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My fiance and I are a same-sex couple. We live in Denver, Colorado. If we get a marriage license elsewhere, can we hold the ceremony here?
Confused by US Laws
Like you, I am also confused by the weirdness of U.S. state and federal laws regarding same-sex marriage, which is why I contacted the lovely Kathryn Hamm, President of GayWeddings.com for this one. Thankfully, she agreed to act as a guest columnist this week! And now, here’s Kathryn!
Kathryn Hamm, President of GayWeddings.com: Congratulations on your engagement! This is truly an exciting time nationwide as so many same-sex couples are now able to enjoy marriage equality in their home states. (Currently 17 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.)
As you are most likely aware, your home state of Colorado presents its own interesting legal landscape. In 2013, couples in Colorado became eligible for Civil Unions — a relationship status that grants many of the same benefits as marriage, but is not considered to be the same as marriage. Thus, though same-sex couples have access to the benefits of civil unions in Colorado, they do not have access to the same federal rights (including tax programs and other benefits) to which other same-sex couples who have married in one of those 17 states or DC have access.
From a legal standpoint, you would, like so many other couples, benefit from traveling to a marriage equality state. (Only 46% of same-sex couples who got hitched in 2012 married in their home states!) But, just as the federal government doesn’t recognize Civil Unions as marriage, neither does Colorado recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.
Quite the conundrum! It’s really no surprise that almost all of the remaining non-marriage equality states currently have cases winding their way through the courts. For same-sex couples and their many allies, resolution on this inequality can’t come quickly enough!
So what are two brides or two grooms to do? Although I fear I’m the Debbie Downer of the wedding industry, I always advise couples to start first with consulting with an LGBT family lawyer and a CPA to determine the legal and financial consequences of one’s choices while we remain in murky relationship status. You might be surprised about what you learn about the rights as a couple you would or wouldn’t have.
The legal landscape overview aside, please allow me to more directly answer your question: if you get marriage license out-of-state, can you have the ceremony in Colorado? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no.’
Ultimately, if you want to get legally married, you will need to apply for a license and find an officiant in a marriage equality state and undertake what I like to call a legal elopement (eloping and marrying away from home for the sole purpose of getting legally wed). From there, you can then return home and have the wedding ceremony (and reception, if you wish!) just as you would like to have it. There will be no license to sign and nothing to file in Colorado, but you can celebrate your union without it.
Some couples in a similar situation have decided to do exactly what you have proposed, but they might have the ceremony out-of-state and then do a reception back home in lieu of a ceremony. And, of course, there are those who have decided to have the wedding (a ceremony and reception) without pursuing the legal status — for now! — since it’s not legal in their home state.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you and your fiance. Just be sure to consider the legal and financial implications of upgrading your marital status federally, while also keeping in mind the waiting periods and requirements for getting an out-of-state marriage license. Finally, in whatever shape it takes, be sure that you design the wedding you most desire (and can afford!) so that you can celebrate your life-long commitment in style in the company of your friends and family.
About Kathryn Hamm
Wedding innovator Kathryn Hamm (@gayweddingscom) is co-author of The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography (Amphoto Books, 2014), an Education Expert for WeddingWire, Inc., and president of GayWeddings.com. She lives with her wife and young son in Arlington, VA and, in 2013, celebrated twenty years of togetherness with her wife by getting legally married in the District of Columbia.
It’s Heather again! Thank you so, so much to Kathryn for tackling this question. She obviously did a far better job than I could have done! If you’re also totally confused by same-sex marriage issues, I strongly recommend you check out her website. Freedom to Marry also has a helpful graphic depicting the national landscape. And for any wedding professionals in the house, there is a gay wedding certification course just waiting for you to enroll in it.