Published: Friday, Jan. 29th, 2021
New legislation in Virginia again seeks to authorize members of the General Assembly to celebrate the rites of marriage without the necessity of bond or order of authorization. And again, the measure fails to address a broader issue of discrimination facing non-traditional officiants.
On January 22, Virginia SB No. 1142 was passed in the Senate, and will soon move to the House for consideration (please scroll to the bottom of this article for updated information). If put into effect, the bill will amend and reenact § 20-25 of the Code of Virginia as such [changed text is in brackets]:
§ 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 Any order made under this section may be rescinded at any time.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, and any active, senior, or retired federal judge or justice who is a resident of the Commonwealth , [and any current (i) member of the General Assembly, (ii) Governor of Virginia, (iii) Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, and (iv) Attorney General of Virginia] may celebrate the rites of marriage anywhere in the Commonwealth without the necessity of bond or order of authorization.
As we reported in August 2020, when another version of this legislation was being considered, 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.
While this proposed legislation expands the right to solemnize marriages beyond its current limits, it still does not explicitly permit online-ordained ministers to perform marriage, thereby failing to address the larger issue of unjust minister discrimination.
We hope that this new legislation is an indication of ongoing efforts toward more progressive policies and practices in Virginia. American Marriage Ministries remains active in protecting marriage equality throughout the country and, with the help of our lawyers, will continue to keep a close eye on all developments.
Updated March 2021:
This bill was passed in the Senate and House and was approved by the Governor on 3/11/21.
It is scheduled to go into effect on 7/1/2021.
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