The end of the year is a good time for updates on the current state of affairs in various areas. I thought it might be a nice time for an update on a happy topic, the state of marriage in Maryland.
Despite any rumors you may have heard to the contrary, it turns out that people are still meeting, falling in love and getting married. In the four years before the COVID pandemic, the number of marriage certificates processed by the clerk’s offices across the state averaged about 40,000 per year. But then COVID hit, and with access to weddings being a bit tricky, the marriage numbers took a hit too. In Fiscal Year 2020, there were only about 27,000 marriages in the state, an almost 33% decrease. However, since COVID, the number of marriages in Maryland has been bouncing back steadily. In Fiscal Year 2021, the number of marriages climbed back to about 33,000. In Fiscal Year 2022, they were 35,000, and when the numbers come out for 2023, it looks like we will be back to normal.
Other trends are also evident in the marriage data. One continuing long-term trend has been the number of marriage ceremonies taking place outside of traditional churches. Throughout much of U.S. history, marriage ceremonies were conducted by traditional clergy in traditional churches and houses of worship. However, that is no longer the case. Today about 50% of marriage ceremonies in Maryland are performed by a clerk in a courthouse. And even for those who are listed as having been married by clergy, many are not traditional clergy.
The development of the internet has made it easy to be ordained as clergy online by organizations that offer ordination to anyone who will pay the one-time fee. As a result, many of the clergy performing marriage ceremonies today are friends and family members who became ordained online for the special occasion. Exact numbers on this trend are hard to come by, but given the thousands of marriage certificates coming through my office, I would estimate as many as 15% to 20% of marriages are performed by non-traditional clergy. Taken together with the 50% of marriages that are in a courthouse, I would estimate that for couples being married today, there is only about a 30% to 35% chance that they will have been married by traditional clergy in a traditional church.
The other major trend is marriage between couples of the same sex. Since marriage between couples of the same sex became legal in Maryland 10 years ago, on January 1, 2013, tens of thousands of couples of the same sex have been married in the state. On average, I would estimate they represent about 10% to 15% of all marriages performed every year in the state. Ten years ago, it was illegal; today it is a routine daily occurrence. The impact on hundreds of thousands of people in Maryland has been enormous. It would be no exaggeration to call it life-changing for those couples and their families.
In summary, the institution of marriage is alive and well in Maryland. How people get married has changed quite a bit. But people are still meeting, falling in love, and getting married the same as they always have, and hopefully they will be for many more years to come.
Scott Poyer is the clerk of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. The opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maryland judiciary.
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