In the US, up until the mid 19th century, common-law marriage was recognized as valid. However, since that time some states started to invalidate common-law marriage. A common-law marriage, if recognized, is valid even in the absence of a marriage license. Originally the requirement of a marriage license was used as a mechanism to prohibit interracial marriages (basically keeping whites from marrying any other race). With that being said, by the 1920's, 38 states were using marriage licenses; however, it is rare for the licensing to be used for that purpose today.
The requirements for obtaining a marriage license varies by state. However, most states require both parties to appear in person to obtain the license, provide some type of identification, and be of legal age to marry (generally 18 but younger with parental consent in some states). A few states require a blood test to verify the applicants are not carrying the sexually transmitted disease Syphilis. As an example,couples choosing beautiful beach weddings in California, need not be residents of the state. However, in order to obtain a marriage license, both parties must appear in person, produce valid photo identification and provide proof of divorce or annulment if either has been previously married (unless the marriage ended in death). There is no blood test requirement in California.
Some political and Christian groups believe requiring couples to obtain a marriage license is immoral and/or unnecessary. As an example, the Libertarian Party believes marriages should be civil and not require sanction from the state. They argue that marriage is a right and that allowing the state to exercise control over marriage we then simply have a privilege, not a right, to marry. They use the example of those born in the United States receiving a birth certificate, NOT a birth license. There are also some Christian groups that will argue a marriage is a contract between the couple and God and, therefore, does not require authorization from the state.
Uniquely, in the state of Pennsylvania, self-uniting licenses are available. These require only the signatures of the bride, groom and witnesses. Even though this is an accommodation made for Quaker weddings, any heterosexual couple may apply for this license; meaning no officiant is required to make the marriage "legal." Basically, all you would need is the couple, witnesses (for instance best man and maid of honor) and your wedding bands. This would basically be a do-it-yourself wedding.
There are some very controversial issues surround marriage licenses such as those stated above which question whether marriage is a right or a privilege. However, an even larger issue is same sex marriages. Same sex marriages are granted in six states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York & Vermont) at the time of this writing, along with Washington D.C. and two Native American jurisdictions (Coquille, Suquamish). Rhode Island and Maryland do now recognize same sex marriages from other states, but will not perform them.
Same Sex Wedding
Tags: marriage license, wedding, wedding officiant, maid of honor,