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New marriage officiant legislation in VA, again fails to address broader discrimination

Published Friday, Jan. 29th, 2021

Updated 3/17/21


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 Any order made under this section may be rescinded at any time.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.



Ongoing discriminatory practices and marriage laws in Virginia

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.


Here we are again...

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. 



To learn more about who can marry couples in Virginia, and how to register as a minister in the state, visit:



Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

Natasha Anakotta
Natasha Anakotta

Guest Contributor

Natasha is passionate about promoting marriage equality, and encouraging couples to celebrate in a way that’s authentic and unique. Aside from weddings, she enjoys Star Wars, true crime podcasts, and eating macarons by the dozen.

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