On August 26, the Virginia Senate introduced Senate Bill No. 5121 (SB 5121), which, if passed, would authorize any current member of the General Assembly to celebrate the rites of marriage without the necessity of bond or order of authorization.
The bill would amend and reenact § 20-25 of the Code of Virginia as such:
§ 20-25. Persons other than ministers who may perform rites.
Upon petition filed with the clerk and payment of applicable clerk's fees, any circuit court judge may issue an order authorizing one or more persons resident in the circuit in which the judge sits to celebrate the rites of marriage in the Commonwealth. Any person so authorized shall, before acting, enter into bond in the penalty of $500, with or without surety, as the court may direct. Any order made under this section may be rescinded at any time. No oath shall be required of a person authorized to celebrate the rites of marriage, nor shall such person be considered an officer of the Commonwealth by virtue of such authorization.
Any judge or justice of a court of record, any judge of a district court, any retired judge or justice of the Commonwealth, any active, senior, or retired federal judge or justice who is a resident of the Commonwealth, and any current member of the General Assembly may celebrate the rites of marriage anywhere in the Commonwealth without the necessity of bond or order of authorization.
Ongoing discriminatory practices and marriage laws in Virginia
Virginia’s current marriage laws leave non-traditional officiants vulnerable to discriminatory practices, and make it challenging (if not outright impossible) for online-ordained ministers to successfully register with the Commonwealth to officiate weddings. And while folks also have the option to file a petition with the court to become a one-time civil celebrant, it is an intimidating and time consuming route to take, and requires a processing charge in addition to a $500 bond.
Frustratingly, the newly introduced SB 5121 completely fails to address these laws and ongoing issues – which means that if passed, next to nothing will change.
…but didn’t we try this before?
Even more exasperating is the fact that earlier this year, lawmakers proposed House Bill No. 863 (HB 863), which actually would have been a huge step toward progress. (AMM was on the ground in Richmond in full support of the bill!) Had HB 863 been signed into effect, non-traditional officiants would no longer face discrimination, and the $500 bond requirement for one-time civil celebrant applicants would be eliminated. This would have marked a major win for marriage rights and religious freedom – especially for couples choosing a friend or family member to officiate their wedding.
Sadly, HB 863 was defeated.
So what does this mean?
While this proposed legislation (somewhat) expands the right to solemnize marriages beyond its current limits, it still does not explicitly permit online-ordained ministers to perform marriage.
While there is still much to be addressed, we hope this bill is an indication of ongoing efforts toward more progressive policies and practices in Virginia. American Marriage Ministries has been active in protecting marriage equality throughout the country and will continue, with the help of our lawyers, to keep a close eye on all developments.