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House Says "I Do" But Senate Panel Says "I Don't"


Democrats in the more conservative state Senate are taking the edges off a lot of the more progressive bills passed by the House of Delegates.

One of those bills changes who is authorized to perform weddings.

Not just anyone can officiate a wedding in Virginia. The law allows for ministers or religious officials or judges to perform marriages. People who aren’t residents of Virginia or ministers can’t perform weddings at all.

That’s why Democratic Delegate Mark Levine of Alexandria introduced a bill that would have removed many of those requirements and let brides and grooms get to choose who marries them. “Is it really the business of the state to determine that John and Sue should have this wedding officiate," Levine asked?  "It’s their marriage. It’s their lives. Maybe they pick an old drinking buddy, but I think most don’t. I think most couples do pick someone of some kind of standing.”

But some Senate Democrats disagree with that idea. Senator Chap Petersen is a Democrat from Fairfax City who says college drinking buddies should not perform weddings.  “I come, perhaps, from a more traditional era that it’s someone in the community that has some gravity. Maybe it’s a state delegate. Maybe it’s a judge. Maybe it’s a pastor. But it’s not anybody off the street,” Petersen said.

Levine’s bill passed the House with a unanimous vote. But when the bill was considered in the more conservative Senate, Petersen and other Democrats took a more traditional approach to exactly who should be allowed to perform marriages, killing the bill in a committee hearing.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.