- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The reviews weren’t kind: “Liability.” “Ridiculous.” “Diminished ceremonies.”

Those are a few of the words dissenting D.C. Council members used to describe proposed new city legislation that would allow notaries public to conduct marriage ceremonies in the District of Columbia.

Current law provides that a man and a woman — and now same-sex couples — can be married by a member of the clergy or by a judge in a civil ceremony in either a public or private setting.

However, the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act, introduced Tuesday by council members David Catania, Mary Cheh and Jack Evans, would add D.C. notaries public to that short list. If passed, the District would join states such as Florida, Maine and South Carolina that permit notaries to officiate at civil marriage ceremonies.

Proponents say the new law builds on the law allowing same-sex unions, in part on the theory that gay couples who might not want to have a religious service or go to the courthouse would have another, more private choice.

**FILE** D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)
**FILE** D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times) more >

The proposed law, which is supported by the gay community, would open up the option to all couples getting married in the city, especially those who have “no religious affiliation,” Ms. Cheh said Tuesday. At-large council member Phil Mendelson has said the measure, which he studied in a hearing in the fall, is an extension of the same-sex marriage law.

Typically, notaries public, who are commissioned by a state, serve as impartial witnesses to verify a person’s identity when important documents, such as wills and property deeds, are being signed.

“And impartiality dictates that a Notary never refuse to serve a person due to race, nationality, religion, politics, sexual orientation or status as a non-customer,” nationalnotary.org says on its website.

But Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander warned Tuesday that the measure, if passed, would open up private and public entities to lawsuits because notaries, businesses and public entities would be prohibited from declining to hold a marriage ceremony, Ms. Alexander.

“I think it’s getting ridiculous. It’s over the top,” said Ms. Alexander, one of two members of the council to oppose the measure. “I think it would open up the city and businesses to additional lawsuits. It sounds like too much liability.”

Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry, who also voted against the gay marriage law, said notaries are in no position to solemnize a marriage ceremony.

“I don’t think that is the right entity to perform the services, as it diminishes the ceremony,” the former mayor said.