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Legislator considers minimum age for marriage witnesses

Emma Mayberry, owner of the Lily of the Valley Wedding Chapel, was pitching a wedding to a couple in September and noted that her chapel could provide a witness to the ceremony if they needed one.

Not necessary, said the groom. His daughter would act as witness.

“Are you sure?” Mayberry said. “She looks a little young.”

And she was — 12 years old, to be exact. But Nevada law doesn’t set a minimum age for the person signing the marriage license as a witness.

“I was really disturbed by that,” Mayberry said. “We’re handling legal documents. I don’t want anyone under the age of 18 witnessing. I want them to be of sound mind and mature enough to witness it.”

Other chapel owners agreed, as does state Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who said he’s willing to sponsor legislation setting the minimum age at either 16 or 18.

“The chapels, which are a major part of the industry downtown, seemed concerned about it,” Segerblom said. “If you’re going to have a law that requires a witness, having a 6-year-old say, ‘I’m a witness’ doesn’t do it.”

Segerblom also said he wanted to discuss the issue with Clark County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre, who said the issue of minors being witnesses hardly ever comes up.

“Sometime back, someone had called wanting to know if their young brother could serve as a witness,” she said. “The boy was 12 or 13 years old. … That’s the first time since I’ve been here that anyone asked about it.”

Her office asked the district attorney’s office, and the opinion came back that “there is no age limit on it,” Parraguirre said. After all, “a 12-year-old can testify in a courtroom if a judge determines him to be mature enough.”

State law says that at least one person other than the minister must see the marriage take place. That person signs the marriage license along with the minister.

As for children playing that role, “we don’t encourage it, and it doesn’t happen very often, as far as I know,” Parraguirre said. “I don’t know if a legislative change is necessary, because I don’t think it’s a problem.”

Wedding witnesses have faced other scrutiny in the past year.

At the now-defunct Las Vegas Garden of Love wedding chapel, it was discovered that the owner’s name, Cheryl Luell, was stamped on licenses as a witness on a weekend when she was out of town. Two ministers were stripped of their ability to perform marriages in Nevada because of the practice.

Setting a minimum age would put chapel owners more at ease, wrote Joan Bojorquez, co-owner of the Vegas Adventure Wedding Chapel, in a letter to Segerblom.

“A few chapel owners have discussed this issue and feel that there should be an appropriate age defined in the statute of at least 18 years old,” she wrote. “We are all then much more comfortable with the witnesses’ clear understanding of the legal document they are printing their name on.”

The scenario she and Mayberry worry about is having children who can barely write their names acting as witnesses on an official document.

Though such instances might be extremely rare, if they exist at all, “the thing is, it’s wide open to happen,” Mayberry said. “That’s the problem.”

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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