Lawmaker hopes Legislature will say ‘I do’ to more virtual weddings

By: - November 29, 2021 6:55 am

Bergen County Clerk John Hogan has officiated “thousands” of weddings in his 10 years as clerk — including about 50 or so virtual weddings during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the Bergen County Clerk’s Office)

While some people yearn to say goodbye to masks and nasal swabs, other pandemic precautions definitely seem worth keeping for good, like outdoor dining, remote work, and online doctors’ appointments.

Sen. Michael Testa Jr. (R-Cumberland) would like something else to stay: virtual weddings.

Testa introduced a bill last week that would allow anyone to wed online, if both parties are physically in the state.

Gov. Phil Murphy allowed virtual marriages and civil unions in a May 2020 executive order, but the online option for betrothed couples ended when he lifted the public health emergency in July.

“We’ve learned during this pandemic that a lot of business can in fact be handled via Zoom. This is a case where the legislation is catching up with the technology,” Testa said.

It’s unclear how many people were married virtually during the 14-month window it was allowed. The state Department of Health, which tracks vital records including marriages, didn’t collect data on how many were virtual. Marriages in general, though, fell almost 17% last year, with 38,342 marriages recorded last year, compared to 46,042 in 2019, according to health department data.

Bergen County led the state with the most marriages last year, with 3,781, but Bergen County Clerk John Hogan estimates only about 50 or so were virtual.

Testa’s not sure how many people still want to get married online. But he definitely sees a need for it. After all, the pandemic is still happening.

“What if one person, in the era of COVID-19, is under quarantine when their wedding day arrives?” he said.

If the measure passes, he already envisions expanding it to accommodate couples separated by circumstance, such as a New Jersey resident who wants to marry a soldier stationed overseas.

Hogan thinks virtual weddings could be popular among people whose disabilities or age create mobility challenges, as well as folks with far-flung families.

“The benefit is that people don’t have to come here. They can do it from the comfort of their own home, and they can have family from around the world Zoom in,” he said.

Money might motivate others, Testa and Hogan agreed. New Jersey is the most expensive state to get married in, with the average wedding here costing $53,400, according to wedding site The Knot.

Hogan has officiated for more than a few couples who squeezed their marriage ceremony into their work days.

“Some people don’t want the big to-do anymore,” he said.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.