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Ohio bill would let lawmakers officiate weddings

By STEPHEN MAJORS, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, March 25, 2009 (AP): State lawmakers are responsible for your tax rates, your tax dollars and whether you have to wear your seat belt.

In Ohio, they could soon marry you as well.

A proposal in the Ohio Legislature would give all 99 members of the House and 33 members of the Senate the power to oversee ``I do.''

If Rep. Tom Letson's bill becomes law, Ohio would join only California and Rhode Island in giving all state lawmakers the power to perform civil marriage ceremonies, according to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

States have an eclectic mix of nonreligious officials empowered to perform marriages, including governors, former governors, speakers of the House, lawyers admitted to the bar, justices of the peace and judges.

Ohio allows probate, county and municipal judges and the superintendent for the state school for the deaf to perform civil marriages.

As an acting judge for about seven years, Letson performed two to three marriages a year _ both for people he didn't know and for the children of friends. He enjoyed it and wants the experience back, and he thinks his colleagues would enjoy it, too.

``It is just one of those very special times where almost everybody is upbeat and looking forward to a bright future,'' Letson said. ``We don't have enough of that.''

The Democrat from Warren doesn't foresee any significant opposition to his effort. Letson is selling his bill as ``pro-marriage'' for the benefit of Republicans, who control the Senate, and requiring that any money the couple may offer for the service be donated to a charity of the lawmaker's choice.

``We are not trying to interfere with those who are currently able to perform this service,'' Letson said. ``We are simply looking to be a supplement.''

But not all of Letson's colleagues share his enthusiasm. One lawmaker said he's handled too many divorce proceedings in a nearly 40-year career as a lawyer and will vote against the bill.

Rep. Gerald Stebelton, a Lancaster Republican, said he'd feel a duty to counsel the couple and doesn't want the added responsibility.

``I think a lot of the time people go into marriages without realizing who they are marrying or coming to grips with why they are marrying,'' Stebelton said. ``Sometimes we make things so easy for people that they really don't think it through before they go through with it, and marriage is one of those things.''

Will lawmakers feel pressured when they get the call from Tom and Sue that asks, ``Will you marry us this weekend?''

What if they think Tom and Sue are star-crossed lovers and don't want to enable a disaster-in-waiting? Politicians don't usually like telling their constituents ``no.''

``This doesn't change your life in any way, shape or form if you don't want it to,'' Letson assured his colleagues in the State Government Committee, which is expected to vote on the bill in the coming weeks and determine if it will reach the House. ``I'm 56 years old. I know how to be somewhere else with a really good excuse.''





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