Legislation that allows any layperson to perform a marriage on a given day in New York may not seem like a top priority in Albany. And in reality, this assumption appears to be correct: It took 16 years for legislation on a one-day designation to be signed into law.
But for many, the new law, which went into effect March 28, was long overdue.
Previously, only ordained members of the clergy and certain government officials had been permitted to solemnize a marriage in New York. In some counties, including the five counties of New York City, people can become ordained ministers online through platforms like Universal Life Church or American Marriage Ministries.
“It’s very exciting to be offering a new service,” said Michael McSweeney, the city clerk who oversees the Manhattan Marriage Bureau. “It’s going to really enhance the experience for people who want to have that special loved one officiate at their ceremony without having to take the step of becoming an ordained minister of a church.”
Marriages performed by officiants ordained online are not legally recognized in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, or the Hudson Valley. The new law helps couples getting married in New York avoid misunderstandings regarding the validity of nontraditional ministers.
While going through a divorce, some couples found out that they had never been legally married all along. One couple from Suffolk County discovered in a case by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court that their marriage and prenuptial agreement were void because the officiant had been a Universal Life Church minister.
In 2006, Sandra Galef, a former Democratic assemblywoman from Ossining, N.Y., proposed legislation on a one-day designation for a clear alternative, and on Dec. 28, 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the legislation into law.
One-day officiants do not have to be New York State residents, but they must be at least 18 years old.
More than 40 percent of couples in the United States are married by non-clergy, Ms. Galef said in a press announcement. California, Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island all have similar laws that allow an individual to become a marriage officiant for one day.
The one-day designation was an attractive option for Ray Lyn Eddington and Michael Joseph Batal because it is free from religious associations. They are getting married on April 28 on a terrace at the William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn.
“It’s either city hall, a clergyperson or an ordained minister,” Ms. Eddington, a doula from Brooklyn, said. “But if there are questions about ordained ministers being legal in some towns, then what do you do? This is a great option.” (Mr. Batal is from Westchester, and they had initially considered getting married there.)
Mr. Batal, who manages money for a private family, found out about the new law while researching ways to get a friend to officiate a wedding. He had previously officiated his brother’s wedding in Massachusetts with a one-day license 20 years ago.
“It brought back fond memories,” he said.
Ms. Eddington and Mr. Batal wanted Elizabeth Barnes to officiate their wedding because she had set the two up on a blind date in December 2019. They asked her on April 8, which was her 20-year anniversary of being cancer free, if she could perform their marriage.
“I started crying because all the things in life that you fight so hard for,” said Ms. Barnes, a founder of two restaurants in New York, London Lennie’s and Saltaire Oyster Bar. She has been Mr. Batal’s longtime neighbor in Rye, N.Y. “I’m so glad that I could be there and not miss it and do it.”
Briana Myers, a philanthropies manager from Brooklyn, also received a one-day license from the Manhattan Marriage Bureau for Christie Mattson and Oliver Chan’s April 22 wedding at Dumbo Loft in Brooklyn. The couple asked Ms. Myers to officiate because she had done some standup comedy shows. The couple wanted to commemorate the bride’s father, who died and had been known for his dad jokes at family weddings. So, Ms. Myers told a few dad jokes at the ceremony in memory of Ms. Mattson’s father.
Out of excitement, Ms. Myers got ordained by the Universal Life Church immediately after the couple asked her to officiate in February 2022. The next step would have been to register her ordination at the city clerk’s office in Manhattan, but thanks to the new law, she didn’t have to. The one-day license was more “fit for purpose,” she said. “I’m not planning to marry a whole bunch of other people or, set up my own place of worship.”
Ms. Myers said the process was much easier. “It was one form and it took five minutes.”
After a couple obtains a marriage license from their town or city clerk office, the officiant must apply for the one-day license at the same office and pay a $25 fee. They do not need to apply in person and can mail in the completed documents.
In New York City, officiants must apply to the city clerk’s office in Manhattan, regardless of the borough in which the couple received their marriage license. They can either download the PDF application, fill it out and sign it in front of a notary public, and mail it to the Manhattan Marriage Bureau. Or, they could make an appointment online, bring identification and fill out the paperwork in the office and receive the license on the spot. Each county may have a different setup, so the best first step is to visit the appropriate town or city clerk’s website for guidelines.
Within five days after the ceremony, the officiant must mail back the one-day license attached to the marriage license.
The clerk at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau provides licensees with a script to read during the ceremony. Ms. Myers said she used “the legal sounding parts of the script” during Ms. Mattson and Mr. Chan’s wedding because of her “lack of qualifications” in solemnizing a marriage.
Ms. Eddington and Mr. Batal appreciated the personal touch that their officiant brought to their nuptials.
“So much better having such a special ceremony conducted by a dear friend who didn’t need to be ordained, instead of a stranger,” Mr. Batal said.