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Many Clergy Unaware of New Blood Test Law : Marriage licenses: As a result, couples often are not told that the state no longer requires the exams. They had led to a trend toward ‘confidential’ registrations.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a result of a little-known change in the law, California no longer requires blood tests for couples seeking a marriage license, joining the majority of states that have dropped the requirement.

The repeal gives the state a chance to fight a bothersome trend--the tendency of more and more couples to opt for “confidential” marriage licenses that leave no trace in state records.

But there is concern in religious circles that most priests and ministers are unaware of the change and will unwittingly put thousands of couples to unneeded trouble and expense.

Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-Burlingame), who sponsored the legislation repealing the blood test requirement, said she thinks the law should reverse the trend toward so-called confidential marriage licenses, which do not require blood tests.

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More than half of marriage licenses now issued in the state, and two-thirds of those in Los Angeles County, are confidential.

Designed to save couples who are already living together the embarrassment of revealing that they are not married, the confidential option allows them to obtain a license which does not become part of the public record, as ordinary licenses do.

Because the lack of a blood test requirement made it more convenient than the standard license, it became increasingly popular, Speier said, and hurt the state’s efforts to keep track of marriages.

“It’s in the public interest for people to get a public marriage license for purposes of child support (in the event of a divorce) and to track bigamists,” Speier said.

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The change in the law will also save the prospective bride and groom money. An administrator at a medical complex in Granada Hills, for example, said the usual blood test charges were $84 for the woman and $36 for the man.

Only women of childbearing age were required to be tested for rubella, or German measles, which can cause physical disabilities in their children.

Both men and women had to be tested for syphilis, which can by transmitted sexually and cause insanity and death if left untreated.

Those two diseases--which the tests were aimed at detecting--are not the serious health risks they once were, said Gov. Pete Wilson, when he signed the bill, which became effective Jan. 1.

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Avoiding the expense of testing could be important to many couples, Speier said. “God knows, they need all they help they can get when they start out.”

But many couples get their initial advice on wedding arrangements from the clergy, who may be largely unaware of the change, said Nancy Stevens, president of a Los Angeles-area group of church wedding directors.

“I’m afraid that many clergy will continue to advise couples to get their blood tests, which are now an unnecessary expense,” said Stevens, who directs weddings for Reseda United Methodist Church. “Our board, in a letter, is urging the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder office to let more people know about it.”

Rabbi Bernard Cohen, director of the interdenominational Clergy Network, said he thought blood tests were still required.

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“If I didn’t know about it, I’m sure there are others who don’t,” Cohen said.

He said he would report the change in the law in the group’s next newsletter, which goes to about 3,500 clergy and others in the Los Angeles area and Orange County.

California was not in the forefront nationally on the change. Only about a dozen states still require blood tests for marriage license applicants, according to Speier.


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