The process for getting married in Massachusetts basically requires an
eligible couple to submit an application for a license and pay a fee to any city
or town clerk in Massachusetts. After a three-day waiting period (unless it has
been waived by a court), the couple will receive the license from the clerk,
and must then have the marriage solemnized (i.e., have a ceremony in
Massachusetts) within 60 days of filing the application. Once the ceremony
has been performed, the person who performed it will state the time and place
of the wedding on the license, sign it, and send it back to the city or town
where the couple received it. The clerk will then register the marriage and the
couple can receive an official certificate of their marriage.
Massachusetts does not have a residency requirement for marriage, but until
July 31, 2008 an old law dating back to 1913 was used to deny marriage
licenses to same-sex couples from most other states unless they intended to
reside in Massachusetts. On July 31, 2008 Governor Patrick signed into law a
bill that repealed this so-called “1913 law,” and effective immediately on that
date same-sex couples from anywhere in the country or world can legally
marry in Massachusetts without having an intent to reside in Massachusetts.
Although this is great news, couples should be aware that whether the
marriage will be respected in their home state or country is a complicated
issue. In addition, because of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, the
marriages of same-sex couples are not respected by the federal government,
and so same-sex couples are not allowed access to the 1,138 federal laws that
pertain to marriage. Also, should the couple at some point wish to end the
marriage, unless the couple lives in a state or country which does respect the
marriage, it may not be possible to dissolve the marriage until one member of
the couple moves to a place that does respect the marriage and lives there long
enough to meet that state or country’s residency requirement for divorce.
The detailed process for getting married in Massachusetts, whether you
should enter a marriage, and what it all means are questions this publication is
meant to address. Inevitably, you will have questions to which there are
simply no definitive answers at this time. We will continue to update our
publications as new developments occur over time.