UPDATED: Marriage, mineral rights, mayoral election subjects of AG opinions left off web
Marriages that take place outside of Virginia are not valid in the Commonwealth, even if the couple has obtained a legal Virginia marriage license and the ceremony is performed by a person authorized to do so in Virginia.
That's according to a legal opinion issued by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) in May in response to a question from the clerk of the Prince William County court regarding a couple whose marriage ceremony took place in Bethesda.
The opinion is one of six Cuccinelli has issued since May 6, the last time his office posted one of the public documents online. The attorney general's office in recent years has generally provided quick online access to the opinions, written in response to requests from legislators and other state and local officials. The office's Web site indicates that the general practice is put opinions on the Internet within 24 to 48 hours after they are issued.
Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said an employee charged with putting the opinions online recently left the office, creating a backlog of opinions not publicized through the Web site. He said the employee has been replaced and the process will improve soon. He provided the six opinions currently missing from the Web site upon request.
They include a May opinion in which Cuccinelli said he could not declare Virginia's law regarding the opening date for school systems to be unconstitutional.
The opinion follows a longstanding debate in Virginia over the start date for local schools. State law has long held that schools cannot open before Labor Day, a law known informally in Richmond as the King's Dominion Law because the amusement park and other tourist spots support giving families additional August travel before school starts. Del. Bob Tata asked Cuccinelli to weigh in on the law's constitutionality, given that the Virginia constitution gives local school districts the authority to supervise schools.
Cuccinelli responded that he could not declare the law unconstitutional, noting the office's longstanding practice of withholding such findings except in cases where laws are "without a reasonable doubt" unconstitutional.
In the case of the marriage decision, Cuccinelli noted Virginia couples who wish to get married out of state have a variety of options at their disposal, including having a separate, brief, solemnization ceremony in Virginia in addition to an out-of-state event.
An additional clarification on this marriage opinion--the decision relates only to couples who seek Virginia marriage licenses and then want to hold their ceremonies out-of-state. It changes nothing for couples who get licenses in other states and then move to Virginia. The marriages of couples who hold valid out-of-state licenses will continue to be recognized by Virginia. (Although Virginia's constitution bars recognition of same-sex marriages performed in those states where they are legal.)
Another of the opinions issued since May instructs that the City of Portsmouth's charter should govern the city's upcoming election following the recall of its mayor. An additional opinion says local governments can allow payday lenders to qualify for "special exception" or "special use" permits under local zoning ordinances.
One issued June 25 declared that Virginia's Gas and Oil board has no additional authority to resolve disputes where ownership of natural gas royalties are in dispute despite a rewrite this year of the law governing such cases. The natural gas royalty issue was the subject of a series of stories this year in the Bristol Herald Courier that won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service journalism.
A final Cuccinelli opinion found that Virginia law prohibits simultaneously passing two cars that are traveling down the road side-by-side.
UPDATE 7:43 p.m.: It appears this item has kicked up a bit of a storm over rules for marriage licenses in Virginia. We've received the following statement from Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein, essentially emphasizing that Cuccinelli's May decision confirmed existing law and has long been the guidance provided the Virginia Department of Health on its website. According to Gottstein:
This was a request for a legal opinion about state law. The attorney general addressed the law as it currently stands in Virginia, as enacted by the General Assembly.
The law states that if you obtain a marriage license in Virginia, a marriage ceremony must also be performed in Virginia for it to be legally valid in the commonwealth. For couples who wish to get married in other states even though they obtained their licenses in Virginia, the law allows that as long as they also have a marriage ceremony here in Virginia, however brief, conducted by a minister or other person authorized by law to do so.
This requirement is not new. See the Virginia Department of Health web site here: http://www.vdh.state.va.us/vital_records/marry.htm, where it states under "Marriage Requirements" that "The marriage license issued in Virginia is for marriages to be performed in Virginia ONLY," (VDH's emphasis) and, "Marriages performed outside of Virginia are filed in the state or country in which the marriage was performed. You must contact the state or country you were married in to obtain a copy of the marriage record."
July 8, 2010; 2:55 PM ET
Categories: Ken Cuccinelli , Rosalind Helderman
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