Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The New Minnesota Marriage Law - "When Can I Get My License?"

******UPDATE****** May 31, 2013******

It appears that the Registrars of Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties have exercised their discretion interpreting the marriage law to allow applications for a marriage license between couples of the same sex be made starting June 6, 2013.  This is one of the options available to the local registrars that is discussed in the original post below.  As stated, I believe the statutes provide enough discretion with the local registrar to make this decision.  According to the StarTribune, the Hennepin County Attorney issued an opinion for the local registrar that came to this conclusion.  The process, as of today, is that an application for a license can be made on June 6, 2013 (in specific counties) and, if approved, the license can be obtained on August 1, 2013.  This approach makes sense to prevent the counties from being overwhelmed with applications on August 1.  Also, remember, as discussed below in my earlier post, a license obtained in one county is good throughout the whole State.  One issue is fulfilling the promises of mayors to hold ceremonies on August 1 at 12:01 a.m.  The service centers do not open until 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, according the StarTribune:

Asked about how the delay in issuance might affect Coleman’s plans for midnight Aug. 1 ceremonies, Burns said the county is “exploring other options for making the licenses available before 8 a.m. August 1st.”
The decision of these county registrars means those that have planned wedding events on August 1, 2013 and that weekend can move ahead with their plans.


As you may know, amendments to the Minnesota Statutes to allow same sex marriage were made into law when signed by Governor Dayton on May 14, 2013.  The law will not take effect until August 1, 2013.  Unless a new law states a different effective date, August 1 is the default for new laws taking effect.  I have received several questions about the timing of applying for a marriage license and when the ceremony can take place.  Can the license be obtained before August 1?  The question is possibly, depending on the local registrar.

Since the new law does not take effect until August 1, the current state of the law still prohibits same sex marriage.  As such, no license could be issued since it is a prohibited marriage.  Minn. Stat. §517.03.  Under Minn. Stat. §517.08, it is the duty of the local registrar to examine the parties applying for the license to ensure the marriage is allowed under the law.  There is a 5-day “waiting” period for a marriage license.  The purported purpose is to allow the registrar time to conduct the due diligence that will satisfy him or her that there are no legal impediment to issuing the license.  If the registrar knowingly issues or signs a marriage license other than as provided by Minn. Stat. §517.08 the parties aggrieved could be due damages not to exceed $1,000.

So, what does the above mean since it is a fact that the law will change August 1?

I believe the above grants the local registrar discretion.  If a same sex couple makes application the local registrar will, within the “waiting” period, review the application and representations made to ensure that the license is legal.  This could be interpreted differently by different local registrars.  One could say that since the current state of the law is a prohibition on same sex marriage that a same sex couple will have to wait until the law becomes effective on August 1.  If that is the interpretation, then applications could be made August 1 with the 5-day “waiting” period.  Meaning that the license will not be issued on the 1st.  Alternatively, a local registrar could make the determination that since the law is in fact changing August 1 that the application is valid.  If a local registrar utilizes this interpretation I believe that he or she would most likely not make the license available until the law becomes effective – 12:01 a.m., August 1, 2013.  I would think that most local registrars would be cautious, choosing the former, since there is a possible statutory damages claim if they get it wrong.  Minnesota Public Radio is also taking the position that the local registrars will be waiting until August first to accept applications.

It should be noted that if a license is granted that it may be used for up to a 6 month period anywhere in Minnesota.  Minn. Stat. §517.08.  So, if one registrar is willing to accept applications and, as a result, licenses may be issued on August 1, a couple could be married anywhere in the State.  The most likely scenario is the one described by Minnesota Public Radio - applications made on August 1 with the chance of waiving the 5-day "waiting" period.  Pursuant to Minn. Stat. §517.08,Subd. 1b(b), the 5-day “waiting” period may be waived by a judge in the case of emergency or extraordinary circumstances.  However, there are no definitions as to what constitutes an emergency or what circumstances would be extraordinary.  As such, there is no guarantee that a waiver will be granted.  Generally, I think the best bet is to plan on being able to obtain a marriage license, at the earliest, August 6, 2013.

Regardless of when an application can be made and when a license will be issued, once the law is effective and a marriage license application is made, all applications will be subject to the same rules and regulations.


  1. This blog was quoted in the City Pages. Make sure you check it out.

  2. And I am in the City Pages again