How Quickly Can Same-Sex Couples Marry?

by Melanie Schmitz

Now the Supreme Court has made history by ruling same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, there are plenty of questions still up in the air. Now the court has ruled in favor of gay marriage, a host of important legislation will be affected, including spousal benefits, the right of same-sex couples to legally adopt, and tax and social security filings. Perhaps the most important question plaguing the LGBT crowd, however, doesn't revolve around the minutiae, but how soon same-sex couples can get married following a favorable SCOTUS ruling. So just how quickly can you and your partner head down to the courthouse to get hitched?

If past rulings are any indication, you should be able to pop into the (likely crowded) office and start filling in paperwork immediately. Following a 2014 ruling by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, III, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in Pennsylvania for example, couples were advised that they would be able to apply for marriage licenses immediately.

"Under Pennsylvania law, there is a three-day waiting period after the application is submitted before the Register of Wills can issue a marriage license," explained the ACLU in May that year. "[But] you can ask a judge to grant you a waiver if there are exceptional circumstances that make it urgent for you to get married right away."

In California, muddied circumstances in the wake of the 2008 Proposition 8 gay-marriage ban (which was voted into law by a majority of just over 50 percent of the population) as well as years of back and forth between lower courts and SCOTUS rulings finally gave way in 2013. After an emergency stay of same-sex marriage was requested by the Ninth Circuit Court in June, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy struck down the plea, giving couples the right to marry.

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Within hours of Kennedy's decision, California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered county courts to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state's counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California," said Brown in a statement, "as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted."

Due to the legal intricacies of ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, however, it's possible that challengers at a state level will be able to put up a fight, further complicating the matter for those couples looking to wed immediately.

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In February, a federal court cleared the way for same-sex couples to be married in Alabama — and it didn't take long for proponents of traditional marriage to take action. By early March, that decision had been reversed at the state level. On March 3, the Alabama Supreme Court struck down the federal decision and ordered probate judges to halt issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for 'marriage' between only one man and one woman," wrote the court Justices in a 134-page dissent. "Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law [and] nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty."

By May, a second mandate was issued by federal Judge Callie Granade, declaring the legality of same-sex marriage and giving gay couples the right to marry, although she later put the ruling on a temporary hold, pending the SCOTUS decision. It was a blur of confusing legal jargon for those partners who simply wanted to tie the knot.

With the upcoming (and hopefully conclusive) SCOTUS ruling due out any day, same-sex couples can at least take comfort in the finality of what has been a long and twisted path to equality.

"Either we’re going to be legally recognized or we’re not," said Ohio resident Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, 35, in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch in May. "I'm ready to be done trying to get people to recognize our marriage — I want all of our efforts to be positive."

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