#PASSNYS4189: Making Space for Civil Celebrants in Marriage Law
by Rev. Elizabeth Phaire, Master Life-Cycle Celebrant
As we enter the autumn season, we reflect with gratitude on a very productive year of advocacy for Civil Celebrant Bill, NYS#4189. This Bill will incorporate Civil Celebrants who meet certain education requirements, to the New York State marriage law, granting us legal authority to officiate weddings. With 4,000 CF&I Celebrants worldwide and 63 who are also Ministers in New York State officiating weddings, we generate nearly $3,500,000 in revenue for the State; this law would be a boon for NY. It would also enable us to more efficiently serve the State’s increasingly diverse population.
The Bill was introduced in Albany last year, inspired by New Jersey Life-Cycle Celebrant colleagues who achieved the passage of this as an economics bill into NJ law in 2014. The first to break ground, it took them eight years of hard work, following in their footsteps we’ve made great progress in our second year.
Leading our cause is Rev. Ronald Hunt, NY Lobbying Director. With his long-time experience and knowledge of the lobbying process, we are fortunate to have him at the helm navigating this journey. Some of
us count “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock as primary education on the subject, and so we are
grateful for Ron’s guidance every step of the way.
Generous help came from Charlotte Eulette, CF&I International Director. She submitted a memorandum
of support to the Senate on our behalf and offered valuable advice in addition to her motivational emails.
We were well represented on Facebook and Twitter by the efforts of Marcia Almeida, CF& I Social Media Director,
and Celebrant Christopher Shelley who created the hashtag “#PASSNYS4189”.
This year began with the uplifting news that Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner and Senator Tony Avella referred our
bills to the Judiciary Committees in the Senate and Assembly for hearings, taking us one step further than last year.
Celebrants Roberta Koepfer, Kim Kirkley and others took trips to Albany or local offices; and either accompanied
by Ron or alone, met with their respective Senators, Assemblywomen and Assemblymen. Patricia Bunnelle always showed up on short notice when Ron needed her assistance. In these meetings strong connections were made for
our cause. Emails were also sent by NY Celebrants to lawmakers in each district, introducing them to the bill. There
was a wide range of support from our representatives, including Sen. Adrian Espaillat and Sen. George Latimer.
On January 29th a meeting was held with Senator Avella, his Chief Legislative Staff Rebecca A. Shehan, and Legislative Aide Marissa Meredyth. It was hosted in Celebrant Bettina Yiannakorou’s beautiful home. Several Celebrants on our team attended and spoke on how our work benefits us and our community, contributes to the economy, and gives New Yorkers and visitors an opportunity to have a personal and meaningful wedding ceremony. Speakers included: Sacha Jones, Kim Kirkley, Christopher Shelley, and Bettina Yiannakorou, Jane Hughes Gignoux, and Gerry Fierst. Additional attendees were: Alice Soloway, Lasonta Diamond, Larissa Martell, Marcia Almeida, Danielle Kirsner Giannone, and Funeral Director and Celebrant Joseph Kresek.
Energized by the stories shared at the meeting, Senator Avella requested that the Bill be placed on a Judiciary Committee agenda as soon as possible. Upon the Senator’s advice, we wrote letters followed-up with phone calls
to Senator Bonacic, Honorable John Flanagan, and Honorable Carl Heastie, urging their support of the bill and to schedule a hearing. The petition that I created on Change.org garnered 254 signatures from supporters across the U.S. and overseas. Through all of these efforts, we were told that we have the most successful grassroots campaign that New York State has seen in years.
In early June the Senate continued to push our bill as a priority. Although the Governor’s office was exclusively prioritizing their own bills, they were open to considering ours. The Assembly overwhelmingly passed their version of the bill, NYSA8205, out of the Committee on June 2nd. Senator Avella made every effort to move our bill forward with the Committee; however in the end we were blocked by one Senator.
It is very disappointing that one person can subvert the work of so many. However we gained significant momentum this year and are bolstered by all of the support that we received. Moving forward, Rev. Ronald Hunt offers these words of encouragement. “As with many things in life, we struggle to reach a tipping point where everyone can see and accept that our cause is just. We’re extremely close in getting the bill passed. If you haven’t participated, know that you are still needed. If you have participated, love and thanks to you.”
Discussions with Senators will continue in December of this year when the new session begins, and we’ll devise a new strategy. To receive notifications of how you can help with the bill, please contact Ron at: 1CFIPAC@gmail.com. Please also sign our Change.org petition and share it with others. Whether you live in NY, or in another state or country, your signature will make a difference:
With election season upon us, it’s vitally important to support and vote for those representatives who will be allies in our mission. So please be sure to research your local candidates, volunteer where you can, and vote.
Deepest thanks to each of you who contributed by writing letters, emails, making phone calls, posting on social media, gathering signatures and cheering us on. We’ll continue paving the way together, for ours and future generations to enjoy the legal right to a personalized ceremony by a Civil Celebrant. In the words of President Barack Obama: “Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test isn’t whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”
Raising a glass, here’s to perseverance and making NYS4189 a law in 2017!
About The Author:
Elizabeth Phaire is a Master Life-Cycle Celebrant ® and Interfaith Minister. She officiates personalized ceremonies for Weddings, Baby Blessings, Celebrations
of Life, and other rites of passage. A faculty member of the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, she holds five certifications from the school. Her background and holistic lifestyle includes energy healing practices, herbalism, nutrition, meditation, music, writing, and performance poetry. She draws from these sources to help individuals, families and communities to honor their transitions with authenticity
and creativity. You can reach her through: www.elizabethphaire.com and on facebook.com.© 2016 Elizabeth Phaire