L. Neil Smith's
Number 284, August 15, 2004

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On Marriage and Bureaucrats
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

You know what's not easy? Planning a wedding. I'm serious. This is coming from a guy who writes about changing the world every week. I honestly think that changing the world is easy compared to planning a wedding. I came to this conclusion on a recent Thursday, when I set out to capture that most elusive of gift certificates: The Marriage License.

It all began when a girl I know told me I needed to contact the county clerk in the county where I was getting married. So I did what she told me and called up the clerk, and I said to the lady who picked up the phone, "When can I come in to get a marriage license?"

"You can't," she told me.


She went on, "You'll have to get that from the town the bride lives in. We don't do that here. Does the bride live in New Jersey?"

"No, the bride lives in Pennsylvania," I said.

"Do you live in Pennsylvania?"

"No, I'm moving to Pennsylvania. But I live in New Jersey."

"All right, you have two choices," she said. "You can get your marriage license in the town you live in, or the town where you're getting married."

So I got in touch with my fiancée, and we agreed it would be nicer—more romantic, you might say—to get the marriage license from the town where we were getting married. So I went ahead and gave that town a call.

"Does the bride live here?" they asked me.

"No, the bride lives in Pennsylvania," I said.

"Do you live in Pennsylvania?"

"No, I live a few towns over."

"Well, state law says you're supposed to get your marriage license from the town the bride lives in, unless the bride lives out of state. Then you get it from the town the groom lives in instead."

"What if the groom lives out of state, too?"

"But you don't live out of state. You live a few towns over."

"I know I do. Humor me here."

"If the bride lives out of state, and the groom lives out of state, then state law says you can get your marriage license from the town where you're getting married."

"What if I'm moving to Pennsylvania?"

"Is that where you're living?"

"No, I'm living a few towns over."

"Then that's where you've got to get your license."


Why was I getting married in New Jersey again? I was starting to forget.

So anyway, I called up the town I live in and asked about getting a marriage license, and the lady who answered the phone said, "Let me transfer you to the Department of Bridal Statistics."

"Bridal Statistics?" I said. I didn't like the sound of it. It sounds like an annual report on brides who get drunk or pregnant—who "become a statistic"—on their wedding night.

"Vital Statistics," she said.

Whatever. I still didn't like the sound of it.

"Vital Statistics," the Vital Statistician said.

"Hi. I'd like to get a marriage license."

"Are you getting married in town, sir?"

"No, I'm getting married a few towns over," I replied.

"Well, sir, I'm afraid I can't help you," she said. "You'll have to get your marriage license from the town where you're getting married."

What was I, on Candid Camera now? I was starting to get annoyed at this point. But I kept my cool. And I told her, "Listen, I just got off the phone with the town where I'm getting married, and they told me I had to call the town where I live. So that's what I did. I live here. And now you're telling me I need to call the town where I'm getting married? This doesn't make sense. State laws says I have to get my marriage license in the town where I live if I live in New Jersey and the bride lives elsewhere."

"Is that what state law says?"

"Yes, that's what state law says."

"Well, isn't it true: You learn something new every day!" she said, laughing.

I fake-laughed with her.

"Well, sir," she went on, "you and your bride will have to come in and fill out some forms. After that, there's a three-day wait. You'll need to make an appointment. What time are you free tomorrow?"

"We're not free at all," I said. "My fiancée lives in Pennsylvania. She won't be around. Can I make an appointment for Monday?"

"No, sir. I'm just covering for the woman who normally does this stuff."

"When will she be back?"


"And I can't make a Monday appointment?"

"Correct, sir. You'll have to call first thing Monday morning. If you don't get through at first, keep trying—she usually checks her messages before answering any calls."

Of course she does. Why wouldn't she.

"All right," I said. "I'll ask my fiancée to stay over on Sunday and skip work on Monday for a Monday appointment we don't even have. Now, what will we need to bring with us to prove we're in love?"

"Four things," she said, not skipping a beat. "One, a witness over the age of 18. Two, your social security cards. Three, your birth certificates. And four, valid photo IDs."

"Let me ask you something. What counts as 'valid'? Because here's the thing: My fiancée comes from New York and has a New York driver's license. Last month, it was suspended because she switched to Pennsylvania auto insurance. As far as New York's concerned, she's driving without any insurance at all. So now she needs to get a Pennsylvania license, but she can't until she gets married, because that's the only way they'll let her get one with her married name on it. So basically, she needs her new driver's license in order to get a marriage license, and a marriage license in order to get her new driver's license. This puts us in a bit of tight spot."

"Yes, sir, that's quite a predicament."

And that's where we left it. This was the best she could do.

My fiancée and I decided to chance it and head over to Vital Statistics—without an appointment—on Monday morning. We arrived the same time as the lady who runs the place. Turns out she was the nicest bureaucrat I've ever met. The most helpful, too. She didn't seem to mind the whole suspended license thing. So as you might imagine, everything went well. We signed the forms, etc., etc., and I came back three days later—the following Thursday—to pick up our wedding permission slip. In fact, by the time you read this, I'll be married and off on my honeymoon.

But I think I know now why it's harder to plan a wedding than change the world. It's because the world is finite. It's going to end someday. True love is different. It lasts forever. It has to. There's too much paperwork.

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column on politics and personal freedoms for "The Aquarian." His website is www.readjdm.com, and he can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.

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