Massachusetts Wedding Laws
Massachusetts has always been one of the most forward-thinking and progressive states in the country. In 2004, the state became the sixth jurisdiction in the world to allow same-sex couples the right to be legally married. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health made clear that the state’s constitution prohibited marital discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation. Review this analysis of the law governing marriages in Massachusetts to ensure that you plan and perform a wedding that is compliant with state law.
How to Become a Wedding Officiant in Massachusetts
Massachusetts law authorizes several different types of civil and religious representatives to conduct wedding ceremonies, including all ordained ministers and deacons, cantors and rabbis, Buddhist priests, friends of the Quaker Society, or representatives of a Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is.
All ministers planning to perform a wedding in Massachusetts must register with the Secretary of the Commonwealth; they must provide a copy of their ordination credentials as well as a letter of good standing. Ministers who do not reside in Massachusetts have a separate registration process from non-residents, so be sure to clarify your residency status. The Secretary of the Commonwealth will then provide ministers with a certificate of validation that must be attached to a marriage certificate when it is completed. The fee to obtain the certificate of validation is approximately $20-25.
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M.G.L. c. 207, § 38
Section 38: Solemnization of marriage; situs; persons authorized
Section 38. A marriage may be solemnized in any place within the commonwealth by the following persons who are residents of the commonwealth: a duly ordained minister of the gospel in good and regular standing with his church or denomination, including an ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church or in the Roman Catholic Church; a commissioned cantor or duly ordained rabbi of the Jewish faith; by a justice of the peace if he is also clerk or assistant clerk of a city or town, or a registrar or assistant registrar, or a clerk or assistant clerk of a court or a clerk or assistant clerk of the senate or house of representatives, by a justice of the peace if he has been designated as provided in the following section and has received a certificate of designation and has qualified thereunder; an authorized representative of a Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is in accordance with the usage of their community; a priest or minister of the Buddhist religion; a minister in fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association and ordained by a local church; a leader of an Ethical Culture Society which is duly established in the commonwealth and recognized by the American Ethical Union and who is duly appointed and in good and regular standing with the American Ethical Union; the Imam of the Orthodox Islamic religion; and, it may be solemnized in a regular or special meeting for worship conducted by or under the oversight of a Friends or Quaker Monthly Meeting in accordance with the usage of their Society; and, it may be solemnized by a duly ordained nonresident minister of the gospel if he is a pastor of a church or denomination duly established in the commonwealth and who is in good and regular standing as a minister of such church or denomination, including an ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church or in the Roman Catholic Church; and, it may be solemnized according to the usage of any other church or religious organization which shall have complied with the provisions of the second paragraph of this section.
Churches and other religious organizations shall file in the office of the state secretary information relating to persons recognized or licensed as aforesaid, and relating to usages of such organizations, in such form and at such times as the secretary may require.
Mass. Gen. Law ch. 207 § 39: Solemnization of marriage; justice or non-resident clergymen
The governor may in his discretion designate a justice of the peace in each town and such further number, not exceeding one for every five thousand inhabitants of a city or town, as he considers expedient, to solemnize marriages, and may for a cause at any time revoke such designation. The state secretary, upon payment of twenty-five dollars to him by a justice of the peace so designated, who is also a clerk or an assistant clerk of a city or town or upon the payment of fifty dollars by any other such justice, shall issue to him a certificate of such designation.
The state secretary may authorize, subject to such conditions as he may determine, the solemnization of any specified marriage anywhere within the commonwealth by the following nonresidents: a minister of the gospel in good and regular standing with his church or denomination; a commissioned cantor or duly ordained rabbi of the Jewish faith; an authorized representative of a Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is in accordance with the usage of their community; the Imam of the Orthodox Islamic religion; a duly ordained priest or minister of the Buddhist religion; a minister in fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association and ordained by a local church; a leader of an Ethical Culture Society which is recognized by the American Ethical Union and who is duly appointed and in good and regular standing with the American Ethical Union; a justice of a court or a justice of the peace authorized to solemnize a marriage by virtue of their office within their state of residence; and, it may be solemnized in a regular or special meeting for worship conducted by or under the oversight of a Friends or Quaker Monthly Meeting in accordance with the usage of their Society. A nonresident may solemnize a marriage according to the usage of any church or religious organization which shall have complied with the provisions of the second paragraph of section 38. A certificate of such authorization shall be issued by the state secretary and shall be attached to the certificate issued under section twenty-eight and filed with the appropriate city or town clerk. If one of the nonresidents enumerated above solemnizes a specified marriage anywhere within the commonwealth without having obtained a certificate under this section, the state secretary, upon application of such person, may issue a certificate validating such person's acts. The certificate of validation shall be filed with the certificate issued under section twenty-eight of chapter two hundred and seven.
