By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted to amend a proposal to do away with marriage licenses in the state of Idaho.
Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, sponsored the bill, which would remove the requirement that two people getting married appear in front of a county clerk to pay fees, attest to their identity, and receive a marriage license. Currently, after the couple receives a license, the marriage officiant fills out a certificate for the couple and sends it to the state; Under Herndon’s proposal, that marriage certificate would serve as proof of marriage.
Multiple senators on the committee said they supported the concept of doing away with marriage licenses, but had concerns with the mechanics of the bill.
Two county clerks testified in favor of Herndon’s proposal. Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale told the committee he had been married for 33 years, and expressed concern that a government that could grant a marriage license could hypothetically revoke that license should the definition of marriage legally change.
Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto said that when he was born, interracial marriage – like the one between his own parents – was illegal in Idaho.
“I am not inserting race into this discussion but making a point,” Yamamoto said. “A contractual certificate does not require permission.”
But others pointed out potential issues with removing the county clerks’ offices from the marriage process. Heather Luther of Kuna pointed out that county employees verify identities, and also have a process for verifying and marrying non-citizens – a scenario Herndon’s bill doesn’t address.
“There are many individuals that come here from other countries, that come here seeking refuge, and there is at least a process that (we can serve them),” Luther said. Counties can also provide interpreters for those who don’t speak English fluently so they fully understand the legal implications of marriage, she said.
Bessie Yeley told the committee she was worried such a move would affect VA benefits for disabled veterans like herself.
Herndon tried to address committee members’ concerns by pointing out that Alabama had done away with marriage licenses in favor of certificates a few years ago. He also pointed to other states, including Texas, that have legal ways for couples to get married without a license.
“That has not resulted in a tax and benefit calamity, including for VA benefits,” Herndon said.
Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, asked why Herndon had removed perjury provisions for those who lied to obtain a marriage certificate. And Senate Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said the proposal could open the door for forced, underage, polygamous, or incestual marriages, as nearly anyone could legally become an officiant and facilitate illegal activity. Without face-to-face interactions with a county official who may be able to detect someone being married under duress, it may be easier to break Idaho’s marriage laws.
“There’s a lot of value in having to appear before a county official and sign a document and look in someone’s eye that we’re not going to get with your system,” Ruchti told Herndon.
Herndon countered that people can break already break the law under the current system, and hopefully, an officiant would stop a forced marriage.
“Any bypassing of the law can already occur,” Herndon said.
Ultimately, the committee voted to send the bill to the Senate’s amending order, and asked Herndon to address benefit and perjury issues with any potential changes.