American Foundation for Equal Rights

FAQ: Getting Married in California

If you are getting married:

Some of the following information is adapted from the State of California, Department of Public Health.

When can gay and lesbian couples get married in California?

Gay and lesbian couples can now get married in California. On June 28, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its stay of the historic District Court decision the ruled Prop. 8 unconstitutional.

Where do I get a marriage license?

At a County Clerk’s office.  Find locations >

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Will legally married gay and lesbian couples have access to federal benefits ?

Yes. On June 26, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act. Check out this fact sheet for more information >

Do I need to be a California resident to marry in California?

No.  You do not need to be a California resident to marry in California.

I am in a State Registered Domestic Partnership.  Can I still get married in California?

Yes, you can get married provided that you are marrying the same person with whom you are registered as a Domestic Partner.

If you were once in a State Registered Domestic Partnership (SRDP) with a person who you are not marrying, you will need to know the specific date your last SRDP ended, and how it ended (death, dissolution, divorce or nullity).  Some counties may require a copy of the final judgment if your previous SRDP ended by dissolution or nullity.

I was married in another state or country.  Can I still get married in California?

California will recognize your marriage from another state or country.  There is no need to get married again in California.

I have a civil union from another state.  Can I still get married in California?

Yes.  California recognizes out-of-state civil unions as registered domestic partnerships.  You do not need to dissolve your civil union prior to the issuance of a marriage license if you are marrying your domestic partner.

What is the difference between a Domestic Partnership and a marriage?

Domestic Partnerships are a separate status of relationship recognition.

The process for entering into and dissolving a Domestic Partnership is different from ending a marriage.  Under California law, Registered Domestic Partners “have the same rights, protections, and benefits” as married couples.  Domestic Partners are also subject “to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law … as are imposed upon spouses.”

The only people who can register as Domestic Partners are couples where both people are over the age of 18 and of the same gender, or where both people are of different genders and one person is at least 65 years old.  A straight couple where both parties are over 18 can get married.

Must both parties to a marriage be present in order to marry in California?

Yes.  Marriage by proxy is NOT allowed in California.  California Family Code, Section 420(a) requires the two parties, marriage officiant and witness if applicable, be physically present together in the same location for the marriage to be performed.

Are blood tests required?

No.  Blood tests are NOT required to obtain a marriage license in California.

Do I need to bring photo identification?

Both parties must appear in person and bring valid picture identification to the County Clerk’s Office to apply for a marriage license in California.  Valid picture identification is one that contains a photograph, date of birth, and an issue and expiration date, such as a state issued identification card, drivers license, passport, military identification, etc.  Some counties may also require a copy of your birth certificate.

I have previously been married.  Does that matter?

Yes.  If you have been married, you will need to know the specific date your last marriage ended, and how it ended (death, dissolution, divorce, or nullity).  Some counties may require a copy of the final judgment if your previous marriage ended by dissolution or nullity.

I have obtained a marriage license from a County Clerk but have yet to have my marriage solemnized.  How long is my marriage license valid?

Marriage licenses are valid for 90 days from the date of issuance.  If you do not get married within 90 days, the license will no longer be valid.  You must purchase a new license.

Who may officiate a marriage?

California Family Code, Section 400 states the persons authorized to solemnize marriage ceremonies in California are as follows:

  • A priest, minister, or rabbi of any religious denomination.
  • A judge or retired judge, commissioner of civil marriages or retired commissioner of civil marriages, commissioner or retired commissioner, or assistant commissioner of a court of record in this state.
  • A judge or magistrate who has resigned from office.
  • Any of the following judges or magistrates of the United States:
  • A justice or retired justice of the United States Supreme Court.
  • A judge or retired judge of a court of appeals, a district court, or a court created by an act of Congress the judges of which are entitled to hold office during good behavior.
  • A judge or retired judge of a bankruptcy court or a tax court.
  • A United States magistrate or retired magistrate.
  • A legislator or constitutional officer of this state or a member of Congress who represents a district within this state, while that person holds office.

How do I get married?

  • Go to a County Clerk’s office to apply for and obtain a marriage license.  A marriage license may be obtained from any county in California.  You are not required to get married in the county where you purchase the public marriage license; however, you must be married in California.  You must file the license in the county where it was purchased.  Find the closest County Clerk’s office >
  • Get your marriage solemnized by a marriage officiant.  An individual who is eligible to officiate a marriage under California law must solemnize your marriage.  Both parties to the marriage, and at least one witness, must be present for the solemnization of your marriage.
  • Return your marriage license to the county recorder.  After your marriage has been solemnized, the marriage officiate must return your marriage license to the county recorder of the county

Who are the main people involved ?

  • County Clerk
    The County Clerk issues marriage licenses.
  • Marriage Officiant
    The marriage officiant, e.g., clergyperson or authorized individual, who performs the marriage ceremony is required by law to complete the marriage license and return it to the County Recorder’s Office within 10 days of the event for registration.
  • County Recorder
    The County Recorder is the local registrar of marriages under the direction of the State Registrar of Vital Statistics.  The local official is required to see that a complete and acceptable certificate is filed for each marriage, and that each entry on the certificate is clear and unambiguous.  Once reviewed for proper completion, the local official collects the certificates of marriage filed and transmits them to the state office on a monthly basis.An important function of the local registrar of marriages is to produce an index of marriages registered in his/her jurisdiction.

Are there legal disadvantages to getting married?

Before making a decision, it is essential that you consult an attorney for individualized legal advice.   This is particularly important for people who are on certain public benefits, as getting married may jeopardize your eligibility without providing you the full measure of protections other married couples enjoy.  In addition, couples who travel to another place to marry and then return to live in a state that does not respect their marriage may be unfairly unable to obtain a divorce, which can lead to serious negative legal and financial consequences. People must make careful decisions when and where to marry, even as we work together to end this injustice.