Gov. JB Pritzker this month gave county governments across the state the authority to issue marriage licenses during the pandemic via teleconference — think Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams.
The governor’s executive order lets county governments work around a provision in state law requiring couples to “appear before” the county clerk before completion of marriage licenses. That appearance was necessary for couples to provide proof of who they are. The executive order gives couples the ability to do that virtually.
Cook County has already been granting virtual licenses and conducting virtual marriage ceremonies since the first week of April, accommodating about 15 to 20 marriage licenses a day.
“During this pandemic, it’s been extremely difficult to do all those things, and it can make people really frustrated trying to do business,” said Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, adding that her office created a special website to accommodate these virtual marriage licenses.
Yarbrough said in March she gathered a team to devise a way the county clerk’s office could provide these essential services amid the governor’s statewide stay-at-home order.
Marriage may not seem like one of those vital services — even the Secretary of State is suspending late payments for drivers whose vehicle registration has expired. The DMVs are closed.
But Yarbrough said there are cases when a marriage license is imperative, like when someone is on their deathbed.
“We want to expedite those,” she said.
Before COVID-19, the Cook County Clerk’s Office processed about 2,500 marriages a month, or roughly 25,000 a year.
“There were people already in line waiting to get their license prior to COVID, so we are trying to accommodate some of those,” Yarbrough said. “But the priority is the dire need.”
She said her office particularly wants to accommodate specific situations, such as people who are losing their immigration status or health care because they lost their job and need a marriage license to get covered by their spouse’s insurance.
“We know how important that is, so we are prioritizing these marriages,” she said.
Since the office closed its doors to the public March 19, about 500 couples have applied for an emergency marriage license.
A skeleton crew of county clerk employees processing these marriages are working out of the office and adhering to social distancing.
Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @claudiamorell.