September 12, 2002
Digest: A judge may not officiate at a purported wedding ceremony where one of the parties is not legally divorced and thus no marriage license has been issued by reason of the party’s ineligibility to enter into the marriage as of the date of the intended ceremony.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(1); 100.3(C). Opinion 02-102; DRL 13.
A judge who has been scheduled to perform a wedding ceremony on a certain date has been notified that the bride may not receive her final divorce decree prior to the date of the ceremony. The judge inquires regarding the propriety of performing a “mock” wedding ceremony on that date. The judge acknowledges that a valid marriage license will not be available and that those in attendance may not be aware that the ceremony is not valid.
This Committee has opined that a judge may perform two wedding ceremonies for the same couple, i.e., one valid, official ceremony and one unofficial ceremony at a reception in the presence of all the guests and without need for a change in ceremonial language. Opinion 02-102. However, the circumstances in Opinion 02-102 clearly contemplate that the second ceremony is merely a re-enactment of the earlier ceremony, with a restatement of vows by legally wed individuals. That is not the present situation.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct require that a judge act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. 22 NYCRR 100.2(A). The Rules also require that a judge be faithful to the law, and forbid a judge from lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interest of others. 22 NYCRR 100.3(B)(1); 100.3(C).
In order to perform a valid wedding ceremony, the parties must deliver a marriage license to the officiant. DRL 13. By participating in this invalid ceremony, the judge would be knowingly participating in a deception as to the legal significance of what is occurring. The judge’s presence as officiant at an invalid ceremony would diminish public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary, and would be lending the prestige of office in furtherance of the couple’s interest by implying to those in attendance that all prerequisites to marriage are met and that the ceremony is valid and legal. Accordingly, the judge shall not perform such a ceremony.