How can I get married during this pandemic?

Updated May 4 2020
These bride & groom face masks are available from Etsy seller Zippered Zebra

We got this email from a reader recently: "For personal and legal reasons, we want to get married right now… but how can we get legally married during this pandemic?!"

This is a simple question, with a complicated answer… and it's going to depend a LOT on where you exactly are, and where you can get to.

To help answer the question, first I turned to the folks at American Marriage Ministries. They ordain people online, and they have a team of legal experts who chime in on how to get married in every single state. They recently wrote a post about How to Get Your Marriage License and Legally Wed During a Global Pandemic, and their advice boils down to this:

If you don’t already have your marriage license, you’ll need to contact your local marriage bureau or county clerk’s office. We recommend searching, "marriage bureau in [County Name]."

Try calling and speaking with someone first before visiting in person to check whether there are any changes to their operations or hours.

• If they're still issuing marriage licenses, ask how to quickly apply for and receive your marriage license, and what kind of timeline and delays to anticipate.

• If they're not issuing marriage licenses, politely ask for a referral to another office where you can get a marriage license.

For more information, read the full post. It's hugely useful! And we know it's possible, because we heard this from Offbeat Bride reader D'Ann:

"We did it! We got the last marriage license they gave out to people from a different county (our county stopped processing licenses) and we had the last Justice of the Peace who was performing marriages in that county marry us… Under a park shelter, in the rain, in 42 degree weather. I would have married my partner in a box, so being at a park 6 feet away from the officiant was pretty nice. Unexpected, but nice."

Can we get married online, with a virtual ceremony?

Yes — if you're in New York or California.

  • On April 18, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put forth an executive order that allowed New Yorkers to apply for marriage licenses online (previously, only in-person). That order also made it legal for clerks to conduct legal ceremonies over video conferencing.
  • On April 30th, California Governor Gavin Newsom made a similar order in California: "Under the executive order, adults will be able to obtain a marriage license, at the discretion of their local county clerk, through videoconferencing, as long as both adults are located within the State of California, are present, and can present identification during the video conference. The license can then be issued via email."

…Which is really cool and totally awesome if you live in New York or California, but for those in OTHER states, you need to be very careful with a Skype wedding. If you want someone to officiates via video chat, tread very cautiously and do your homework carefully.

Having a wedding virtually doesn't line up with many regional marriage laws, and so your marriage would be in a grey area, legally. Marriage laws and officiant registration requirements are super different depending on what state you're in (and even what county you're in, in that state!). Many states and counties' marriage laws make it so that an online / virtual wedding ceremony would NOT be legally binding.

Can we do a self-uniting wedding, without an officiant?

If you're in Pennsylvania, Colorado, or Washington DC, you may be able to have a self-uniting wedding ceremony, where you don't need an officiant. If you're in one of those states, contact your local marriage bureau and ask about a self-uniting license — or sometimes it's called a Quaker marriage license.

As Trillium Ceremonies (an officiant in Colorado) told us, "Many Colorado cities are now allowing couples to mail in marriage license applications. Once you have your license, you can self-solemnize (sign it yourselves). Officiants and witnesses are not required here."

But what if you're not in NY, PA, WA DC, or CO?

I asked Portland wedding planner Elisabeth Kramer to help me answer this question, and here were her thoughts:

Can I legally get married right now?

Yes, but it’s not easy.

First, you need to check with the county. Here in Oregon, you can get married in any county in Oregon as long as you get married in the state of Oregon. That means that if, say, you got your marriage license in Multnomah County but get married in Washington County, you’re fine. You can still use that Multnomah County license.

The whole “any county in Oregon” thing is kinda good news. Different counties are offering different options for how a couple can apply for a marriage license. For example, in Oregon’s most populous county, Multnomah County, couples can apply online and get their marriage license sent to them in the mail.

But hey, maybe that doesn’t work for you two. No problem. Google another county in Oregon and see what their deal is. This puts the work on you, I know, but if you have a very specific need — say, a hard deadline that you need to get married by — county-by-county research is going to be your best bet.

So here’s what I recommend: If you and your partner want to get legally married while shelter-in-place and similar orders for our safety are in place, the most sure-fire legal way of doing so is to be in the same space as an ordained officiant, two witnesses over the age of 18, and each other. BE SMART ABOUT THIS. Social distancing, hand-washing, flattening the curve — you know the rules right now.

I am a HUGE advocate of people getting married. It is kind of my thing and also my job. But as much as I love people getting legally wed to each other, I am a bigger fan of people not dying. So if you decide to convene the five necessary people in the same space please do so with caution and care.

Elisabeth wrote a much longer post for couples trying to get legally married right now in Oregon.


tl;dr

If you want to get legally married during this pandemic, it's time to start googling county clerks in your area, and asking them questions.

Like all things COVID, this information is bound to change rapidly. Do your research, and share what you learn in the comments!

  1. We made the decision on April 11th to postpone our June 20th wedding…the one that we've been waiting 8 and a half years for! We're contemplating getting the legal stuff done probably before July when my driver's license needs to be renewed so that I can have my new last name on it. This whole thing is causing such a headache. Thank you for this article. It's helpful when trying to weigh our options.

  2. CA governor Newsom signed an executive order yesterday to allow couples to get their marriage license over video conference and to get married with an officiant and witness(es) in attendance during a video call wedding. We're so happy!

  3. I've been engaged for 6 years and never thought we would getting around to planning something that would appease our weird families. But suddenly, faced with a situation that having rights for each other if we're sick, or anything, at least being able to use FMLA if something terrible does happen, made the urge to get married too great. I had to make a request in writing to get certified copies of my divorce, I had to fill out info online for our license and make an appointment at our county court to get our license. It took about 3 weeks in Ohio. The court civil ceremonies is backed up about 2 months… and getting married in May was important to us. American Ministries will meet us in a park next week just to sign paperwork. we will exchange rings and tie a knot in front of our camera on a tripod in a gazebo. We're getting out of holding a bigger wedding, that family from far away can't afford to come to, we don't eat cake or dance in front of people, so we're getting out of everything that we would consider uncomfortable about traditional… traditions. Our "PLAGUE WEDDING" is everything we could have wished for!

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