California allows online marriage ceremonies during pandemic

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Thursday temporarily allowing adults to obtain marriage licenses through video conferencing during the COVID-19 pandemic. But couples rushing to get married, such as those wishing to share health benefits, may have to wait a few days while county clerks’ offices set up the required technology.

With California’s county clerks and recorders closing their physical locations under a statewide stay-at-home order, Newsom’s order permits offices for the next 60 days to use video conferencing to verify identification cards and other documents and to conduct the ceremony. As with in-person wedding ceremonies, at least one witness is required to be present on the video conference call.

Charles Lomeli, county clerk for Solano County, California, said that it took his office a few weeks to work out the bugs of transitioning his staff to remote work environments after Newsom’s March 19 stay-at-home order. Setting up the tools that will allow his office to authenticate legal documents, securely transfer files between government offices and residents and conduct ceremonies online will probably take a few more days.

“What we’re trying to do right now is do a mock procedure where we have two of our employees in different locations to send the paperwork and information back and forth and make sure that we have the process down for that,” Lomeli said. “We have to figure out a platform to take a payment, we have to pick a platform to have them download certain documents, sign them, print them and be able to fax them [or] maybe email them back to us. And then get them a copy that they can then take to the county recorder. So it’s a bit of a process.”

Lomeli said his office is testing Microsoft Teams but will consider other platforms. He said his office’s IT team also plans to review potential cyber threats that could be introduced by the new process. The potential requirement of recording and storing all of the proceedings is another consideration he said his office still needs to investigate.

While couples planning a picture-perfect wedding are unlikely to select a county clerk’s office as their venue of choice, Lomeli said his office regularly sees excited couples. And they’ll now have a different kind of wedding experience.

“When the couples come in physically to get their license a lot of times we’re doing the wedding ceremonies at the same time, so there is that level of excitement, with family and unity and all that. With this option, they would lose a little bit of that, but maybe not as much as you might think,” Lomeli said. “But we’re going to embrace this technology and I’m hoping that it remains an option for us even after the crisis.”

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California, COVID-19, marriage, teleconferencing, wedding
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