Why Must People Get a Marriage License?

In the United States, marriage is considered to be a legal relationship from which specific legal rights and responsibilities arise. Accordingly, most states require a prospective married couple to obtain a marriage license. The notion of a marriage license is somewhat new, but the regulation of marriage by a powerful authority has existed since the early days of human civilization.

The History of Marriage Licenses

The notion of marriage—or similar ideas—is somewhat universal, with many cultures and societies recognizing it in some form or another. Fundamentally, marriage involves a union between two individuals who pool their resources together and share responsibilities primarily related to procreation and childrearing.

Many ancient societies viewed marriage like a business transaction, uniting two families and their resources with the prospect of promoting their collective security and wellbeing.

Marriage was often governed by the rules and customs of a particular culture. For example, early Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures regulated marriage through religious institutions that served a more governmental purpose that they do in contemporary American society.

In the time of Colonial America, marriage was considered a private matter authorized by the church. Licenses were primarily used to ensure that a marriage complied with religious rules and values, such as prohibitions against bigamy, incest, and homosexuality.

After the American Revolution, states used marriage licenses as a method of racial segregation. By the dawn of the 20th Century, many states had antimiscegenation laws that prohibited interracial marriage. After the civil rights movement, most states repealed such laws.

Today, marriage licenses primarily serve an administrative or evidentiary function for legal purposes. However, the use of marriage licenses remains a way of subjecting people to the prevailing political and societal trends surrounding the marital relationship—most notably in prohibiting same-sex marriage until 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down such laws as unconstitutional in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Legislative Efforts Against Marriage Licenses

In some states, there is a growing movement against marriage licenses. In 2019, Alabama was the first state to do away with marriage licenses and the requirement to have a wedding ceremonies. Now, couples in Alabama will receive a certificate of marriage that must be notarized and delivered to a county probate judge’s office to be recorded. This new process removes judicial discretion in authorizing a marriage.

Alabama’s new law did not pass without controversy. Opponents to the new law argue that the law gives Alabama probate judges legal cover for holding personal prejudices toward same-sex couples. Alabama’s probate judges continued to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell.

Consult Scaringi Law for Legal Representation

At Scaringi Law, our team of skilled and dedicated attorneys has experience with cases involving family law. As a full-service law firm, we provide legal representation for a wide-range of family law issues, including the validity of marriages. 

To schedule a free consultation about your case, call us at (717) 775-7195 or contact our office online today.

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