HRC Blog

Thinking About Marrying in New York? Things to Know in Advance

This post is by Caitlin Downs, Summer 2011 McCleary Law Fellow:

Update: New York City has announced that it will use a lottery system to determine which couples (both same-sex and opposite-sex) will be able to obtain a marriage license on Sunday, July 24th. A total of 764 couples will be guaranteed access to one of the City Clerk’s five offices.  Couples wishing to marry on July 24th must register for the lottery by going to the City Clerk’s website at www.nyc.gov or, for those couples residing in New York, by calling 311. The lottery will open for entries at noon on July 19th and will close to entries at noon on July 21st. The City’s press release with details can be viewed here.

If you intend to marry in New York State, there are several important things to keep in mind prior to your wedding day that will help you make the proper arrangements and keep your big day stress-free.

  1. You need to apply for a marriage license.  This can be done at any town or city clerk office in the state and both spouses must be present to sign the marriage license in the presence of the clerk.  A representative cannot apply for a license on behalf of one of the spouses, even if that representative has been given the Power of Attorney.  In some areas, such as New York City, you can save time by completing part of the form online and then finishing the process in person at the clerk’s office. Check with the town or city clerk’s office in the location you wish to marry to see if this option is available.  Some cities, such as Binghamton, have announced plans to open their municipal offices to accept marriage applications on Sunday, July 24, when the same-sex marriage law takes effect.  Most clerks, however, will open as usual on Monday, July 25.  Contact your local clerk’s office to see whether they plan on opening Sunday or Monday.
  2. Remember to bring proper age and identity documentation to the clerk’s office. Each person must present one document proving your age (a birth certificate, baptismal record, naturalization record, or census record) and one document establishing your identity (either a driver’s license, passport, employment picture ID, or immigration record).  Be aware that in the application for the marriage license you will have to provide information about previous marriages, such as whether you have been divorced in the past, whether the former spouse is living, and when and where past divorces took place.  New York State does not require any physical examination or blood tests to obtain a marriage license.
  3. Note that New York has a requirement that couples wait 24 hours from the time that their marriage license is issued before the marriage ceremony can take place. In some cases, this 24-hour waiting period may be waived by a judge.  Some judges have expressed a willingness to waive this requirement for the first day that same-sex marriages are legal in New York, but do not assume that this is the case.  Unless you can ensure in advance that you will be able to obtain a waiver, assume that you will have to wait 24 hours after receiving your license before you can actually wed.
  4. A New York State marriage license may be used within New York State only—if you travel outside of the state to be married, your New York State marriage license will not be filed in New York State.
  5. Limited Application if you live outside of New York. If you are traveling from your home state to be married in New York, it’s important that you know whether your marriage will be recognized in the state where you reside.  Please reference our Relationship Recognition map which shows whether your home state recognizes marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples from other states.
  6. Name Changes. You and your spouse-to-be should also discuss whether you plan to change your surnames upon marrying.  Neither of you are required to change your last name, nor is it required to adopt the same last name.  But if you would like to, you have several options in New York.  You may choose the surname of one spouse, the former surname of one spouse, a name combined into a single surname, a segment of both of your surnames, or a combination of your surnames separated by a hyphen.  If you choose to change your surname, the marriage certificate containing the new name is proof that the use of the new name is lawful. You should inform your local Social Security Administration office after you wed so that its records and your social security identification card reflect the name change.
  7. Marriage is not only a personal commitment, but a legal relationship that changes the legal status of both spouses. Marriage provides couples with many benefits and obligations that are unavailable to single people. Although state law varies, benefits of marriage can range from advantageous tax rates to the ability to make medical decisions about your spouse in the event of his or her incapacity.  Married people are also legally obligated to provide for their spouse and often are responsible for debts assumed by their spouse. While federal benefits and obligations are not currently available to same-sex couples, HRC and many other organizations are working to ensure they will be in the future. Before you wed, it is crucial to understand what types of rights and obligations that you and your spouse will have once you are married. Couples may wish to consult an attorney before entering into a marriage.
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