How do same sex couples get married in the US?
September 6, 2013 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Completely clueless here. Been with my partner since 2000, we married each other in our living room in 2005 & had a bash afterwards with close friends. Now that we get Federal tax benefits, we're looking to take the plunge. Except we have no idea what the logistics are.

It's possible that I'm not googling the right terms, but a quick tour of the marriage info page on and the wikipedia page seems like it's more about benefits but they don't really spell out the actual process of getting married.

We're in NC, so we're considering a trip to DC, NY, or possibly CA to do the deed. We don't even know where to start, how to apply, what documents we need or how much it costs. For all we know, we show up with a fishing license & take a breathalyzer test & we're good to go.

We've had Healthcare & Financial powers of attorneys and living wills in place for several years.

What if we don't want a big to-do? What if we just want to be low key about it, & have it just be a formal paper signing or whatever it is? Does it have to be public?
posted by yoga to Law & Government (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Here's some advice on the specifics in DC. They have similar pages for other states.
posted by Etrigan at 1:19 PM on September 6, 2013

Figure out which jurisdiction you want to go to. Then check the page for that jurisdiction at the US Marriage Laws site. Where same-sex marriage is legal, being same sex entails no special requirements. Marriage is marriage. The ceremony doesn't have to be done public, but the fact of your marriage usually becomes a public record wherever you do it. (Note the California exception for confidential marriage licenses.)
posted by beagle at 1:20 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is the link to the NYC marriage bureau. Like Etrigan said above, every city/state has their own rules or specifics about where to go and how to go about it. Good luck!
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:21 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

From what I understand it's not really any different than straight marriages except for the part where only certain states will let it happen.

It can be as private as you want it to be outside of official documents being part of the public record in most places.
posted by theichibun at 1:23 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The mandatory big to-do is based on your family's law.
posted by InkaLomax at 1:24 PM on September 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

What if we don't want a big to-do? What if we just want to be low key about it, & have it just be a formal paper signing or whatever it is? Does it have to be public?

You can totally just do it in a City Hall office or the office of your marriage officiant or even your hotel room if you want. Depending on where, though, you may need witnesses. They can be two random people, I believe, and this may be an easier thing to wrangle at City Hall (we have been the two random people witnesses). Or, pick a city where you already know some people and offer to buy them lunch if they will come witness you signing some paperwork
posted by rtha at 1:24 PM on September 6, 2013

I should probably mention that neither of us have been married before, straight or otherwise.
posted by yoga at 1:24 PM on September 6, 2013

I got straight-married in a state that was not my state of residence. Here's what I did:

* Decided where I wanted to get married. Not just the state, but the county.
* Went to the county clerk website by googling "County Name marriage license" (for example, here's the top result for the county where I got married). It lays out all the requirements for getting a marriage license in Nevada County.

Here's the general process:
* Go in person to county clerk's office. Show state identification (they accepted our Texas driver's licenses in California) and swear that you're not married anywhere else under any other name. You'll fill out and submit the license application.
* In California, you can get married immediate or wait up to 90 days. Other states may have a waiting period between getting the license and getting married.
* Some sort of legal officiant has to conduct a wedding ceremony of some sort. There are a very small number of states where an officiant isn't required. Most? counties have an official who will perform courthouse marriages (I would google "County Name Courthouse Wedding" to find this info). You will probably need 1-2 witnesses.
* The officiant and the witnesses will sign the marriage license. The officiant will deliver or mail it back to the county clerk's office within a certain period of time.
* Then, the county clerk mails you a wedding certificate. This is proof that you're married!
posted by muddgirl at 1:34 PM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

It does depend on each jurisdiction -- each city or county or what have you has its own procedures. I recently got married (not same-sex, but as said above it's the same procedure) and we:
1. Filled out a PDF form downloaded from our county court's website
2. Went to the county clerk's office with the form
3. Showed our IDs, paid the fee ($100) and signed the paperwork
4. Brought the paperwork with us to our ceremony (happened about 2 weeks later)
5. After the ceremony, got the paperwork signed by the officiant and two witnesses
6. Mailed the paperwork back to the county clerk

We can now go back and get our official marriage license, which we haven't done yet. (Hope we're actually married!)

I think most places have the option of having the local judge or other official sign as the officiant, so the last two steps would have been all done on site. Often this requires an appointment. If you want to have the ceremony elsewhere, each locality will have its own rules about who can preside.
posted by wsquared at 1:36 PM on September 6, 2013

muddgirl's experience was pretty close to my own (straight).

We had to have official birth certificates in addition to photo ID, swear we weren't related any closer than first cousins, and swear that neither of us were being coerced.

Getting married is pretty simple. From what I hear, it's divorce that is the legal quagmire.
posted by desjardins at 1:37 PM on September 6, 2013

Is flying to San Fran an option at all? City Hall is just beyond beautiful, it has an element of festivity that other city calls just can't replicate, it's very simple to schedule your slot online, and the JP officiants are very lovely.
posted by barnone at 1:43 PM on September 6, 2013

I have gotten married in Las Vegas and I am licensed to marry people by the State of Vermont as a justice of the peace. This stuff varies from state to state but you can Google either the state's name and "marriage license" to figure out what is needed or Google the pages of some state-licensed wedding officiants who often have this information on their websites. In Las Vegas, for example, basically you need to fill out a piece of paper with a golf pencil, no ID, tests or anything .My wedding there cost $60. In Vermont you have to get a license from a town clerk and have it signed by an officiant and then "filed." I perform weddings for free. In some states the officiant needs to be certain specific types of official. In others it doesn't matter much. Worth looking into that before you decide. But basically, for the most part, your event can be as private as you want it to be and as formal/informal as you want it to be, contingent on the laws of that specific state.
posted by jessamyn at 2:02 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you want to do the courthouse thing, check and see if they have a set schedule for that sort of thing. The judge the wife and I got had what were basically "open hours for marriage and stuff Tuesday and Thursday between 10-2", for example, so you didn't need an appointment on those days. All we needed was the license and a couple witnesses (and if there was a crowd there, the witnesses weren't hard to find, the wife and I got married then got snagged as we came out to be witnesses for the people behind us in line).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:20 PM on September 6, 2013

