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Ex-governors surprised that new law authorizes them to perform marriages

Gov. George Patakin speaks at a Republican rally

Gov. George Patakin speaks at a Republican rally in 2002, during a campaign stop in Yonkers, Nov. 3, 2002. Credit: AP , 2002

ALBANY -- No one was more surprised by the new law that authorizes current and past governors to perform wedding ceremonies than two of the guys who got the power.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had inserted the bill at the last minute giving governors that authority in an end-of-session deal approved last month by the state legislature.

"I was totally shocked," said former Gov. George Pataki, who is now seeking the Republican nomination for president. "I didn't know about it until it happened and somebody said, 'You can marry people.' "

"It was a surprise," agreed former Gov. David A. Paterson. "But I think he knew I'd like it. Now I'm waiting for Governor Cuomo to get married because I want to perform the ceremony."

Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer also has the power under the law. He declined to comment.

Cuomo said on the day of the deal, June 25, that he had many requests to perform marriages after he led the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in New York in 2011. Days after he signed the bill, Cuomo officiated at a same-sex marriage before New York City's annual gay pride parade. A week ago, he officiated when his motorcycling buddy and campaign supporter Billy Joel married Alexis Roderick at the singer's Centre Island estate.

But Cuomo isn't the first New York governor to officiate at weddings. Paterson has presided over five weddings since he left office in 2010, although twice he needed to get an online minister-for-a-day certificate and in the others had to have a legally qualified official sign the marriage certificates. Pataki, back when he was the mayor of Peekskill in the 1980s, legally solemnized several marriages -- once bewildering his daughter.

"My daughter, Emily, who was in second grade, comes back home and says, 'Daddy, were you married to someone before Mommy?'

"And I said, 'No, of course not,' " Pataki recalled. "Then she said, 'Well, my teacher told me you married her and I could tell she was telling the truth.' "

Paterson said he has presided over the marriage of four same-sex couples. Last August, Paterson also presided over the first wedding in the new World Trade Center in Manhattan since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

With the new law, New York joins Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Tennessee and Massachusetts in authorizing governors to perform marriages, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Georgia and Idaho also give the authority to former governors.

Most states allow mayors, county executives and most judges to officiate within their jurisdictions. Paterson said he believes the geographic size and population that governors would have to serve probably deterred states from giving the authority to chief executives.

Paterson plans to fully officiate his first marriage in September, at the wedding of a former employee.

Pataki, however, doesn't plan to gather the dearly beloved any time soon. "I certainly don't intend to, no," Pataki, who has been married 43 years, said with a laugh. " . . . If there are others who would like the opportunity, good for them. But in all likelihood, I will take a pass."

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