Skip to main content

Sisolak, Clark County sued over right to marry in coronavirus era

Marriage License Bureau

April 14, 2020

By: Shea Johnson Las Vegas Review-Journal

One couple urgently seeks to get married as the groom-to-be stares down a quickly approaching visa expiration. An owner of three wedding chapels cannot do business.

Attorneys representing both say Gov. Steve Sisolak and the county overreached by treating the right to marry as nonessential in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and they now seek a court injunction to roll back restrictions.

In a complaint filed Monday in District Court, attorneys with Las Vegas-based firm Ben’s Law argue that the county’s Marriage License Bureau has made no accommodations for emergency issuances of marriage licenses and that the state could have used a less restrictive order to fight the virus.

“A COVID-19 quarantine cannot usurp the power of God and the right of people to marry if the state requires a license for marriage to be valid,” the complaint says.

After Sisolak last month directed nonessential businesses to shut down, urging people to consider postponing their weddings, the county announced the bureau was closed indefinitely to limit potential coronavirus exposure. The governor has since issued stricter social distancing guidelines.

“There’s many, many reasons why we as a free society value the institution of marriage and so marriage is an essential act of humanity,” said attorney Yvette Chevalier, who referenced other clients not represented in this suit who seek to marry because of health insurance or pregnancy. “It just doesn’t seem right. It seems to be an overreaching of people’s freedom.”

Chevalier and attorney Ben Lehavi say the restriction violates constitutional rights, and that it would not be difficult for the county to devise a plan to issue licenses electronically and for officiants, such as those employed by chapels, to preside over services without endangering public health.

Elle LLC., the company they represent in the lawsuit, owns the Little Neon Chapel, Fremont Wedding Chapel and Chapel of the Crystals.

The lawsuit alleges that the bureau notified chapel owners and officiants this month that couples “who truly cannot wait” could be issued licenses with a civil ceremony at the window.

The complaint argues that the inability of chapels to officiate those ceremonies is tantamount to a government taking.

The county did not respond to a message seeking to confirm whether civil ceremonies were occurring and declined to comment on pending litigation. A representative of Sisolak also declined to comment on pending litigation.