COVID Advocacy in Massachusetts

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Updated August 10, 2020

States and municipalities are reeling, trying to establish systems for what used to be routine business of government. Included in the mix is the processing of legal marriages. In Massachusetts, there has been a lack of direction or guidance – for JPs, clerks and couples. Many marriages have already been planned and need to be postponed. Other times, marriages are essential (health benefits, immigration issues, emotional duress), and need to proceed. There needs to be a plan to address both circumstances.

Responsible, professional JPs have been role models. They completed COVID training certification for marriage officiants, and they lead ceremonies following safe practices. That is why couples hire the pros. But others? Whether 1-Day Solemnizers or less scrupulous officiants, they’re willing to throw caution to the wind and ignore the risks to the community.


The Justice of the Peace Association has taken a two-prong approach to address what we see as deficits in Massachusetts’ process. We’re working with the Governor’s Council to advocate for Governor Baker to issue an executive order facilitating marriages in the state to address these problems. And, we’ve brought the concerns to some state legislators’ (Rep Kay Khan and Sen Harriette Chandler) attention. Our suggestions:
  • Extend the validity date for marriage licenses for an additional 60 or 90 days. The standard guidance is to postpone marriages. Extending the license’s validity will save the couple an additional $50 for a new license, as well as the burden to couple and clerk to reissue the license.
  • Create a viable plan for couples to apply for Intentions. Options that we’ve proposed include:
    • Include the issuance of marriage licenses by town clerks as an essential service
    • Publicly identify which town offices in the state are open and able to issue marriage intentions. Most town clerk offices are closed to the public and they are refusing to issue marriage licenses. The Worcester City Clerk will go to a couple’s car, by appointment, for emergency marriages only. They are assessed on a case by case basis. In Boston licenses are issued by appointment only on Tuesdays and Fridays; there is no screening process. They are booking a full two+ months out.
    • Temporarily allow virtual online intentions (marriage license application): The clerk mails application to the couple (or downloadable if municipalities have capability), the couple completes form; by video (Skype, Zoom, FT…) the couple signs in front of the clerk; Intentions are returned by snail mail or drop box. Pay on line or return the intentions with check.
  • Issue a moratorium on one-day solemenizer ceremonies: None permitted during the pandemic. According to JPus’ survey of MA Town Clerks, up to 90% of one-day solemnizes make errors. This is not the time for lay officiants. Lots of anecdotal stories of unmasked and overcrowded ceremonies happening, too.

Video Officiants

Members of the Justice of the Peace Association discussed video officiating during a Zoom call on May 19th.  (New York, New Jersey and Colorado recently allowed this.) Concerns include new and additional risks to vulnerable populations: forced marriage, child (still allowed in the state) marriages, human trafficking.

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