What's a Marriage License Anyway?
It might seem strange at first, but you need governmental approval to get married. A marriage license is just that: written permission for two people to enter into a marriage. Once you've decided to get married and decided upon where and when you'll get married, it's time to apply for your marriage license. Some are simple type written forms while others are downright works of art; either way, this is an important keepsake.
Getting a marriage license isn't too difficult, you'll just need to get a few documents together and go along with your fiance to your jurisdiction's marriage bureau. Typically the marriage office is located at the county courthouse. Check the marriage bureau's website or give them a call to get their exact requirements for documents and fee. Every county (or sometimes city) will have a slightly different process, but it will be a good idea to have the following handy:
Photo IDs. You will need to be able to prove you are who you say you are and that you are of legal age to marry. Grab your driver's' license, passport, military ID. or similar.
Officiant's name. Some jurisdictions word their marriage licenses as a letter to your officiant granting permission to conduct the wedding. If your jurisdiction does this, you will need his or her name.
Wedding location. You may need to give the location of the wedding. This is so the marriage bureau can verify that the ceremony will take place in their jurisdiction.
Previous marriage documents. If you have previously married or in a domestic partnership, you will likely need to establish that you are no longer. Bring a copy of the decree dissolving the previous union, if applicable. If you and your fiance have previously registered as domestic partners, you may need a copy of the document establishing it (but you usually don't need anything ending the domestic partnership since the marriage does that).
Parents' information. You might be asked about your parents' names, ages or birth dates, and place of residence.
Payment. You will likely need to pay a fee for your license (some jurisdictions waive this for couples who were registered as domestic partners prior to marriage equality). Bring a means of payment accepted by the marriage bureau.
A few jurisdictions allow you to file the application for a marriage license online, but even so, you will need to appear in person to show your IDs. Once you get to the marriage bureau you will meet with a clerk who will assist you in applying.
Be aware of dates. Ask how long you must wait after being granted the marriage license before the ceremony. Marriage licenses sometimes have an expiration date. Just make sure that your license will be valid on the day of the ceremony.
After the ceremony, get that baby signed! Your officiant will sign the license, attesting that the ceremony took place and that you are now wed. Usually, you will also need a witness or two as well; their signatures corroborate that you are indeed married.
The last step is filing the completed license with the marriage bureau. Some jurisdictions have very particular procedures for this (like the couple must hand deliver it or the office doesn't accept FedEx, go figure), but usually your officiant will mail it back. When you mail it, get tracking! And make sure it gets mailed by the deadline.