Is the title “Justice of the Peace” destined to become a generic term for marriage officiant? Not so long ago, most states elected or appointed JPs whose primary duty was to perform marriages. Today many of those states have abolished that role and that official title. Justices of the Peace in Nevada, Texas, Florida and other southern and western states are primarily the lowest level of court justice for whom officiating at marriages is a subordinate (and happy) perk of the office. In some states, a law degree is a prerequisite; in others, not.
The New England states are the holdouts fighting this trend. In these states, JPs were long ago deprived of their responsibilities as officers of the court. Yet JPs were kept on as (primarily) civil marriage officiants. In Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, JPs may also witness oaths and signatures, similar to the duties of notaries.
Among the many states to “disappear” JPs are New York and, most recently, South Carolina.
As a result, the term Justice of the Peace (or JP or JOP) has become a catchall phrase (on discussion forums, blogs and the like) to refer to any civil marriage officiant. “Going to the JP” means to hie oneself (or selves) to town hall for a quickie marriage. This is a disservice to the many Justices of the Peace – notably members of the Justice of the Peace Association – who are professional marriage officiants who customize beautiful personal ceremonies and guide their couples in every aspect of the wedding service.
Is there any way to bring back official Justices of the Peace to the states that no longer have them? They are not paid, so they place no financial burden on the state. Your opinion?
Sarah Jay is a friend of the Justice of the Peace Association. She is not a JP but was married by one. Her business is paellapans.com.