Waive the Wait
Navigating the laws in states that issue same-sex marriage licenses


You might have heard Iowa, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. have a waiting period between filing for and receiving a marriage license. Here’s how to not let that cramp the out-of-state couple’s style.

Pro: Unlike Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, the other three U.S. locations that allow same-sex couples to legally marry (Iowa, Massachusetts and D.C.) have conveniently large, centrally located airports for out-of-state same-sex couples to fly into and get hitched.

Con: These three states also require a waiting period of at least three business days between the moment they file the paperwork and when the state grants them their official license. For many couples, this means scheduling complicated travel plans and spending more on food and hotel fare.

But it may not be necessary—as long as couples stay informed on where they plan to tie the knot. Concord, Mass., for instance, now lets couples apply for a marriage license online and pick it up later, eliminating the week-long wait. In Iowa, couples can print off a marriage application form from most county recorders’ websites, fill it out, have their signatures notarized where they live and then mail it back in ahead of time. Then, three days after the registrar receives the paperwork, just one partner needs to travel to Iowa and pick up the certificate. “This has always been a good way for opposite-sex couples who live out-of-state to handle the three-day waiting period, and it has been helpful to same-sex couples from out-of-state as well,” says Kim Painter, the Johnson County Recorder in Iowa. The Superior Court of D.C.’s Marriage Bureau uses a similar process, with a printable mail-in form and in-person pick-up.

While applying by mail may be the simplest solution to avoiding the hassles of waiting, couples who don’t trust mail or who wish to marry in a hurry can always apply for a judge to waive the waiting period. Painter discourages it in Johnson County, because the court system often becomes so backed up that couples cannot rely on the waiver to get them in and out of Iowa in one day. Exceptional situations that would and should require a same-day waiver, she says, are couples with one partner in the military. “Certainly, troops being deployed have come in to get married quickly,” she says.

Kim Wright, the acting court administrator for Massachusetts’ Middlesex County Probate and Family Court, says that even though whether the waiver is granted is left entirely up to the judge, all kinds of reasons can fly—from one critically ill partner who wishes to marry quickly to general time constraints. “It can be in most times waived for the simple reason that people are out-of-state,” says Wright. “Or one party lives here and the other doesn’t, and both parties have to be present.”

Despite Massachusetts’ leniency with waiving the wait, however, their waiver application fees tower over Iowa’s. Couples on a budget would fare better in The Corn State.

Breakdown of waiver process:

District Court waiver application fee: $195
Or Probate Court waiver application fee: $85
Research the courthouse hours for the particular district in which the city or town where you plan to marry is located. Plan to arrive no later than 3 p.m. to apply for a same-day waiver.

County Registrar waiver application fee: $5
Couple is responsible for locating a judge, and only “cases of emergency or extraordinary circumstances” are allowable.

Washington, D.C.
The wait is mandatory, so best to apply by mail. “By law, three full days must pass between the day of application to the day that the license can be issued.”—www.dccourts.gov