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Married in Minnesota: A look at history of state’s law and amendments

Photo use courtesy Darin and Krista Broton. Photograph by Andrew VonBank
Photo use courtesy Darin and Krista Broton. Photograph by Andrew VonBank

Married or not, many couples in Minnesota are aware that there are laws and state-mandated procedures attached to receiving an official marriage certificate.

While news in recent years has focused on same-sex marriage, there still remains an obstacle in the books that hinders all couples wishing to begin their journey in marital bliss – a mandated five-day waiting period between the filing of an application, and its possible issuance by a local registrar.

Minnesota is one of only two states that mandates the waiting period. The other, Wisconsin, ties Minnesota for the longest wait in the nation.

HF2294, which awaits action on the House Floor, would eliminate the current wait for otherwise qualified couples.

Why does Minnesota require a waiting period? How has marriage law changed over the years? The answers aren’t always so clear.

Marriage many years ago

The civil contract of marriage first arrived as law in Minnesota in Chapter 70 of the Revised Laws, which took effect on March 1, 1906. According to the provision, “Every male person who has attained the full age of eighteen years, and every female who has attained the age of fifteen years, is capable in law of contracting marriage, if otherwise competent.”

Gov. Mark Dayton signs the marriage equality bill into law on the steps of the State Capitol. House Photography file photo

The amendment requiring a five-day wait period between the application and issuance of a marriage license first appeared more than two decades later in 1931.

According to Mark Chapin, Hennepin County auditor-treasurer and director of licensing, no concrete evidence linking the reasoning as to why the amendment first appeared, or how the length was chosen, can be found in legislative records.

“We couldn’t find any stenographers notes as to why the legislators in 1931 thought they should have this provision on the law; it had not existed since we became a state,” Chapin told the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee March 10.

“Our suspicion is during that time marriages went down dramatically during the Great Depression. There was a lot of concern about whether people could support their marriage vows,” Chapin said.

Whatever the main motive at the time, the provision would remain, and still does to this day.

Past provisions

As decades passed, perhaps the most notable amendment to take effect in regards to marriage was the 2013 law that made marriage gender laws neutral in the state of Minnesota.

The issue of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples had been heavily debated on a national level for many years prior.

For decades individual states took their own legal approaches, some allowing civil unions in lieu of marriage, and with others outright banning any same-sex union altogether.

Nationally, decades of contention came to a head in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 vote that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right. Currently all 50 states must abide by the decision.

Current conundrum

In an effort to streamline the marriage application process in Minnesota, HF2294 would allow a local registrar to approve the license immediately upon application, pending other legal requirements such as age. All other legal requirements of marriage would remain the same.

House Photography file photo

The bill would also eliminate the need for couples to apply for a judicial waiver, which currently can make couples exempt to the waiting period. The process of approval through a judge is often burdensome on those applying, and is nearly always approved anyways.

“[The bill] eliminates an unnecessary step of government bureaucracy, and gives more freedom back to the people of Minnesota; it’s a perfect example of making our state government more efficient and responsive to the needs of residents,” said Rep. Dennis Smith (R-Maple Grove), who sponsors the bill. A companion, SF1753, sponsored by Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“There’s no valid reason that two adults should, by law, have to wait five days to be married,” he said.

The current application and waiver process, it is argued, also creates superfluous work for government staff. On average, Hennepin County issues more than 9,000 marriage licenses annually.

Smith maintains that the bill would not allow any sort of “on-demand” weddings, such as those made notorious in Las Vegas.

“This wouldn’t create ‘shotgun-weddings.’ People still need a marriage license, and to find an official to perform the actual marriage,” Smith said.

Chapel of Love, offering weddings inside the Mall of America for over two decades, has seen firsthand the effects that the five-day waiting period has had on both its business and on couples.

“[The waiting period is always] burdensome. A lot of people don’t realize that they have to have a marriage license, and it’s very frustrating to them,” said Felicia Glass-Wilcox, who has owned the business for 11 years. She estimates they perform 300-350 weddings a year, with 60-70 percent of them being local couples.

Glass-Wilcox ultimately agrees that a passage of HF2294 into law wouldn’t create more business, but would instead make business that would have already happened, happen easier.

“It would make everything so much easier from an individual standpoint,” she said. “We’re all adults; we should have the right to get married when we want to, not when the government says we can.”

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