In addition to the foregoing, the governor may designate any other person to solemnize a particular marriage on a particular date and in a particular city or town, and may for cause at any time revoke such designation. The state secretary, upon the payment to the secretary of $25 for applications delivered by mail, facsimile or hand or $20 for applications submitted electronically, shall issue to said person a certificate of such designation. Such certificate shall expire upon completion of such solemnization.
Getting Married in Massachusetts
Massachusetts law requires that the couple being married and the minister or officiant be present at the wedding ceremony. Witnesses are not required to be present. During the ceremony, the couple must make a declaration of intent to be wed, and the officiant must make a declaration that the couple is wed. Everything else is up to the couple.
How to Get a Massachusetts Marriage License
Couples who wish to be married must apply in person for a marriage certificate in the office of a county or town clerk. An individual need not appear in person if he or she is ill or incapacitated and can provide an affidavit from a registered physician; the affidavit must indicate that the individual is unable to appear to apply in person due to a medical reason. Also, individuals do not need to apply in person if they are unable to do so because they are incarcerated or serving in the military.
Couples must complete an application as required by the state registrar of vital records; applications are submitted under oath and subject to the pains and penalties of perjury. Couples must also pay any fees that are required by the county in which they are applying to obtain a marriage license. There is a mandatory three-day grace period between the date that a couple submits a completed application for a marriage certificate and the date on which a ceremony may be performed.
Marriage certificate applications become part of the state’s public record. Supporting documentation submitted to the state registrar that includes personal information such as the couples’ social security numbers and home addresses is not public record but will be kept on file by the registrar. Couples will need to prove their identity by presenting a copy of their birth certificate, passport, or state-issued driver’s license. Massachusetts does not require couples to provide divorce documents or blood tests in order to obtain a marriage certificate.
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Mass. Gen. Law ch. 207 § 20: Intention of marriage; written notice; oath
The clerk shall require written notice of intention of marriage, on forms furnished by the state registrar of vital records and statistics, containing such information as is required by law and also a statement of absence of any legal impediment to the marriage, to be given before such town clerk under oath by both of the parties to the intended marriage; provided, that if a registered physician makes affidavit to the satisfaction of the town clerk that a party is unable, by reason of illness, to appear, such notice may be given on behalf of such party, by his or her parent or legal guardian, or, in case there is no parent or legal guardian competent to act, or by the other party. Said forms containing the parties' written notice of intent to marry shall constitute a public record. In addition to such forms, the town clerk shall also require the parties to furnish information required for a separate report to be transmitted to the state registrar, including the social security number and residence address of both parties and such other information as may be required by state or federal law. A copy of said report shall not be retained by the town clerk nor shall it constitute a public record. The state registrar may make the information contained in said separate report available to the IV–D agency as set forth in chapter 119A and to such other state or federal agencies as may be required by state or federal law. In case of persons, one or both of whom are in the armed forces, such notice may be given by either party, provided that one is domiciled within the commonwealth. In the case of persons, one of whom is incarcerated in a county house of correction, or a state correctional facility, such notice shall be given by either party to the intended marriage. The oath or affirmation to such notice shall be to the truth of all the statements contained therein whereof the party subscribing the same could have knowledge, and may be given before the town clerk or before a regularly employed clerk in his office designated by him in writing and made a matter of record in the office. No fee shall be charged for administering such oath or affirmation. In towns having an assistant town clerk, he may administer the oath.
