Legislature(2017 - 2018)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
04/11/2018 01:30 PM JUDICIARY
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HB 20-SOLEMNIZE MARRIAGE: ELECTED OFFICIALS 3:49:42 PM CHAIR COGHILL announced the consideration of HB 20. [CSHB 20(JUD) was before the committee.] 3:50:30 PM SARA PERMAN, Staff, Representative Matt Claman, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska introduced HB 20 on behalf of the sponsor reading the following statement: In financially challenging times like we face today, I'm reminded that part of our role as elected officials is to reduce red tape and make government accessible to the public. In introducing this bill, I'd like to make marriage more easily accessible. This bill will allow couples to have their marriage solemnized directly by elected officials. It allows it to be a friendly face of government while providing a service to the public. Being able to perform marriages would be a privilege and we'd be fortunate to have the opportunity. Finally, the bill puts into statute the constitutional principle that religious figures and others cannot be compelled to perform marriages. House Bill 20 amends Alaska marriage code to add language that allows marriages to be solemnized by elected officials in the state of Alaska. Section 1 amends Alaska Statute 20.05.261(a) relating to who may solemnize a marriage. Currently, the statute only allows for marriage solemnization by a religious official which includes ministers, priests, rabbis or commissioned officers of the Salvation Army, marriage commissioner or judicial officer or a religious organization or congregation. House Bill 20 adds language to add to the list an individual holding an elective office in the state. Section 2 adds a new subsection to the same statute that says that no religious official, organization, or elected official that is authorized to perform marriages is obligated to do so. Section 3 broadens the circumstances covered by Alaska Statute 25.05.281, marriage by an unauthorized person. If a person falsely claiming to be an elected official, solemnizes a marriage and that marriage is consummated on the belief that the individuals have been lawfully married, the marriage is still considered valid. The purpose of this bill is to make marriage accessible to all Alaskans. We recognize that marriage opens doors for people. There are over 1,100 places in federal laws and programs where being married expands an individual's opportunities. Examples include: access to health care for one's spouse or having eligibility for family medical leave. Frankly, we believe that this bill is a family-first bill that allows people to receive greater benefits that are good for all Alaskans. Additionally, House Bill 20 also allows elected officials to be good stewards of government. It allows elected officials to interact on a one-on-one basis with constituents, providing a service that will have a lasting impact on constituents' lives. Whereas couples can currently have anyone solemnize a marriage through a marriage commissioner appointment, there is a $25 fee and the process can be time consuming. Having an elected official available provides a simple, cost-free outlet. This may also apply to couples who may not be affiliated with a particular religious organization. They would be able to have an elected official perform their wedding without having to go through the process of arranging for a marriage commissioner appointment. In smaller town or rural areas with limited resources, this change provides one more outlet for marriage solemnization. For example, if a couple in a remote Alaskan village are set to be married and the minister becomes ill, the mayor could step in on short notice. With that, I'll stress nothing in this bill mandates the elected officials must solemnize marriage. And I'll also note that the Department of Health and Social Services has assigned a zero fiscal note to this bill. This bill actually may remove the expense of citizens who otherwise pay a $25 fee for a marriage commissioner appointment. 3:54:00 PM SENATOR SHOWER asked her to clarify the provision regarding the validity of a marriage solemnized by an unauthorized person. MS. PERMAN said her understanding is that if a person does not have the authority to conduct a marriage but the people getting married were unaware of that fact, the state would accept the marriage as valid once it was consummated. That is current statute and the bill adds elected officials. If someone erroneously believed an individual was an elected official and had the authority to perform a marriage, the state would recognize that marriage once it was consummated. CHAIR COGHILL noted the ongoing debate about who should be allowed to marry, and expressed appreciation that the bill does not create a duty or obligation to perform a marriage. 3:56:01 PM MS. PERMAN advised that the bill is in response to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that the First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection to decline to perform a marriage. CHAIR COGHILL asked the court representative if that interpretation was correct. UNIDENTIFIED PERSON in the audience confirmed that judges must marry people. CHAIR COGHILL summarized that court officials must marry people but everyone else may marry people. 3:57:00 PM CHAIR COGHILL held HB 20 for future consideration.