On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and confer all of the state’s marriage rights to gay and straight couples equally.
After legalization, then-governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, enforced an obsolete 1913 law that prohibited out-of-state couples from marrying in Massachusetts without expressing an interest in living in the state. On June 31, 2008, Romney’s successor, Democrat Deval Patrick, signed a bill that repealed the residency requirement and, effective that day, allowed any couple to marry in Massachusetts regardless of their intent to live there.
Massachusetts marriage does have eligibility requirements, just like any other state. Both parties must be 18 years of age or older, not be married to anyone else and have divorces finalized before applying for a license, and not be closely related by blood. Like most states, Massachusetts abolished the blood test that used to be required for marriages. The applicants must bring proof of age, such as birth certificates or passports.
According to Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the leading LGBT rights organization in New England, marrying in the Bay State is a three-step process.
First, the couple must appear in person at any city or town hall and complete a form called the Notice of Intention of Marriage. Applicants fill out their names, dates and places of birth, occupations, addresses and other statistics. The city or town clerk will assess a fee for processing the application, and these fees vary by locale.
Second, after a required three-day waiting period, the applicants return to the same city or town hall and receive their license.
Third, the couple must solemnize the marriage (i.e., have an official wedding with a licensed officiant) in Massachusetts within 60 days. A Justice of the Peace or member of the clergy can perform the ceremony. Afterwards, he or she will send the license back to the city or town clerk, who will officially register the marriage with the state.
The Nutmeg State legalized same-sex marriage on November 12, 2008. According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, which oversees marriage licenses, any two persons can apply for a license provided they meet eligibility requirements (which are identical for both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages).
Both parties must not be involved in any other marriages or pending divorces—but if the two are joined in a civil union, they are eligible to “upgrade” their relationship to marriage. They also must be 18 years of age or older and not be closely related by blood.
Marrying in Connecticut does not involve a waiting period, so couples can apply for and receive their marriage licenses on the same day. The couple should appear in person at the town or city hall where the ceremony will eventually take place and apply for the license, which they receive immediately after paying a processing fee.
The couple must have a wedding ceremony within 65 days of applying for the license. The officiant will sign and date the license and submit it to the city or town clerk, who will then register it with the state. The couple can obtain a certificate of marriage after the license is registered.
On April 3, 2009, Iowa became the first Midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriages after a unanimous ruling by the state’s Supreme Court. In the 2010 midterm elections, however, Iowa voters elected to remove three judges involved in the ruling after media campaigns by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. Some state legislators have introduced bills to overturn the verdict, but as of February 2011, the ruling is still valid.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, there is no residency requirement for marriage in Iowa, but couples must be at least 18 and not closely related by blood. Brides-to-be may apply for a marriage license at any county recorder office (usually located at the county courthouse), or complete the application form in advance and sign it at the recorder’s office or in the presence of a Notary Public. Couples should provide complete personal information and proof of prior divorces if applicable. The license fee is $35 in every county and includes a certified copy of the marriage certificate. One witness is required when the couple signs the application.
There is a three-day waiting period between the day a couple applies for a license and when they pick up the official document—but this wait can be waived with a judge’s permission and an additional $5 fee.
Once the couple picks up the license from the same county recorder, it is valid indefinitely—meaning the couple can choose to solemnize their marriage at any time once they have a copy of the certificate.
In 2000, Vermont became the first U.S. state to recognize gay and lesbian relationships when it legalized same-sex civil unions. They remained in place until the state legislature overrode the governor’s veto to legalize same-sex marriage on April 7, 2009.
Like its New England neighbors, Vermont does not have a residency requirement for couples looking to marry in the state. According to the Vermont Department of Health, which handles marriage licenses, any two people who are at least 18 years old and not closely related by blood can marry. Each member of the couple must not be in a marriage or civil union with another person they don’t intend to marry. Both parties must also “be of sound mind” according to state law.
Marriage licenses are issued by town clerks. If one or both of the brides live in Vermont, they must apply for the license in the town where they live; if neither does, they can apply in any town. Partners in existing civil unions are free to marry one another.
At least one member of the couple—preferably both—should apply in person at a town hall. After completing the license form, signing the form to confirm the information is correct and paying a $45 fee, the couple will receive their license.
The couple must have their marriage solemnized by a Justice of the Peace or clergy member within 60 days. The officiant will certify the license and send it to the original town clerk for registration. The couple can opt to receive an official copy of the wedding certificate.
New Hampshire’s legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009 and the decision went into effect on January 1, 2010. One would think the law would be safe—but according to the Human Rights Campaign, anti-gay forces are amassing to overturn the decision. The 2010 midterm elections gave Republicans veto-proof majorities in both houses of the state legislature, so any bill introduced to repeal marriage equality may have a good chance at reaching the governor’s desk. Prospective brides might want to step up their plans if they want to get hitched in the Granite State.
According to the state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, couples to be married must be 18 years or older, be unrelated by blood, and file an application for a marriage license in person at any town hall in the state. After paying the $45 fee, the couple receives a marriage license valid for 90 days from the date of application. There is no mandatory waiting period between filing the application and obtaining the license.
Within that time period, the couple must have their union solemnized by a Justice of the Peace or clergy member residing in New Hampshire. Out-of-state officiants can obtain a special license from the Secretary of State’s office to solemnize an individual marriage (for a $5 fee). Once the marriage is solemnized, the officiant signs the license and mails it to the town clerk for registration, a process that can take up to two weeks. Couples will need to return to the original clerk to pick up a certified copy of the marriage license after allowing sufficient time for the registration process.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Washington, D.C. legalized domestic partnerships in 1992 for both gay and straight couples. Since 2009, the District has recognized domestic partnerships, civil unions and same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions (much like New York does); in December 2009, the City Council passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act, legalizing same-sex marriages in the District. Marriage licenses were available for issue on March 3, 2010.
The Marriage Bureau Section of the Family Court issues marriage licenses and authorizes officiants for marriages performed in the District of Columbia. To apply, couples must be at least 18 years of age and provide proof of identity at the time of application. New marriage license applications incur a $35 fee, but if the couple is already registered as domestic partners and presents their certificate, the fee is waived. In addition to providing personal information, the couple must note the name of the Justice of the Peace or clergy member who will solemnize their marriage if they choose to have a private ceremony.
Couples who are in a hurry, or want to avoid transforming into Bridezillas, can opt to schedule a civil ceremony at the time of application. Usually these ceremonies are booked two to three weeks in advance, take place at the court, and are solemnized by a court official free of charge.
After a mandatory three-day waiting period, the couple can return to the Marriage Bureau and retrieve their marriage license for a $10 fee.