By Bill Mooney | February 10th, 2011 - 2:13pm
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The Assembly Judiciary Committee released a bill Thursday that expands the number of people authorized to solemnize marriages or civil unions in the state.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-17) of Somerset, would grant the power to officiate at such ceremonies to any judge whether from federal district court to tax court, magistrates, retired judges, surrogates, county clerks, mayors or deputy mayors, township committee chair people, any clergy member, and any celebrant certified by the Celebrant Foundation and Institute.

It was the inclusion of the last entity, the non-profit, Montclair-based Institute, that drew the attention of the committee.

The Institute, which traces its roots to a movement in the 1970s in Australia and New Zealand, runs an eight-month training program for its candidates who then essentially function as independent businesspeople officiating at “womb to tomb life events,’’ according to Charlotte Eulette, the Foundation’s international director.

In fact, the Foundation and Chivukula both presented this legislation as an economic measure.  The Foundation informed the committee it has more than 50 celebrants in New Jersey, some of whom earn more than $50,000 a year, performing approximately 1,500 weddings as well as other ceremonies annually.

They say that in this day and age when there are more interfaith couples as well as more non-church-affiliated relationships, the need for a Foundation such as theirs is growing.

Chivukula said he will take into consideration for amendments concerns of committee members that the law not be worded to exclude other similar types of organizations.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15) of Trenton abstained, saying that he wants to see more progress first on efforts toward marriage equality laws in the state.

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