Judiciary advances one wedding celebrant bill, holds another

TRENTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee dealt with two bills today dealing with who can preside at weddings.

S2155/A2201:  This bill, held at Senate sponsor Loretta Weinberg’s request following lengthy discussion, would add to the list of public officials who can solemnize marriages  any civil celebrant who is trained and certified from an established non-denominational or educational non-profit organization.

Assembly sponsor Upendra Chivukula said he saw it, partly, as a jobs bill as well as a recognition of the need for such people in a world of changing traditions.

It is expensive to go before clergy sometimes, and it is difficult to sometimes schedule a ceremony for a mayor to officiate, he said. “The world has changed,’’ he said.

The non-sectarian celebrant movement began in Australia and New Zealand in the 1970’s, the bill states. 

According to the website of the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, celebrants in those countries are trained there to officiate at many events, including engagements, weddings, baby welcomings, adoptions, anniversaries, funerals, memorials, and other “transition ceremonies.”

The organization states that 400 certified celebrants in North America and Europe officiate at over 3,000 ceremonies a year.

Sen. Gerald Cardinale of the committee said he did not see a need for more people, an additional category of people – other than public officials – to be granted this power.

But Sen. Ray Lesniak backed the bill, asking in essence what makes a mayor so special and any more qualified than a non-sectarian celebrant to officiate at a wedding.

Sen. Nia Gill wondered whether this bill would create an exclusive right of certification to the Celebrant Foundation, constituting special legislation benefiting one group. An Office of Legislative Services member said it appeared wording was broad enough in the bill to address that concern.

OLS and Cardinale raised the issue of concerns over possible lack of oversight over this procedure. “I could hang out a shingle, ‘I’m a certifier of celebrants,’ and I don’t know who could challenge me,’’ Cardinale said.

Weinberg said she preferred the bill be held so that myriad questions raised in the hearing could be answered.

Gill said the issue is, “How do we craft this bill so that it does what we want it to do.’’

S2209/A2128:  This bill, passed 12-0-1, would add freeholders and former mayors to the list of people authorized to solemnize marriage and civil union ceremonies. Sen. Paul Sarlo abstained.

The bill was amended to remove municipal clerks.

Judiciary advances one wedding celebrant bill, holds another