ANNAPOLIS – Marriage by a court clerk won’t be the only option for Maryland residents choosing a civil ceremony if a bill pending in the Maryland House of Delegates becomes law this session.
The bill, introduced Jan. 17 by Delegate Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, would authorize sitting or retired judges or justices from any U.S. court to perform marriage ceremonies in Maryland.
Ministers, court clerks and authorized deputy clerks can conduct civil marriage ceremonies now in Maryland, but judges do not have that authority.
Grosfeld introduced the bill at the request of a woman who wanted to be married in Maryland by a judge she knew.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland also supports the bill.
“If you want to get married in a civil ceremony in Maryland, your option is to get married at the courthouse,” said Suzanne Smith, legislative director for the ACLU of Maryland. “People who choose not to have a religious service. . .should have a few more options.”
Grosfeld is optimistic about the bill’s reception.
“The judges I spoke to think it’s a wonderful idea,” she said. “They would very much like to have the opportunity.”
Bob Duckworth, Anne Arundel Circuit Court clerk, is concerned that such a law would complicate the process by which civil marriages are performed in Maryland.
“What are we trying to fix here? The way we conduct marriages right now is very manageable,” he said.
Clerks and deputy clerks relieve judges from having to perform extra-duty marriage ceremonies, said Duckworth.
“It has helped the court system so the responsibility doesn’t overtax the judges” from carrying out their judicial duties, said Duckworth, who has performed as many as 25 weddings on a Friday with the help of his three deputy clerks.
About 1,000 to 1,200 civil marriages are performed each year in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, Duckworth estimated.
“There’s enough difficulty just to keep the docket moving,” he said.
Grosfeld’s bill would not prohibit clerks from performing marriage ceremonies, nor does she expect judges to take on all the weddings to the detriment of their court schedules.
“The judge doesn’t have to do it. It’s not a requirement,” she said. “If somebody specifically wants a judge, they can ask. No one should feel overburdened.”
Smith agreed: “This is not a bill that will mandate that judges perform Ceremonies.”
Grosfeld said she hopes to keep Maryland weddings from migrating to nearby states where couples may hold their weddings – complete with flower and food purchases – somewhere other than a courthouse.
“That’s a loss to the state from a fiscal standpoint,” Grosfeld said.
According to Dwight Sullivan, managing attorney for the Maryland ACLU’s Baltimore office, only three other states do not allow judges to perform marriage ceremonies: North Carolina, South Carolina and Massachusetts.