Galveston County clerk's office processing influx of out-of-county marriage licenses

Amid the outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19, residents are still applying for marriage licenses, and the Galveston County clerk's office is helping residents from all over do so.

In the weeks since Galveston County and other Greater Houston-area counties have issued stay-at-home orders, several clerk's offices have shut down or limited services to residents of the county in which the office resides. That means fewer people are able to apply for marriage licenses in their own counties, including Harris County, which closed its offices to the public March 18.

However, the Galveston County clerk's office has not changed its policies; the office is still open and serving Galveston County residents and those from outside the county as allowed under state law, County Clerk Dwight Sullivan said.

The result of the clerk's office remaining open has been an influx of marriage license applicants, including a spike in the number of applicants from outside the county, he said.

Normally, the office processes about 50 to 70 marriage licenses a week, and about 20% of those come from outside the county. In the first week after Galveston and Harris counties issued stay-at-home orders, the office serviced about 100 marriage license applicants, about two-thirds of which came from outside the county, Sullivan said.

"It's not typical," he said.

Most of the out-of-county applicants were Harris County residents, Sullivan said.

"[These residents] had things scheduled already, and their clerks shut down," he said.

Things have since slowed: Last week, the office serviced about 70 applicants for marriage licenses, and again, the majority came from outside the county, he said.

When asked why the clerk's office has not shut down as offices in other counties have, Sullivan said they are following county orders by staying open.

"We feel that [the clerk's office] is an essential service," he said.

However, the office has been affected by the coronavirus. The office shut down its second location and limited the hours of its main office to Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This was done in response to a slowdown in workload as fewer residents conduct business in the county, Sullivan said.

"We may go back to full crew if we need to, but to minimize traffic and workload going down, we went down," he said.

Furthermore, the clerk's office has taken measures to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. Deputies are on-site making sure there is 6 feet of spacing between customers, and markings taped to the floor help keep a healthy social distance between people. The office has asked residents to not bring children inside, and the office is working to put up barriers and hand out masks to further minimize risk, Sullivan said.

Barring any major increase in case numbers or other unforeseen problems, the office will continue to issue marriage licenses to anyone who comes in. Procedurally, it is the same process granting a marriage license to a League City couple as it is to one from Beaumont, Sullivan said.

"It's working out pretty good," he said of the office's process.
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.



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