Wiccan wins right to perform weddings

Wednesday, July 7, 1999

Reversing his earlier decision, a Virginia judge has granted a license to a
Wiccan high priestess to perform wedding ceremonies for members of her

Stephanie LaTronica, high priestess of Coven of the Rose Moon, first requested a license to perform weddings in

In Virginia, individual counties decide whether to grant licenses to perform
weddings. The counties adhere to Virginia Code, Section 20-23, which requires
that anyone seeking authorization to “celebrate the rites of matrimony” submit
“proof of his ordination and of his being in regular communion with the
religious society of which he is a reputed member, or proof that he holds a
local minister's license and is serving as a regularly appointed pastor in his
denomination.” The county clerk then either decides to grant the license or
refers the case to a district judge.

LaTronica's request was referred to General District Judge Samuel Powell from
the James City County clerk. Powell then sent LaTronica a letter requesting “any
documents, which [show] that the federal government recognizes Wicca and a copy
of the order of appointment of Wiccan Ministries in Newport News,” another
Virginia city.

In response to Powell's request, LaTronica sent him a copy of the U.S.
Armed Forces Chaplain Handbook
, which includes a description of Wicca and
how it is to be accommodated within the armed forces, as well as information
about Lady of Enchantment in New Hampshire, the ordination school she

Powell told LaTronica in a June 7 letter that the court “declines to grant
the license requested,” stating that the literature LaTronica submitted
“assisted the Court in making this decision.”

LaTronica contacted the ACLU of Virginia in hopes of getting Powell to
reconsider. He did. However, “[Powell] said he never denied the license in the
first place,” said John Levy, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney
representing LaTronica.

LaTronica called Powell's reconsideration of her request a “quick backpedal.”

Levy said that
his initial goal in the case was to attack the wording of Virginia Code, Section
20-23. Levy says that the way the code is worded now, a judge or clerk “may”
decide to grant a license after all the necessary documents have been submitted;
he argues that the code should require the judge or clerk to grant the license
once they receive all the necessary documents.

“The statement in the order is unconstitutional,” Levy said. If the required
information is provided and valid, the license “must” be granted, he says.

“The challenge against this code is moot for [LaTronica] at this point,” Levy
said. Now, he says, the ACLU will have to try to get the Legislature to change
the wording of the code. Levy said he sent a letter to Powell outlining the
constitutional problems with the statute.

But it was only after LaTronica submitted an affidavit to Powell stating her
status in her coven, the type of services she conducts, how she became a
priestess, and the responsibilities of her position, did Powell grant the

LaTronica said that
the initial denial of the license surprised her, considering one of her
initiates was granted a license to perform marriage ceremonies in Norfork, Va.,
only 45 miles away.

“We are a valid religion, and I worked very hard for [this license],”
LaTronica said. She says that some people still have an image of Wicca as devil
worship and look at it negatively.

“We are not freaks — we are the people next door.”