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Love wins: D.C. approves emergency bill letting couples get marriage licenses during shutdown

Local lawmakers pass a workaround while the marriage bureau at D.C. Superior Court remains closed

The D.C. Superior Court building
AFP/Getty Images

The would-be border wall at the heart of the federal budget battle that has led to the partial U.S. government shutdown, it turns out, could not block people from getting hitched in the nation’s capital for long. Today, the D.C. Council unanimously passed fast-track legislation empowering the mayor’s office to issue marriage licenses during federal shutdowns, when the marriage bureau at D.C. Superior Court is shuttered. (The court is funded by Congress.)

The bill, dubbed the “Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Amendment Act of 2019” by Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office, will go into effect for 90 days as soon as Bowser signs it. That’s set to take place later this week, according to a spokeswoman for Bowser. The spokeswoman adds that the mayor’s office is still working out the logistics of how and where couples are to pick up and submit applications for marriage licenses, which typically happens at Superior Court.

“The inability of District residents, and others choosing to celebrate their marriage in the District, to obtain a marriage license can be highly disruptive to personal lives, particularly where a marriage has been planned to occur in the near future,” Bowser wrote in a memo proposing the legislation to the D.C. Council, after media reports highlighted the problem.

During the Council’s legislative meeting on Tuesday, other lawmakers said they shared that concern. “It is absolutely ridiculous that our government remains closed over what’s just a political trap by the president, and we obviously have a lot of real lives that are being caught in between this,” argued Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who added that D.C. should have more control over local courts. Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau said she knows a couple who plans to wed on Friday and whose family is “flying from all around the country to see them.”

“What a reminder that it is essential that we get statehood for the people of the District of Columbia, because it impacts so many of our day-to-day operations,” Nadeau pointed out. D.C. leaders, including Bowser, the Council, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, are pushing for statehood and equal voting representation with Democrats now in control of the House.

Ward 4’s Brandon Todd, who introduced the emergency bill on Bowser’s behalf, noted that the mayor had been working “hand in hand” over the preceding day with Superior Court and Council attorneys to make sure that the proposal was legal. He added that Bowser’s office is also examining how to make the fix permanent, in case of future shutdowns. It is unclear when the current one will terminate.

Update, Jan. 11: Bowser signed the bill, called the LOVE Act, on Friday, saying “you can’t shut down love.” Her office explains that the Secretary of the District of Columbia has been designated as the point office for issuing marriage licenses, authorizing officiants, and also sending copies of nuptial documents to D.C. Superior Court during the shutdown. The office is situated at 441 4th St. NW (Suite 520 South) and open on weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Interested couples can retrieve the required forms here as well as read a four-page FAQ here.