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COSTA CONSTANTINIDES CHAIR

COUNCILMEMBER ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION


ND
22 DISTRICT, QUEENS
COMMITTEES
DISTRICT OFFICE
TECHNOLOGY
31-09 NEWTOWN AVENUE, SUITE 209
ASTORIA, NY 11102 RESILIENCY
TEL: (718) 274-4500 SANITATION

CITY HALL OFFICE THE COUNCIL


250 BROADWAY, SUITE 1778 OF
NEW YORK, NY 10007 THE CITY OF NEW YORK
COUNCIL.NYC.GOV/COSTA

March 31, 2020

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo


Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Re: Suspending the in-person requirement to receive a marriage license in light of the
COVID-19 spread

Dear Governor Cuomo,

Over the last several weeks, our society has all but ground to a halt as we confront
the COVID-19 global pandemic. Nearly every facet of our daily life has been impacted
by this historic crisis, especially those most at risk, and the challenges it has brought will
take years to overcome. While this has indeed caused considerable panic, it is comforting
to know nothing can ever bring down the City or the State of New York. To that effect, I
write about the continuity of one of society’s unshakeable pillars: marriage.

Marriage is one of the most significant agreements that a person can commit to in
a lifetime. It confers a range of benefits, including preferential tax treatment and medical
visitation rights. To quote Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in Obergefell v.
Hodges, “marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.” New York
State has led in this respect, making it clear nearly a decade ago that you have the right to
marry the person you love.

Sadly, the most sacred compact we can have with another person has also been
put on hold by the virus’ spread. Couples hoping to enter into a union are now left in
limbo because clerks offices are closed for at least the next several weeks. Many have
rescheduled or completely canceled their weddings. Parents, grandparents and other
elderly loved ones might now never get to see someone they helped raise be officially
married. Those recently unemployed might be deprived of their spouse’s benefits —
something we should not overlook amid the rising in positive cases throughout New York
City.

Traditionally under state law, marriage has substantive and procedural


components. The solemnization, i.e. a religious or civil ceremony followed by a party or
reception, is the substantive component, and the issuance of a license by a city or town
clerk is the procedural component. The need for social distancing necessitates that
ceremonies, parties, and other celebratory gatherings be postponed as a matter of public
health, of course. When critical legal benefits hinge upon the government’s recognition
that a marriage is valid, however, yet the current crisis essentially prevents couples from
completing the marital contract, it is up to the government to offer some flexibility.

That is why I ask you to consider using the recent amendment to the state
Executive Law to consider temporarily suspending the requirement that marriage licenses
only be issued in person. The recent passage of the CARES Act in Congress, where
marital status can determine the extent of the COVID-19 payments a family can receive,
demonstrates that this may have a profound impact on whether many New Yorkers get
through the crisis unscathed. Clerks offices should explore whether there is a digital
method to issue marriage licenses including videoconferencing technology if necessary.

Although we are distanced, it is only in coming together as a society that we will


overcome the COVID-19 crisis. We must ensure that people can still come together
through the bonds of marriage to protect themselves from the fallout of this crisis. Thank
you.

Sincerely,

Costa Constantinides
Council Member
22nd District