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Editorial

Boston’s new marriage rules are convenient for city clerk, but not newlyweds

I’ll keep mine and then charge the public more for less — that’s the unromantic thinking behind new rules that affect how civil weddings are conducted at Boston City Hall.

Under the new ordinance, City Clerk Maureen E. Feeney and three other employees authorized to perform nuptials can continue to keep a $60 fee for ceremonies conducted during their normal work day. Faced with questions about why the city doesn’t get paid for these official acts, the city tacked on a $15 administrative charge, which will go into public coffers. Beyond adding the new fee, Boston is also cutting back on the hours during which weddings can be conducted; they are now restricted to 10 to 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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This so-called solution ignores the basic problem: a state law that allows a city clerk to collect a fee for conducting weddings on the public’s time. Boston should be pressing state lawmakers to change the law. If a public employee’s duties include performing weddings, why should that official get extra pay for doing so? Should an on-duty police officer collect an extra fee for making an arrest?

These wedding fees augment the Boston city clerk’s annual salary of $102,000. The previous clerk has said she earned more than $60,000 a year performing weddings. Feeney said that so far this year, she has earned about $10,000 performing this duty. Under the new ordinance, a reporting requirement will at least make it clearer how many weddings are taking place.

For city clerks, the combination of public duty and private gain represents a perfect marriage of convenience. For taxpayers, it’s another way in which public-sector norms seem divorced from reality.

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