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In the “eyes of the law”


Fri, Jan 17th, 2003
Posted in Features

When my niece asked my wife and I if she and her fiance could get married on our farm this summer, we were thrilled and honored to be asked. Megan and her boyfriend, Chris, said that they were planning a small, quiet wedding with friends and family and wanted to have their ceremony outside in a rural setting.But when my niece said that they wanted to write their own ceremony and asked if I would preside at their wedding, let’s just say that my heart melted. I quickly agreed to be the “preacher”, but told her that we would probably have to arrange for someone who was “legal” to supervise. Before Megan left to return to the Twin Cities, I promised her that I would look into the legal end of things. When I explained my niece’s wedding plans to Fillmore County Court Adminstrator Jim Attwood, he said, “No problem, it happens all the time. You can preside at the ceremony, but you need someone who is authorized under state statute to perform marriages acting in that capacity at the wedding.”Under Minnesota law, Ministers of any denomination, who have filed a copy of their credentials with the court administrator, can perform marriages in Minnesota. Weddings can also be performed by judges and court officials. Attwood, who has been officiating at weddings since he became Court Administrator in 1988, performs 12 to 15 weddings per year.“Sometimes people want a quick ceremony in the courtroom,” Attwood said. “In other cases I will travel to wherever the couple would like to have their wedding.” Attwood has three types of ceremonies that he uses at weddings, depending on the interests of the wedding couple. “I provide a framework for the ceremony,” Attwood said, noting that he uses no reference to religion in any of his ceremonies.“When people use the court system to get married, they are clearly getting married in the eyes of the law,” Attwood pointed out. The fee for a wedding at the courthouse is $10. Attwood charges more if it involves travel. In addition to court administrators and judges, Fillmore County is one of six counties in Minnesota authorized to specially appoint court commissioners.Doris Grindeland of Lanesboro and LaVonne Hellickson of Preston are court commissioners and regularly officiate at wedding ceremonies.LaVonne, who performs eight to ten weddings per year, enjoyed performing weddings when she worked for the Fillmore County District Court. The law allows her to continue officiating at weddings. “I was appointed a court commissioneer by Judge Harold Krieger in 1994 when I retired from the county,” LaVonne said. I have known Doris Grindeland for years and called her to see if she would be willing to officiate at my niece’s wedding in July. I also asked her if she would be willing to wear her Bunad, a traditional Norwegian dress to the ceremony, since Megan’s heritage includes a clan of us Norwegians. She readily agreed. “I need to talk at the beginning and the end,” Doris said. “You can have everything in between.” To get married in Minnesota, you must be eighteen years of age and obtain a marriage license, which costs $70. If a couple agrees to attend 12 hours of pre-marital counseling, the fee is reduced to $20. There is a waiting period of five calendar days after obtaining a marriage license before a couple can get married. Ginny Engle, who works in the Auditor’s office at Fillmore County, said that on average the county issues 75-100 marriage licenses per year. Engle gives a Newlywed Kit, which consists of free product samples, to each couple that gets a license (the kit does not cost the county any money). I asked Attwood if he has ever performed any unusual weddings -“You know, people getting married under water or jumping out of airplanes?”According to Attwood, one of the more interesting weddings he officiated at took place a few years ago in Winona. “The wedding was held in a double stall garage. The tables were made out of saw horses and a keg was standing by. It was clear that everyone was ready to have a good time. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.”“The groom was decked out in Viking colors - neck to toe purple, he even had a Brunhilda wig on. “The bride was adorned in Packer colors, yellow and green, and instead of a bridal veil, she was sporting a cheese head.“This was a Viking - Packer wedding.“I talked briefly with the groom before the wedding to make sure that he was comfortable with the arranged ceremony.“Well, I got to the part about “the powers vested in me” and said “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”“And then, as I had pre-arranged with the groom, I said, “You may now kiss the cheese head.“He did, and the celebration started.”

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