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September 11th, 2009

Does "No Cash" Rule of NYC Marriage Bureau Violate Federal Law?

Over at the WSJ Law Blog is a little post by Ashby Jones of a restaurant going cashless for security reasons. Credit cards only. He ponders whether this is legal given that greenbacks are legal tender “for all debts public and private.”

The law on this, from Section 31 U.S.C. 5103, is: “United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues.”

After a little analysis, he (sort of) concludes that as a private business they have a right to reject cash and not to do business with the cash-only patron, much the way a taxi driver might refuse all $100 bills.

But what of the government? When I went for a marriage license 10 years back, I was faced with NYC’s Marriage Bureau refusing to take cash. They absurdly insisted that I go to a bank and get a money order. They wouldn’t even accept credit cards.

I thought back then that this couldn’t possibly be legal, but with marital bliss upon me and a fiancee next to me, I wasn’t really in the mood to pick a fight.

But Jones’ post made me wonder if this rule had changed over the last 10 years, so I went to the NYC Marriage Bureau page and checked. And I found:

The fee for a Marriage License is $35 by credit card or money order payable to the City Clerk.

So now they accept credit cards. But still not actual cash, despite it being “legal tender for all debts public and private.”

Can that possibly be legal?

2 thoughts on “Does "No Cash" Rule of NYC Marriage Bureau Violate Federal Law?

  1. I currently have this very issue before the Third Circuit; it is for oral argument in November. My client was barred from paying his local property tax with cash in a small town in Bergen County, NJ. The case is Picano v Borough of Emerson.

    George Cotz