We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
“We should have just gone to Vegas.”
That’s what all my married friends said just about the time the mother of the bride had an aneurysm two hours before their wedding service because the monogrammed napkins at the wedding reception didn’t match the colors in her daughter’s bouquet. It’s also the advice everybody offers when you want to get married in a jiffy, without all the fuss and muss. In Vegas, they don’t ask too many questions, and you’re in and out in the time it takes to get an oil change. No blood test, no lengthy license application procedure. All you have to do is show up.
My girlfriendoh, I mean my wifeand I recently decided to tie the knot. We had carefully weighed the unyielding commitment articulated by the sacred vows of holy matrimony. We had considered the respect available to mature couples only through the recognition of their perennial bond by a municipal government. And we had finally decided to get hitched over a plate of chili fries at the American City Diner.
I remember it as if was yesterday. I had grilled cheese; my wife, a Reuben with extra sauerkraut.
Neither of us, however, wanted to have a big wedding. Don’t get me wrong, we still wanted the gifts: blenders and dishware and sharp, shiny knives. But we were willing to forgo it all just to get it over with fast, kind of like an inoculation. I had seen The Wedding Singer, and it had really scared me.
Besides, our parents and other relatives in our families have been divorced and remarried and divorced and remarried so many times that just the regular seasonal holidays have become a nerve-wracking exercise in diplomacy. In our families, warring factions draw their Christmas battle lines in early September, vying for precious hours with children and stepchildren before the other side gets its shot. Just imagine the stakes if we had opted to throw a big hullabaloo. We decided that to avoid a potential nuclear catastrophe, nobody would be invited. I guess we just figured it might shatter the mood if somebody started chucking plates at his former spouse during a tender moment at our wedding reception.
So, in the interest of unconventionality, chic, and a brazen commitment to true laziness, we decided to go to city hall.
That, of course, was about when we decided to maybe think about heading out of town for the service. When I finally got an actual human being from the D.C. government on the line willing to give us the lowdown, the requirements seemed pretty cumbersome, to boot. In the District, the loving couple must first receive blood testsfor syphilis, of all thingsfrom an independent physician. On the basis of the results, the physician must fill out a “blue form.” The District employee who helped us was unable to describe this form in any way other than by referring to it by color. “It’s the blue form,” she insisted. OK. Said blue form must then be presented to city officials, and only then may the couple apply for a marriage license. After that license is approved, there is a 10-day waiting period. And after the waiting period, the couple can schedule a civil ceremony at which a judge administers the vows.
I’m guessing there is some standing in line involved, as well. You see, it’s kind of like preparing to go to the DMV, but you’re getting married. “We might as well get married at the National Cathedral,” my wife said.
And then we thought the unthinkable. What about that land mass south of us? What about going to Virginia? I mean, they have all those conservative governors down there. The roads are named after Confederates. You can carry a gun on the floor of the Capitol in Richmond. Sprawl is encouraged. Surely the bastion of all things American must want peopleat least straight peopleto tie the knot.
We did a little research. And guess what? The Commonwealth of Virginia is the new Las Vegas. The only difference between getting married in Vegas and getting married in Arlington is that in Arlington, you can’t get married by Elvisyet.
According to the clerk at the Arlington County Courthouse, here’s the deal: Show up during normal business hours with valid identification from any state in the union, fill out a short form, and minutes later you’re man and wife. That’s it. Nothing else. You don’t even need witnesses. “Too good to be true,” I said.
Now, in all fairness, it turns out that the government in Maryland isn’t particularly interested in complicating a couple’s matriculation to the higher realm of earthly commitment, either. But you do still have to apply for the marriage license in person at the courthouse, and after that license is approved you have to schedule a civil ceremony for a separate day. And you have to drive to Rockville on the pikea voyage that makes organizing a church wedding for 500 guests look simple.
On a crisp January day, I left my desk at work sometime after lunch. “I’ll be right back,” I told my boss. And my girlfriend and I crossed the bridge into a blissful new life, our relationship to be cemented in law by the provincial powers that govern the grounds of Monticello.
After a stiff shot of bourbon, we rolled into the Arlington courthouse and walked into the marriage license bureau. We immediately presented our identification and filled out a six-line, index-card-sized form. The license was immediately “approved.”
Minutes later, we were ushered across the street to our “marriage celebrant,” who administered our vows. There, in a small beige room under fluorescent lights, we recited a couple of short, nondenominational statements about only death parting us, and it was over. “Don’t forget to pay the $30 on your way out,” our marriage celebrant said. During our service, the clerk in the next room had typed up our two-line marriage certificate. I paid. We were married.
Virginia really is for lovers.
But interestingly, in my research I also learned that reversing the marriage process in the commonwealth is somewhat more complicated than the original procedure would seem to indicate. First of all, the Arlington courthouse doesn’t even have a divorce license bureau to expedite the transition to legal freedom. In fact, I was referred to the Virginia Bar Association for legal counsel.
It turns out that the legal bar for divorce in Virginia is set pretty high. Couples check in, but they don’t check out. For instance, if you aren’t a Virginia resident, the commonwealth isn’t interested in your marital difficulties. You must prove that you have been a legal resident in the state for at least six months, according to the Fairfax Domestic Relations Court. Then, if you don’t have children, you must prove that you have been separated for at least six months before you can break the bonds forged before God and your marriage celebrant. If you do have children, Virginia is going to need proof that you have been separated for at least a year. “You are strongly encouraged to hire an attorney,” counsels the court’s divorce information packet.
All in all, Virginia may be great for hurry-up hitchings, but it’s still way behind Nevada when it comes to the easy road to splitsville. I guess Virginians have a reason to visit Las Vegas, after all. CP