Come to Seattle! It's gorgeous here and we are one of the first states to vote in gay marriage by (decisive) popular vote. This web page will give you all the information you need to know. And you can make the marriage itself as quiet as you please - you just need yourselves, someone who is qualified to perform the marriage like one of the people linked on the page, and an arrangement to have a couple of people sign off as witnesses. Anyone qualified to perform the marriage can help you out with locating a couple of staff people to serve as witnesses, too.
posted by bearwife at 2:20 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mudgirl mentions it, but since you'll be traveling for your marriage I think it's worth underscoring: be sure to double-check on any possible waiting periods between getting your marriage license and getting married in whatever state you choose. In NY, for instance, you have to wait 24 hours between getting your license and getting married (although looking at this page it seems that that can be waived ... no idea how easy that would be, though) - so, you know, be sure you plan your trip with that in mind.

I realize you've been married since 2005 anyway, but still, congratulations! Enjoy your trip, wherever you end up going.
posted by DingoMutt at 3:09 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think that DC also has a waiting period. However, if you get married in DC, Mefite eviltiff is a DC civil wedding officiant with lots and lots of info about how to get married in DC.
posted by muddgirl at 4:15 PM on September 6, 2013

Thanks so much for all the info, you guys. I totally didn't think about MeFites that also officiate!

We'd want a no-waiting period option, I think. So far CA seems to be the winner.

Is there any reason we'd need to contact the witnesses afterwards? If they're people we don't know, would that matter?
posted by yoga at 4:36 PM on September 6, 2013

The witnesses can totally be people you don't know. They have to be there, and they have to sign the paper, and then your relationship with them can be over forever.
posted by brainmouse at 4:48 PM on September 6, 2013

No worries if you don't know the witnesses. Brainmouse is absolutely right about what's up with them.
posted by bearwife at 5:21 PM on September 6, 2013

If you decide to go for San Francisco, I am certain we can hook you up with witnesses. I work 10 minutes from City Hall, for example.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:20 PM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

We were gay-married at the San Diego downtown courthouse. If you do it here, I recommend the outdoor ceremony under the arbor. No waiting period here, but you do have to schedule the appointment in advance. There are limited slots for the outdoors location. Our wedding was just the two of us, the judge, and the photographer. Our photographer acted as our witness. We had bouquets and photos and that was it. We're so happy with the experience. It felt so private and wonderful. I can recommend a really phenomenal photographer and florist if you come to San Diego.
posted by studioaudience at 7:30 PM on September 6, 2013

What gingerbeer said. I, too, can be at City Hall with 10 minutes notice.
posted by trip and a half at 1:07 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You guys are so awesome. MS yoga & I aren't close with our families & both sets of parents are deceased, so it feels like you're our extended family. :)

I got a great MeMail this morning which explained the process in LA county. I thought I'd share, in case others were also looking to do the same:

For us the best was to get somebody to handle the whole thing start to finish and never have to go to the courthouse at all as far as we were concerned. It's pretty nifty it's possible to do this without going to a government building at all. No waiting in line for license. No waiting for ceremony. no wait period at all.

Confidential marriage licenses can be issued by a notary, do not require a witness, and the same notary can perform the "solemnization" if they're also an officiant. Basically this means you can pay somebody to meet you anywhere in Los Angeles county including the airport and get the whole thing done in a half an hour with just the three of you.

We decided to get married on a Sunday, called on Monday, emailed details and scanned driver's licenses on Tuesday, [arrived] on Wednesday, met him for the first time at the place we'd decided to marry on a Thursday, sat down, signed some stuff, said words we'd selected from his options ahead of time and we were out of there with a "customer copy"-completed-marriage-license and [were on our way].

There's not a lot of step-by-step info out there, so this is all hugely helpful to us. Especially since we can't do this right around the corner here. Again, many thanks.
posted by yoga at 6:03 AM on September 7, 2013

For future reference, here's the list of states that allow same sex marriage and do not have a waiting period: CA, CT, ME, NH, RI, VT

NY & MN have a waiting period but allow a judicial waiver.
posted by wearyaswater at 8:43 AM on September 7, 2013

The San Francisco instructions are on the City Hall website.

I've been gay-married twice at City Hall and it's a pretty streamlined process.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:20 AM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've been a witness for two weddings in California, one straight in a Catholic Church, one gay in a Friends church, and neither time was there any kind of follow-up for me. FWIW, I witnessed a straight wedding in the courthouse in Brooklyn and also didn't have any further responsibilities.
posted by mgar at 11:21 AM on September 7, 2013

Oh, hello. I've performed 60 or so weddings in DC, mostly same-sex. There's essentially a 5-day waiting period. Submit your application on Monday, pick it up on Friday. You can get married that day, or wait as long as you like. You need to know the name of an officiant (like ME!) before you apply at the courthouse, or they can help you pick one. To get married at the courthouse by a clerk, there's usually a month or so wait.

You can have your officiant submit all your paperwork for you, and pick up the license, meaning you can arrive in DC, get married, and go home the same day. I wouldn't be able to help you with that, but I do know someone who will. She'll charge you for her time, of course, but it's a lot cheaper than 5 days in DC.

Memail for details!
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:42 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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