Marriage license

A marriage license is permission from a legal authority (either church or state) for the marriage of two people to be performed. The details of how licenses are obtained, and in what circumstances, has differed between countries and throughout history. Licenses to marry began in the Middle Ages, when their purpose was to give permission for a marriage which would otherwise be illegal (for instance, if the necessary period of notice for the marriage had not been given). However, in some modern jurisdictions they have become a statutory requirement for a marriage to take place and may even serve as the record of the marriage itself. In others, valid marriages can occur without a license (for example, in places where licenses are not mandatory, in cases where a couple obtain a pardon for having married without license, or in jurisdictions permitting common law marriage, by cohabitation and representation as spouse and spouse).

Marriage licences in the UK

In England and Wales, the Church introduced the practice of "calling the banns" in 1215. This involved the public announcement of a forthcoming marriage, in the couple's parish church, for three Sundays, prior to the event, and gave an opportunity for any objections to the marriage to be voiced (for example, if one of the parties was already married).

In the 14th century marriage licences were introduced, allowing this usual notice period to be waived, on payment of a fee and accompanied by a sworn declaration that there was no legal impediment to the marriage. Licences were usually granted by an archbishop, bishop or archdeacon. There could be a number of reasons for a couple to obtain a licence: they might wish to marry quickly (and avoid the three weeks' delay incurred by the calling of banns); they might wish to marry in a parish away from their home parish; or, because a licence required payment, they might choose to obtain one as a status symbol.

There were two kinds of marriage licence that could be issued: the usual was known as a common licence and named one or two parishes where the wedding could take place, within the jurisdiction of the person who issued the licence. The other was the special licence, which could only be granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, or his officials, and allowed the marriage to take place in any church.

To obtain a marriage licence the couple, or more usually the bridegroom, had to swear that there was no just cause or impediment why they should not marry. This was the marriage allegation. A bond was also lodged with the church authorities for a sum of money to be paid if it turned out that the marriage was contrary to Canon Law. The bishop kept the allegation and bond and issued the licence to the groom, who then gave it to the vicar of the church where they were to get married. There was no obligation for the vicar to keep the licence, and many were simply destroyed. Hence, few historical examples of marriage licences in England and Wales survive. However, the allegations and bonds were usually retained and are an important source for English genealogy.

Hardwicke's Marriage Act 1753 affirmed this existing ecclesiastical law and built it into statutory law. From this date, a marriage was only legally valid if it followed the calling of banns in church, or the obtaining of a licence-the only exceptions being Jewish and Quaker marriages, whose legality was also recognised.

Since 1837, civil marriages have been a legal alternative to church marriages so, today, a couple has a choice between being married in the Anglican Church, after the calling of banns or obtaining a licence, or else they can give "Notice of Marriage" to a civil registrar. In this latter case, the notice is publicly posted for 15 days, after which a civil marriage can take place. Marriages may take place in churches other than Anglican churches, but these are governed by civil marriage law and notice must be given to the civil registrar in the same way. The marriage may then take place without a registrar being present if the church itself is registered for marriages and the minister or priest is an Authorised Person for marriages.

The licence does not record the marriage itself, only the permission for a marriage to take place. Since 1837, the proof of a marriage has been by a marriage certificate, issued at the ceremony; before then, it was by the recording of the marriage in a parish register.

Marriage law and practice in Scotland differs from that in England and Wales. Historically, it was always considered legal and binding for a couple to marry by making public promises, without a formal ceremony. Church marriages "without proclamation" are somewhat analogous to the English "marriages by licence" although licences were not formally issued in Scotland. However, in modern times the English and Scottish systems have been brought into line: all legal marriages in Scotland take place according to a similar system to that for English civil marriages.

Marriage licenses in the United States

Every state in the United States issues marriage licenses. After the marriage ceremony, both spouses and the officiant sign the marriage license (some states require a witness). The officiant or couple then files for a certified copy of the marriage license and a marriage certificate with the government.

The requirements for getting a marriage license vary between state governments. In general, however, both parties must appear in person at the time the license is obtained, be over 18 years old (persons as young as 15 or 16 may get married in some states with the consent of a parent; parental consent for the marriage of a minor may be waived in the case of pregnancy), present proper identification (typically a driver's license, birth certificate, or passport, more documentation may be required for those born outside of the United States), and neither must be married to anyone else (proof of spouse's death or divorce may be required for the previously married in some states).

Many U.S. states require a waiting period of 1-6 days, and some still require verification via blood testing that the applicants are not carrying syphilis, a sexually-transmitted disease. As of 2008, the District of Columbia, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Montana all require blood tests (Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, and Massachusetts have all eliminated blood testing requirements in the last few years). A marriage is not valid if the ceremony is performed and the parties do not have a marriage license.

International human rights law and many constitutions guarantee the right to marry the partner of one's choice. The rationale for marriage licenses in U.S. states is that the state has an overriding right, on behalf of all citizens, to protect them from disease or improper/illegal marriages; to keep accurate state records; or even to ensure that marriage partners have had adequate time to think carefully before marrying, in the interests of the larger social welfare.


For most of Western history, marriage was a private contract between two families. For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple's wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows - even without witnesses - the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married. State supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. The concept of a Marriage License was introduced in the 1920s, when 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, mulattos, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Mongolians, Malays or Filipinos without a state approved license.Taking Marriage Private - New York Times Thus the institution of marriage was fundamentally changed. The private contract was exchanged for a public contract and the State entered as a new third party in the marriage contract.


Black's Law Dictionary defines "license" as, "The permission by competent authority to do an act which without such permission [...] would be illegal." The authority to license implies the power to prohibit . A license by definition "confers a privilege" to do something. By allowing the state to exercise control over marriage, it is implied that we do not have a right to marry; marriage is a privilege. Those born in the US receive a birth certificate, not a birth license. Most would object to a birth license as it would imply that people must gain permission to be born. Following that same logic, many refuse to accept a marriage license and exercise their right to marry without obtaining permission from the state.

Some groups believe that needing to obtain a marriage license from the State in order to be married is unnecessary or immoral. The Libertarian Party, for instance, believes that all marriages should be civil, not requiring sanction from the State. Some Christian groups also feel that, since marriage is believed to be a contract between two people and God, no authorization from the State is required.

In 1993, parents in Wisconsin became upset because a test was being administered to their children in the government schools which was very invasive of the family's privacy. When parents complained, they were shocked by the school bureaucrats who informed them that their children were required to take the test by law and that they would have to take the test because they (the government school) had jurisdiction over their children. When parents asked the bureaucrats what gave them jurisdiction, the bureaucrats answered, "your marriage license and their birth certificates." Judicially, and in increasing fashion, practically, a state marriage license has far-reaching implications.

See also

External links

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

This article is based on "Marriage license" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia ( It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: