In New Hampshire, under ethically questionable circumstances, legislators passed a bill allowing amateur wedding officiants. This happened despite the significant problems with Vermont and Massachusetts’ lay-officiant rules. Beyond belittling professional JPs and creating loopholes that put vulnerable citizens at risk, town clerks in both states complain that temporary officiants have doubled their workload and jeopardized the validity of marriages. Now with the coronavirus, they increase the risk of community spread, too.
A bill to allow special marriage officiants, HB1599, was introduced for the 2020 legislative session; it died in the House. Under guise of the pandemic, at the 11th hour the sponsors then used a backdoor to tack the language onto unrelated (and veto-proof) legislation. It passed without acknowledging its problems. JPus appealed to Governor Sununu for an executive order to stop its implementation, but there was no way for the Governor to separate the officiant aspects from the other necessary components.
- In opposition to temporary officiants, JPus engaged legislators and submitted written testimony
- See JPus managing member’s Op-Ed submitted to the New Hampshire Union Leader asking Governor Sununu to issue an executive order blocking temporary officiants
- Read about the behind-the-scenes back-story: what really happened.
New Hampshire legislators introduced House Bill HB295-FN-A, an Act establishing a special marriage officiant license, for the 2019 legislative session. The bill, if it had passed, would have allowed anyone to solemnize a marriage in the state.
- JPus submitted written testimony to the NH legislature at various junctures during the 2019 session. Read the testimony.
A similar temporary officiant bill failed to pass in 2017.
What Happened: Behind the Scenes
On behalf of our membership, JPus has worked doggedly to defeat special marriage officiant legislation. Understanding the political moves, many of which are underhanded and hard to swallow, helps appreciate what this fight was about.
- See the 2020 behind-the-scenes details of JPus’ activity to stop the bill.
- Read all about the behind-the-scenes details of what happened during the spring 2019 session.
- Unfortunately we never had the chance to use our Action Alert to stop the 2020 bill. That is because constituents were not notified about the amendment.
- In preparation for 2020, JPus proposed alternative language for the bill that would satisfy all stakeholders.
- JPus submitted a One-Day Rule white paper to MA Governor Baker’s office that summarizes the problems with temporary officiants in the state. These problems would likely happen in New Hampshire too, if the bill was enacted.
- Legalizing special marriage officiants jeopardizes the systems that are in place to protect children from coercion into marriage. Read about JPus’ efforts to end child marriage.