Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order on Saturday allowing the use of video conferencing tools, like Zoom, for municipal clerks to issue marriage licenses and for couples to get married.
But town clerks in Monroe County are not expected to use online video meeting tools. Instead, they have set up socially-distanced procedures to issue marriage licenses.
The Monroe County Clerk’s Office does not issue marriage licenses. And the Rochester City Clerk’s Office is still working on a plan for issuing marriage licenses, but it’s not expected to be ready until Wednesday (April 29).
The governor’s executive order was issued because municipal offices have been closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the order also said: “Local town and city clerks may provide guidance related to how marriage licensure applications and issuance will be implemented in their jurisdictions.”
In Monroe County, most town clerks, who have been communicating with one another via email, are not comfortable with using video conferencing to issue licenses.
“Social Security numbers need to be shared for a marriage license and nobody is comfortable with that technology that could be hacked,” said Perinton Clerk Jennifer West.
The clerks want to see the documents couples must submit, such as birth certificates, first-hand because they have been trained to inspect the raised seals.
“We weren’t comfortable with seeing a document over a video camera because you can’t feel the seals. We just feel much more comfortable seeing the actual physical original documents and having those in hand,” said Chili Town Clerk Virginia Ignatowski.
Most town clerks in the county are planning to use a procedure started by Ignatowski. Couples seeking a marriage license call their town clerk to set up an appointment and find out what documents and information they will need to bring to the town hall.
When they get to the town hall, the couple calls the clerk to say they have arrived. Any documents are exchanged by placing them inside or on top of a drop box at the town hall entrance normally used for paying taxes.
The clerk takes the paperwork and the $40 fee inside to her office to complete the process while the couple stays outside and they communicate by cell phone.
On Wednesday it took Nigel Riley, 37, and Meghan Barteld, 36, about 15 minutes to get a marriage license at the Perinton Town Hall.
Riley is British and the members of his family are, for various reasons, in Australia, and unable to leave. So they have planned a Zoom wedding for Friday night.
Barteld’s sister, an ordained minister, will preside and 20 relatives and friends from seven families are expected to attend the online nuptials.
“We always wanted to do a small private family ceremony anyway, and we’re going to have a big celebration next summer,” Barteld said.
Riley said they initially planned to get married later in the year in a small ceremony with his parents, “but the chances of that happening seem pretty small.”
Couples also can get married by video conferencing or in person. In-person marriage ceremonies involve at least five people: the couple, the officiate and two witnesses.
According to the state Health Department website: “There is no particular form or ceremony required except that the parties must state in the presence of an authorized public official or authorized member of the clergy and at least one other witness that each takes the other as his or her spouse.”
Clerks in Monroe County are issuing marriage licenses only for couples where at least one of the people is a resident of the town.
“When all the towns started shutting down it ended up that Chili was the only one that was still doing marriage licensing,” West said.
“Eventually, we were all sending our people to (Chili Town Clerk Virginia Ignatowski) and that really wasn’t fair to her … If we all do our own people then everybody’s fine,” West said.
West consulted with state officials about the rule who said it was OK as long as they don’t make any exceptions, Ignatowski said.
Now through October is normally the busy time for clerks to issue marriage licenses, Ignatowski said. In a typical season she issues one or two daily. But this year she has issued only five since the start of the shut down, and she has seven scheduled through the middle of May.
Perinton Town Justice Thomas A. Klonick said he’s not sure what other justices will do, but he is willing to do both video conferencing and small in-person wedding ceremonies.
He has a small in-person wedding scheduled for a Saturday in mid May.
“If it’s in person, we can maintain a certain amount of social distancing and still accomplish the purpose of getting someone married,” Klonick said.
Klonick said that on a Saturday, when the town hall is closed, he would offer to do the ceremony outside if the weather is nice.
“As an alternative, if it’s inclement weather I would probably take them into my courtroom, maintaining social distancing, and the couple getting married with their witnesses would all appear,” he said.
Because town court is closed and only a small portion of the town’s regular staff is working, he could possibly conduct a wedding ceremony in his courtroom on a weekday and maintain social distancing.
Nobody has asked Klonick to do a video conference wedding. He still needs to work out the details of handling the license and getting it properly filed after the ceremony.
BLoudon@BridgeTowerMedia.com / (585) 232-2035