Precious few positives have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but one happy development is the Wasco County Clerk’s Office becoming a go-to regionally and even nationwide for getting marriage licenses via video conference.
Normally that’s an in-person gig, but when courthouses shut down across the country, couples wishing to get the paperwork to tie the knot found slim pickings.
Wasco County Clerk Lisa Gambee alerted her fellow clerks around Oregon that she was able to accommodate the issuance of marriage licenses if anybody wanted to send them her way.
But she was surprised when a couple from New Jersey reached out after googling “counties still issuing marriage licenses.”
Gambee explains to everyone that they must get married in Oregon if they get a license in Oregon.
That was fine with one couple from California. “They flew into Portland on a Friday morning, drove up to The Dalles, did their ceremony with Judge Stauffer, and drove back to Portland and flew back to California that night.”
Wasco County Circuit Court Judge Janet Stauffer has performed several marriages on the courthouse steps, while wearing a mask and keeping physically distant.
Six weeks into the shutdown, the county was running well ahead of its normal amount of marriage licenses at this time of year. At the start of June, they were at 76 applications, and last year at the same time it was 55, Gambee said.
Since taking the experience online, some couples are more playful and having fun. “Some couple are more relaxed than they are here, in a government building, face to face,” said Sean Bailey, elections deputy for the clerk’s office.
Gambee recounted one man did his video chat while on a tractor.
Some older couples might need a little help with the technological side of it, Gambee said, but so far they have been able to get all licenses signed. She tells couples to test out whether they can access the Google Meet platform the county uses for its video calls prior to the meeting.
There’s been a few technical glitches if people don’t have a Gmail account, or depending on the type of phone they had, and their internet speed.
“There’s been a lot of technical things, and people who thought they had a camera for their computer ended up not having a camera,” Bailey said. Even so, he said, “We haven’t had one we haven’t been able to complete.”
A few years ago, the county started allowing people to begin their marriage license process online by filling out the application electronically. But they still had to show their ID in person at the courthouse.
After the shutdown, Gambee asked people to email copies of their ID, but the late Paul Ferguson, who was head of IT for the county, suggested video conferencing instead of having people email sensitive information.
So, the video marriage license application was born.
Gambee and Bailey just make a point of apologizing upfront to each couple for their extreme close-ups as they lean in to check the IDs they hold up to their video camera.
They’ve noticed that the older Oregon licenses are easier to see on the video compared to the newer licenses.
Recently, Harley Burgener, 21, and Tyler Osborn, 23, of Pendleton had a 3:30 p.m. video appointment for their marriage license, and they agreed to let a reporter join in.
Going over the form the couple already electronically submitted, Gambee said to Burgener, “You’ll be keeping your middle name and taking Osborn as your last name, correct?”
Burgener said yes, and the couple looked at each other and smiled.
Gambee confirmed their addresses, saying, “You’re living together?”
They all joked about the trials of being pent up during shutdown, and Osborn quipped, “And I still want to marry her.”
Bailey told the couple they would get a packet mailed to them that included the legal copy of the marriage license (with sticky notes on where to sign), an officiant copy of the license (for the person performing the ceremony), a decorative copy, and a pre-addressed return envelope to return the legal copy. It also includes a cover letter with tips, for those inexperienced officiants, on how to fill in the license correctly.
“We also include a voter registration card, just for the name update for voter registration,” Bailey said.
Gambee stressed to the couple, “The key point is to get us the license back, because otherwise, technically, you’re not married, which is bad.”
Burgener is determined to get married right now, pandemic be darned. They had to postpone once, and she won’t do it again. “Everything was against us for this wedding,” the future Mrs. Osborn said. “We actually just had to switch venues last week because our other venues won’t open.”
As they wrapped up the call, Gambee said, “Congratulations on getting married and let us know if there’s anything else we can do once you get the packet.”