How do couples obtain a marriage license in this difficult time of Covid-19? On Monday, July 27, 2020, the Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim (RAA/Igud) convened an important roundtable dialogue with the Hon. Michael McSweeney, who serves as the New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council. This special outdoor meeting of the RAA/Igud was hosted by Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager, chairman of the Israel Advocacy Committee of the RAA/Igud and organized by Rabbi Dovid Katz, Menahel of the RAA/Igud.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, presidium chairman of the RAA/Igud and Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of the RAA/Igud warmly welcomed Hon. Michael McSweeney and thanked him on behalf of the 950 Orthodox Rabbis of the RAA/Igud for taking time from his busy schedule to meet with the RAA/Igud and to discuss the issue of obtaining a marriage license during Covid 19.
Rabbi Mirocznik stated, “We will disseminate the information learned tonight with our rabbinic colleagues and congregants and help guide them through the process of obtaining a marriage license during this time of Covid. As rabbis, we have a responsibility to our congregants to make certain that they can legally marry and build families. We thank Hon. Michael McSweeney for joining us tonight for this important discussion. We thank Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager for hosting the meeting and Rabbi Dovid Katz for organizing the meeting.” Rabbi Mirocznik welcomed Mr. Larry Gordon, publisher and editor of the Five Times Jewish Times, and thanked him for attending the meeting with Michael McSweeney, NYC Clerk and Clerk of the Council.
Mr. McSweeney is a Queens native who has served as City Clerk and Clerk of the Council since 2009. Mr. McSweeney is a dedicated, hard-working public servant who supervises one of the oldest offices in New York City government, with beginnings traceable to the inception of the town of New Amsterdam. One of Mr. McSweeney’s most rewarding and enjoyable tasks is supervising the New York City Bureau of Marriage License, the city’s agency that issues marriage licenses. Sadly, because of Covid-19, the Marriage Bureau offices have temporarily closed. Mr. McSweeney came to advise the Rabbinical Alliance of America how rabbis and marriage officiants can guide couples in obtaining a marriage license during these trying times.
Mr. McSweeney began the discussion by acknowledging how rabbis play an important role in the registration work of the Marriage Bureau. As a result of Covid-19 and the closure of the Marriage Bureau, his marriage license staff works working remotely from home. Mr. McSweeney recounted that he personally went to the offices of the Marriage Bureau to pick up received return marriage licenses covering the periods of March and April 2020 in order to process them. About half of the licenses mailed to the Marriage Bureau from Brooklyn and Staten Island were officiated and signed by a rabbi.
Mr. McSweeney remarked that, on April 18, 2020, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order that marriages should not be stopped because government offices are closed. As a result, Mr. McSweeney collaborated with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson to find a technological solution. Mr. McSweeney’s office, with the help of the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT) developed Project Cupid, a virtual online platform. With the use of a smartphone, tablet or laptop, a person can go online, see a clerk, show identification online and apply for a marriage license. The online platform allows the marriage license applicant to electronically sign an affidavit and file the marriage license application.
Mr. McSweeney acknowledged that despite the successful new system, the Marriage Bureau is struggling to meet the demand for marriage licenses. Prior to Covid-19, the bureau was able to accommodate 300 couples on any given day in August, the busiest month for marriage licenses. Mr. McSweeney speculated that August might be the busiest month because many Jews refrain from marrying for three weeks in July. Usually, the Marriage Bureau issues approximately 8,000 marriage licenses a year. Covid-19 has slowed the process because people still need to make an appointment for online registration.
Despite these challenges, the Marriage Bureau is able to offer marriage licenses in a remote and safe way so that everyone can feel comfortable applying. The Marriage Bureau asks that people who apply make sure to keep their appointment, thereby allowing the bureau to help everyone who wants to get married.
City Clerk McSweeney said, “We have established guidelines to allow for marriage officiants to officiate virtually. Although it may not address the religious definition and requirements of a marriage to which a rabbi is bound, it does allow a couple to obtain a civil marriage. As City Clerk you have my commitment that we are dealing with a work in progress and we will continue to strive to help all who want a marriage license obtain one. I am honored to call the Rabbinical Alliance of America an important partner in this venture.”
Names In Pictures
Picture (1) A group picture taken with New York City Clerk & Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney. Top row standing left to right, Rabbi Dovid Katz, Menahel, RAA/Igud; Rabbi Chesky Blau; Rabbi Moish Schmerler, director, RAA/Igud; Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president, RAA/Igud; Larry Gordon, Publisher and Editor, Five Towns Jewish Times; New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney; and Rabbi Meir Melnick
Bottom row seated, Rabbi Aharon Kahan; Rabbi Zvi Mandel; Rabbi Yoel Ehrenreich; Rabbi Yaakov Klass; presidium chairman, RAA/Igud; and Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager, chairman Israel Advocacy Commission, RAA/Igud
Picture (2) Names Left to Right, Rabbi Yaakov Klass; presidium chairman, RAA/Igud; New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney; Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president, RAA/Igud; Rabbi Dovid Katz, Menahel, RAA/Igud; and Rabbi Aharon Kahan
Picture (3) Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president, RAA/Igud; welcoming and greeting New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney
Picture (4) Names Left to Right, Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president, RAA/Igud; Larry Gordon, Publisher and Editor, Five Towns Jewish Times; and Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager, chairman Israel Advocacy Commission, RAA/Igud
Picture (5) New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney presenting an update to the Rabbis on the status of obtaining a marriage license in the time of Covid
Picture (6) Group photos of the Rabbis having a round table discussion with New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney on the topic of obtaining a marriage license in the time of Covid
Picture (7) Rabbi Yaakov Klass; presidium chairman, RAA/Igud; welcoming and greeting New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council Michael McSweeney