|NMU||MONTANA||Freedom of Information||Feb 28, 2000|
Marriage license applications not public
- Names of people getting married and the location of weddings are public information, but personal information in applications for marriage licenses must be kept confidential.
Applications for marriage licenses are not public records and must be kept confidential, Attorney General Joseph Mazurek ruled in a letter opinion.
While some information, namely the identities of people getting married and location and type of wedding service, may be released to the public, the applications themselves, which contain detailed information about the bride and groom and their families, were never intended to be public records, Mazurek said.
Newspaper officials have criticized the ruling for clamping down on access to records they have long considered public — records that are invaluable to historians, credit agencies and journalists. Several clerks of county courts, which issue marriage licenses and maintain the records, said they already have begun restricting access to marriage information, the Associated Press reports.
Under the state’s public records law, vital statistics are confidential, unless another state law authorizes their release. In this case, state law allows the release of a couple’s “record of marriage” but nothing more, the attorney general said.
Only that information from the marriage license application needed to show the existence of a marriage — the bride’s and groom’s names, the date and location of the wedding, type of service and presiding official’s name — may be released to the public. And that information may be released only after the wedding has occurred and the marriage license has been filed with the state.
“An interpretation that would release all of the detailed background information found in the marriage license information . . . would be a marked contrast to the other provisions of the law which jealously safeguard the privacy of persons providing the information,” wrote Mazurek in the Feb. 18 decision. “In my opinion, the most likely legislative intent was to provide general information about the fact of the marriage, while protecting the privacy interests of the bride and groom by not allowing release of this detailed background information.”
Mazurek said only the bride and groom, their next of kin and other authorized representatives may obtain copies of the marriage license and application. Genealogists — and presumably historians and journalists — would not have access to the records unless they could show a personal connection to the bride or groom, the opinion said. The question of extending access to these groups, Mazurek concluded, is a matter only the legislature may tackle.
(Attorney General Letter Opinion, Vol. No. 48, Opinion No. 10, Feb. 18, 2000)
© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press