge more?
A. Fees that Notaries can charge are set at $2 because that is what they generally are throughout the country. If fees in other jurisdictions rise, DC will consider raising our fee. You may not charge more than $2 unless you want to be fined and prosecuted. Commissioning Notaries Public is a service DC provides so that business may be conducted. The $2 fee is meant to cover the costs of doing business as a Notary Public.

State Codes Allowing Notaries to Officiate

Florida
http://www.flsenate.gov/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0700-0799/0741/Sections/0741.07.html

Any ordained or licensed clergymen, notary publics, and justices of the peace.

741.07 Persons authorized to solemnize matrimony.--

(1) All regularly ordained ministers of the gospel or elders in communion with some church, or other ordained clergy, and all judicial officers, including retired judicial officers, clerks of the circuit courts, and notaries public of this state may solemnize the rights of matrimonial contract, under the regulations prescribed by law. Nothing in this section shall make invalid a marriage which was solemnized by any member of the clergy, or as otherwise provided by law prior to July 1, 1978.

117.045 Marriages

A notary public is authorized to solemnize the rites of matrimony. For solemnizing the rites of matrimony, the fee of a notary public may not exceed those provided by law to the clerks of the circuit court for like services.


Maine
http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/19-A/title19-Asec655.html
Any ordained ministers or clergymen who have been licensed by the secretary of State, along with notaries public and members of the Maine Bar.

§655. Authorization; penalties
1. Persons authorized to solemnize marriages. The following may solemnize marriages in this State:
A. If a resident of this State:

(1) A justice or judge;
(2) A lawyer admitted to the Maine Bar; or
(4) A notary public under Title 4, chapter 19; and [2001, c. 574, §6 (AMD).]
B. Whether a resident or nonresident of this State and whether or not a citizen of the United States:
(1) An ordained minister of the gospel;
(2) A cleric engaged in the service of the religious body to which the cleric belongs; or
(3) A person licensed to preach by an association of ministers, religious seminary or ecclesiastical body. [1995, c. 694, Pt. B, §2 (NEW); 1995, c. 694, Pt. E, §2 (AFF).]

§954-A. CONFLICT OF INTEREST IF NOTARY RELATED

A notary public may not perform any notarial act for any person if that person is the notary public's spouse, parent, sibling, child, spouse's parent, spouse's sibling, spouse's child or child's spouse, except that a notary public may solemnize the marriage of the notary public's parent, sibling, child, spouse's parent, spouse's sibling or spouse's child. This section does not affect or apply to notarial acts performed before August 4, 1988.


South Carolina
http://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t20c001.htm

SECTION 20-1-20. Persons who may perform marriage ceremony.
Only ministers of the Gospel, Jewish rabbis, officers authorized to administer oaths in this State, and the chief or spiritual leader of a Native American Indian entity recognized by the South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs pursuant to Section 1-31-40 are authorized to administer a marriage ceremony in this State.


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