Marriage License

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A document, issued by a public authority (usually a county clerk), that grants a couple seeking to marry the permission to do so.

The requirements to obtain a marriage license vary by state, but they usually include valid identification, an application, and a fee. Once issued, licenses are effective until the couple obtains their marriage certificate, or between a month and a year after issuance – at either point which the license expires.

Only certain people (usually those involved in hetero- or homo-sexual relationships between consenting adults) can obtain marriage licenses. Individuals seeking to marry animals, for example, cannot obtain a license to do so in any state.

Marriage licenses have historically used gender-specific nouns like “bride” and “groom” to describe spouses. However, gender-neutral licenses have increased in popularity since the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

Relevant terms:

Civil union

Domestic partners

Equal protection


Marriage certificate

Same-sex marriage

[Last updated in August of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]