Wedding officiants-for-a-day are put on hold
Add the possibility of a wedding backlog to the long list of things that Charlie Baker will have to contend with when he becomes governor next month.
The change in administration is about to bring about a temporary freeze on the special licenses required for a friend or family member to perform wedding ceremonies in Massachusetts. Starting Friday, those hoping to be officiants-for-a-day will have to wait until Jan. 8 to apply for permission to help a happy couple say, “I do.”
“That will probably be one of the few backlogs that I actually solve in a relatively short period of time,” Baker said this week.
In addition to fixing budget shortfalls and considering criminal pardons, the governor’s office also approves applications for what is called a “one-day marriage designation.”
“In the larger context of a lot of things I’ll be worrying about, that is certainly something I look forward to doing,” Baker said.
And there are a lot of them — 5,100 so far this year, according to the state, which estimates getting about 14 applications a day on average.
“I’ve had friends who have actually been the one-day designee for a variety of marriages over the years,” he said. “The idea that you can set something up in such a way that people have a chance to bring a friend or a colleague or a loved one into the ceremony, I think is a really neat opportunity.”
Governor Deval Patrick’s office said the freeze is needed to make sure all pending applications are processed before Baker takes over next month and none fall through the cracks during the handoff. The plan is to brief whoever assumes this role to make sure he or she can take over the job immediately.
“We are committed to ensuring a smooth, transparent, and efficient transition,” said a statement from Patrick’s office.
News of the freeze seems to have gone under the radar, catching some wedding planners off guard. Thank goodness, they said, this is not high wedding season, or the temporary freeze might ratchet up wedding-planning anxiety.
“I’ve planned weddings for over 15 years and feel I have my ear out to all weddings news, and haven’t yet heard of this,” said Dustin Rennells, of Dustin Rennells Design in Boston.
For Massachusetts couples, January weddings tend to take place somewhere warm and sunny, according to the experts. Still, there are those who walk down the aisle in the dead of winter. In 2013, for example, there were five weddings officiated by people with a one-day pass in January, compared with 349 in May, state figures show.
And if one of those five people were a client of Amy Kimball’s who hadn’t gotten their application processed by now, Kimball said she would be a nervous wreck.
“As a planner, if the designated person didn’t have a license two weeks in advance, or three weeks in advance, to make this legal, I would be beside myself,” said the owner of Boston-based Kimball Events.
Kimball said she always asks whoever is officiating — if not a justice of the peace, member of the clergy, or an elected official — to apply “as far as out as they can . . . because the nightmare would be to have them officiate and not have it legal.”
According to the application, someone looking to marry a friend or family member in Massachusetts must petition the governor to “designate me to solemnize a particular marriage.” They must explain why they were selected and must have a letter of reference “attesting to the applicant’s high standard of character” written by someone other than the future spouses.
It was former governor Michael Dukakis who signed the special designation into law in 1990. Before that, individual couples had to file a special bill with the Legislature to have a friend or family member preside over their nuptials. Since then, popularity in the daylong pass has skyrocketed, jumping some 64 percent from 2010.
Rennells said he works with many weddings that some would consider alternative, such as gay and lesbian couples, non-religious couples, or interfaith couples wanting to keep religion out of the ceremony.
“Therein, the only logical source is a friend or family member who can perform a meaningful ceremony on their behalf,” he said. “For those couples, specifically, there may not be another option.”
For those who find themselves stuck in application limbo, Rennells and others have this advice: Go ahead with the wedding as planned, focus on the love, and get to a justice of the peace as soon as possible.
Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.