Why should you wait five days to get married in Minnesota?

There are probabably dozens of laws in Minnesota that exist and nobody knows why. One of them is about to fall.

Minnesota is one of two states that requires you to wait once you sign an application for a marriage license. We’re not exactly sure what’s supposed to happen in the five days between the time you ask for permission to be married and the time the state says “OK.” But neither does anyone else, apparently.

Nonetheless, 15 legislators found a reason to vote against lifting the waiting period time, although they were overwhelmed today by 115 members of the House of Representatives who voted for a bill eliminating the waiting period. The legislation now moves to the Senate.

“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,” Mark Chapin, Hennepin County auditor-treasurer and director of licensing, told a House committee in March.

“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.

Chapin said many people who apply for a marriage license in Hennepin County didn’t know there was a waiting period and wanted to get married that day. Less frequently, he said, there are health issues. “Somebody might be dying and they want it more quickly than what the law currently provides.”

Currently, anyone who wants a waiver of the waiting period has to go to a judge and ask him/her to sign the waiver. “In some jurisdictions that might be somewhat easy,” Chapin said, indicating Hennepin County is an exception. “If you’re in Maple Grove and you want your license today, you need to come to the Government Center… go weapons screening, find the signing judge… get the signature, head back to Maple Grove and then the clerk can issue the license. It’s burdensome,” he said.

“It would make everything so much easier from an individual standpoint,” Felicia Glass-Wilcox, who owns the Chapel of Love at the Mall of America, told the same hearing. “We’re all adults; we should have the right to get married when we want to, not when the government says we can.”

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, who says she volunteers at a homeless shelter, said she knows a homeless couple who wanted to get married but because they don’t have a home address, they couldn’t get married.

Rep. John Lesch, a staff officer in the National Guard, says he “has plenty of privates” who get married just before being deployed. “They knew they were getting deployed and right before deployment, they either get talked into getting married by their significant other into getting married or talk thei significant other into getting married, and it’s one of the worst decisions they ever made,” he said at the March hearing.

  • Kassie

    What Rep. Lesch doesn’t point out is that there are plenty of people without the urgency of deployment who spend months planning their weddings and it is still the worst decision they ever made.

    • No more entries, please. We have our Tweet of the Day.

    • MrE85

      We made the decision to wait when I was deployed overseas. It was hard being apart for so long, but a good test of our commitment. It was our call, not the state’s.

    • boB from WA

      Which reminds me of this joke: So a farm boy from Minnesota [by the name of Sven] was in the Army, and just before being deployed he met and married a waitress from the big city. She said she would keep the farm going until he returned. But a month later, when he was overseas, he got a letter: “Dear Sven, we made a mistake. I’m going back to my ex. I’m sorry to hurt you. Yours, Trixie. PS, I am taking the tractor.” Poor Sven, just received a John Deere letter.

  • MrE85

    I don’t know if the National Guard works like the regular Army, but there married soldiers earn considerably more than unmarried soldiers doing the same job.

    UPDATE: While there are still some differences, it’s not at all like when I served. http://www.military.com/benefits/military-pay/military-enlisted-pay-breakdown.html

    • Really? Why?

      • MrE85

        I had co-workers ask the same recently. The Army realized that families could not get by on what E-4s were paid (about $7,000 a year in 1983), so married solders got paid more — a lot more. When I wrote an opinion piece in the Ft. Belvoir base paper noting this was unfair, I was told by my CO I would never write another op/ed in that paper again. He was right. Interestingly, I was shipped out to the 1st Armored Division a month later.

        • MrE85

          The idea was that married volunteer soldiers were more likely to remain in service for the full 20 years or so….

          • Mike Worcester

            I would have thought the opposite; that single service people being they had no ties or obligations would stay in longer. Interesting.

          • MrE85

            It’s not an easy life, but for many military families, it’s the life they know. http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/in-plain-sight/hungry-heroes-25-percent-military-families-seek-food-aid-n180236

            Note this from the story link: “A 2012 survey of nearly 1,000 post 9/11-era veterans in Minnesota found that 27 percent were experiencing food insecurity, with about half of them in more dire straits. Both numbers were nearly double that of the national average, according to the survey by the University of Minnesota and the VA Health Care System in Minneapolis.”

  • Mike Worcester

    How does this square with the “I really do” law that our legislature passed a few years back in an attempt to cut down on the divorce rate?


    • I don’t think it changes it. It doesn’t require anything; it just rebates a $50 fee if you go get 12 hours of counseling.

  • Jerry

    My wife and I ran into this when we got married last year. We live out of state right now, but we had our wedding back home in Minnesota with our families. Not only is there a five-day waiting period, but both parties have to show up _in person_ to file the application before the waiting period starts. We had to fly in a week early just to sign that stupid form. I don’t have any comment about the waiting period itself—we planned our wedding long in advance—but the red tape was ridiculous.

    • jon

      We got married legally in MN, instead of WI where my wife’s family is.
      We did a service in WI but legally we were married in a bar on a Tuesday night in Ramsey county… Reverend was ordained by the universal life church…

  • Many of these laws were passed in the early 20th century (~1900 to 1940) at the same time as there was growing concern about “companionate marriage” and related changes in how couples were meeting and getting married — basically people were getting married for love rather than familial ties and suggestion. The idea was to stall impulsive marriages. Minnesota was by no means unusual in having such a law, either within the US or internationally; though five days was on the longer end.

  • lindblomeagles

    This law represents “the culture wars.” When this law was first passed, Minnesotans (Americans even) tended to avoid moving from place to place. The job was usually in town and not that far from your dwelling. The 21st Century just doesn’t function that way. Minnesotans now commute great distances for their jobs, they move, sometimes to far away states, when the job tells them too, and just about every form of communication arrives and departs digitally. Behaviorally speaking, we’re now used to and comfortable with difficulty taking off work, completing forms online, and being present for people ON OUR terms, not the terms of friends, family members, or services. In fact, when this law was passed, most of us corresponding on this very blog, would have sent Bob a carefully constructed letter, probably typed, and in a cheap envelope with a stamp costing less than a quarter at the top of it. Bob, for his part, would be in his office, opening and reading all those letters, in the hopes of choosing the best letters to insert in the local paper. That’s how far we’ve really come culturally, and that’s why this law doesn’t quite fit our regimen anymore.