New Yorkers Are One Step Closer to Having the Option to Have a Friend or Family Member as Their Marriage Officiant After Bill Passes Both the Senate and Assembly

During the last hours of the 2022 Legislation Session, Assemblywoman Sandy Galef’s ‘One-Day Marriage Officiant’ (Assembly Bill 6300-A) legislation passed the New York State Assembly. Assembly Bill 6300-A allows our Secretary of State to establish a procedure for an individual to become a One-Day Marriage Officiant. Senate Bill 7398 sponsored by Senator Alessandra Biaggi passed the Senate earlier this year just as it had for the previous 5 years.

Assemblywoman Galef attended a very intimate and personal wedding in California back in September of 2005. She attributed the pleasant, heartwarming, personable feeling of this beautiful ceremony to that fact that the bride’s sister was the marriage officiant. Assemblywoman Galef wanted this same experience to be available to all New Yorkers if they so choose.

That was over 16 years ago, and since that time, an increasing number of couples, with an eye on creating a unique and intimate ceremony, are choosing to have their marriages officiated by a friend or family member. In the United States, the number is well over 40% of couples.

The authority to solemnize a marriage in New York State is limited to clergy, leaders of a few Ethical Culture Societies, and certain public officials. Individuals believe that by becoming ordained online, they fall under the umbrella of ‘clergy’ and therefore, they can perform a marriage. However, in New York State, marriages performed by individuals ordained online are not always found to be legal when a divorce arises. This is attributed to the fact that clergy is specifically defined in New York State’s Religious Corporations Law, and often minister’s ordained online do not meet those requirements. Therefore, in the past, New York State court cases involving the legality of couples who were married by an individual that was ordained online have gone in both directions; yes, the marriage was legal and no, the marriage was not.

“An increasing number of couples now prefer to be married by a friend or relative, and our laws should account for that. This bill will modernize our law by providing New York State couples with the opportunity to further engage their loved ones on their special day. I’d like to thank Assemblymember Galef and my Legislative colleagues for their support for this legislation, and I look forward to seeing this bill signed into law,” said State Senator Alessandra Biaggi.

Since this is already happening at a high rate, New Yorkers need a clear legal option, outside of trying to fall under the title of clergy, when choosing a friend or family member as their marriage officiant. These online officiant options often require nothing more than saying you are over the 18 in order to be ordained.

When the Governor signs this legislation into law, and once enacted, for an individual to become a ‘One-Day Marriage Officiant’, they must be over the age of 18, file an application form and pay a small fee. The required application form includes the applicant’s name, date of birth, legal address, email address and telephone number, along with the names, dates of birth, and addresses of the parties to be married, the name of the city, town or village in which the solemnization will be performed, and the exact date the marriage will take place.

California, Massachusetts, Vermont and most recently, Rhode Island, have all passed similar laws that allow an individual to become a marriage officiant for one day, and Assemblywoman Galef has modeled her legislation after those successful programs. This legislation also circumvents the questions of legality that currently exist with online ordination that come from groups that almost seem satirical and exist mostly for the purpose of providing individuals with a Certificate of Ordination, such as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Church of the Latte Day Dude.

Those who are truly spiritual and religious will continue to choose a minister, priest, rabbi or member of clergy, who they often have a relationship with, to officiate their marriage. However, those who are not, or those who are still not able to be married by clergy, are currently left with little options. The LGBTQ+ community falls into this category. While we have seen an increase in the number of organized religious groups that are extending marriage rites to their LGBTQ+ members, there are still a large number who do not. This legislation would have such a positive impact on that community as they would benefit from the inclusiveness of the One Day Marriage Officiant option by allowing an individual of their choosing to officiate their wedding.

“Wholeheartedly, I believe this is a wonderful opportunity for our State, and that it will be utilized by many,” Galef stated. “Rather than having to worry about the legality of their marriage, couples will now have a clear and concise legal option. They can have a friend or family member officiate their marriage by becoming a One-Day Marriage Officiant, giving their wedding day that certain personal touch such as reflecting on their specific journey, sharing memories from their childhood or pointing out quirky characteristics that they hold. The result will likely be a personal intimate ceremony enjoyed by all,” added Galef.