Applying For a Marriage License in Massachusetts
A marriage certificate will be valid only in the town or county in which it was issued. It will be valid for only 60 days from the date of its issuance. The couple being married is responsible for delivering the certificate to the minister or officiant performing the ceremony.
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Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 207 § 19: Intention of marriage; situs; time; fees.
Persons intending to be joined in marriage in the commonwealth shall, not less than three days before their marriage, jointly cause notice of their intention to be filed in the office of the clerk or registrar of any city or town in the commonwealth, and pay the fee provided by clause (42) of section thirty-four of chapter two hundred and sixty-two. In computing the three day period specified in this section and in determining the third day referred to in section twenty-eight, Sundays and holidays shall be counted.
Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 207 § 28: Certificate of intention of marriage; delivery; time
On or after the third day from the filing of notice of intention of marriage, except as otherwise provided, but not in any event later than sixty days after such filing, the clerk or registrar shall deliver to the parties a certificate signed by him, specifying the date when notice was filed with him and all facts relative to the marriage which are required by law to be ascertained and recorded, except those relative to the person by whom the marriage is to be solemnized. Such certificate shall be delivered to the minister or magistrate before whom the marriage is to be contracted, before he proceeds to solemnize the same. If such certificate is not sooner used, it shall be returned to the office issuing it within sixty days after the date when notice of intention of marriage was filed.
Massachusetts Marriage Requirements
In order to be legally married, the parties must have reached the age of consent. Massachusetts recognizes 18 as the legal age of consent. Exceptions may be made only with the written consent of a living parent or legal guardian. State law prohibits the marriage of persons who are related by blood.
Individuals do not have to be residents of Massachusetts or the county in which they are applying to be married. Massachusetts will grant marriages to citizens of a foreign country. Whether a foreign country will recognize the validity of a marriage performed in another country is legally binding is determined by the law of that country.
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Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 207 § 1-2
Section 1. No man shall marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, stepmother, grandfather's wife, grandson's wife, wife's mother, wife's grandmother, wife's daughter, wife's granddaughter, brother's daughter, sister's daughter, father's sister or mother's sister.
Section 2. No woman shall marry her father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, stepfather, grandmother's husband, daughter's husband, granddaughter's husband, husband's grandfather, husband's son, husband's grandson, brother's son, sister's son, father's brother or mother's brother.
Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 207 § 24: Intention of marriage; nonage minors; receiving of notice prohibited
The clerk or registrar shall not, except as provided in the following section, receive a notice of the intention of marriage of a person under eighteen.
Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 207 § 25: Nonage minors; authorization of marriage
The probate court for the county where, or a district court within the judicial district of which, a minor under the age specified in the preceding section resides may, after hearing, make an order allowing the marriage of such minor, if the parents or surviving parent of such minor, or, if only one such parent resides in the commonwealth, that parent, or, if neither such parent is alive and resident thereof, or if the parent or parents qualified as aforesaid to consent are disqualified as hereinafter provided, a legal guardian with custody of the person of such minor has consented to such order. If a parent has deserted his family, or if found to be incapacitated by reason of mental illness and incapable of consent, or if found unfit under the provisions of section five of chapter two hundred and one to have custody of such minor, it shall not be necessary to obtain his consent to such order. If a parent whose consent would be required if living in the commonwealth lives outside thereof and the address of such parent is known, such notice of the proceedings shall be given him as the probate or district court may order. Said court may also after hearing make such order in the case of a person whose age is alleged to exceed that specified in the preceding section, but who is unable to produce an official record of birth, whereby the reasonable doubt of the clerk or registrar, as exercised under section thirty-five, may be removed. Upon receipt of a certified copy of such order by the clerk or registrar of the town where such minor resides, he shall receive the notice required by law and issue a certificate as in other cases.
Finalizing the Union
After a marriage ceremony, officiants must fill out a marriage certificate with their name, title, ordaining organization (if applicable), and home address. The officiant must also verify that the persons being married have filled out their personal information completely. Officiants are responsible for ensuring that a fully completed certificate is returned to the county clerk before it expires.