WASHINGTON — The DC Council on Tuesday tackled one of the odder side effects of the partial federal government shutdown, unanimously passing emergency legislation that makes it possible for couples who want to get married in the District of Columbia to once again get a license.
The council and Mayor Muriel Bowser stepped in after BuzzFeed News reported last week that, as a result of the shutdown, the Marriage Bureau at DC Superior Court — which is funded through a congressional appropriation — is closed, leaving couples unable to get a license to wed in the city.
The Let Our Vows Endure, or LOVE, Emergency Amendment Act of 2019, submitted by Councilman Brandon Todd at Bowser’s request, gives the Mayor’s Office authority to issue marriage licenses, along with the court. After the mayor approves a marriage license, her office will send it over to the Clerk’s Office at the courthouse. The mayor’s authority to issue licenses will end once the shutdown is over, or, after 90 days, if the shutdown is still going.
The legislation will immediately take effect once Bowser signs it. During Tuesday’s council hearing, Todd said the Mayor’s Office was still figuring out the logistics of how couples can get a license from her office, and that Bowser had been working with court officials to come up with a process and a license application form that meets the court’s requirements.
Although the DC Council, for the most part, runs the day-to-day operations of the nation’s capital, there are still holdovers from the days when the federal government managed the city. The fact that Congress still funds the district’s local court system is one of them. When Congress failed to reach a funding agreement in late December, the DC courts had to implement a shutdown plan along with federal agencies that also hadn’t been funded.
In addition to the Marriage Bureau, the court system shuttered the child care services it normally offers to people coming to court with kids, the court’s library, and the Committee on Admissions, which handles attorneys seeking to join the DC Bar. The court is still handling cases.
BuzzFeed News profiled one couple, Danielle Geanacopoulos and Dan Pollock, who showed up to DC Superior Court in late December to get a marriage license — days before their wedding ceremony was scheduled to take place in DC — and were turned away. Geanacopoulos and Pollock, both former congressional staffers, told BuzzFeed News that they didn’t realize the shutdown would affect the local courts, let alone the Marriage Bureau.
“We’ve been furloughed I think twice in our time in the Senate years ago, so we’re pretty familiar with what gets funded and what doesn’t,” Pollock said at the time. “It never occurred to either of us.”
Geanacopoulos and Pollock now live in New York and have been following the action out of the Mayor’s Office and in the DC Council since their story came out. They went ahead with their wedding on Dec. 29, but it won’t be recognized under the law until they get a license. Geanacopoulos told BuzzFeed News that they plan to come back to DC to get a license and be legally wed once they’re able to.