To elope, most literally, merely means to run away with intention of getting married. More specifically, elopement is often used to refer to a marriage conducted in sudden and secretive fashion, usually involving hurried flight away from one's place of residence.

In England, a legal prerequisite of marriage was the "reading of the banns" - for the three Sundays prior to the intended date of their ceremony, the names of every couple intending marriage had to be read aloud by the priest(s) of their parish(es) of residence. The intention of this was to prevent bigamy or other unlawful marriages by giving fair warning to anybody who might have a legal right to objectFamily Chronicle - Marriage Customs. In practice, however, it also gave warning to the couples' parents, who sometimes objected on purely personal grounds. To contravene this law, it was necessary to get a special license from the Archbishop of Canterbury - or to flee somewhere the law did not apply, across the border to Scotland, for instance.

In the United States marriage law can differ from state to state, which sometimes leads couples to cross state lines to be married. Some states, for example, require blood tests or waiting periods before marriage; a couple wishing to wed quickly (before, usually, their parents could object) might travel to a state without such a rule. In the musical Guys and Dolls, for instance, a police officer suggests that Nathan Detroit and Adelaide, his fiancée of fourteen years, elope to Elkton, Maryland, which does not require a blood test. Civil rights have also been at issue- in many states interracial marriage was once illegal, which led to elopements. More recently, the possibility of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts has once again raised the question of whether all states recognize each other's marriages.

Today the term "elopement" is colloquially used for any marriage performed in haste or in secret with no guests; it is even sometimes used for well-attended and elaborately-planned marriages which occur away from home.

See also

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