New Hampshire’s wedding bureaucracy is a stain on its otherwise strong record of protecting individual liberty.
I’m a wedding officiant in my spare time, and I’ve seen a lot of the bureaucratic costs couples deal with when seeking government permission to tie the knot.
I’ll be officiating at two weddings this September — one in New Hampshire, the other in New York. But while New Hampshire’s state motto is “live free or die,” New Hampshire is far worse than New York when it comes to marriage laws. Live free? More like live with fees.
Every state charges some fee for a marriage license, and the costs add up. Every year approximately 2.2 million couples get married in the United States. A marriage license costs between $10 and $115 depending on state and county, working out to a national average cost of around $55 per couple. For New Hampshire, that fee is $50. For New York City, the fee is only $35.
In total, Americans transfer approximately $126 million annually to government agencies that issue wedding and officiant licenses.
For couples who can afford to throw massive weddings, that $55 isn’t much. But for young couples who took a non-traditional path and had children before they got married, or for those who fell in love while under a financial burden, like taking care of an elderly parent, or starting a new career, that cost is significant. There is also the cost of taking time off work to meet with a county clerk or other government official, a difficult ask for many with jobs in the service industry.
New York State is also beating New Hampshire when it comes to freedom regarding who is allowed to officiate weddings. New York allows couples to select the officiant that is best for them, and does not require licensing or fees to officiate a wedding. Meanwhile, New Hampshire recognizes only state officials and in-state religious leaders. Members of the clergy or other officiants from out of state are required to pay an additional fee and receive a “special marriage license” from the state.
The question has to be asked: Why is New Hampshire putting up barriers to marriage in the first place? It certainly isn’t to help citizens. Unmarried men have a 250% higher mortality rate, unmarried people spend twice as much time in hospitals as married people. Children who grow up in married homes have 11% higher GPA’s, are less likely to be incarcerated, and have higher paying jobs compared to their peers. The benefits of marriage are significant.
I’m not saying marriage is the right path for everyone, but putting up barriers to stable unions is a bad policy. New Hampshire can’t rest on the laurels of its liberty ranking, it should still be actively seeking to increase citizens’ freedoms.
The answer is simple: We don’t need fees and bureaucracy, we need government to get out of the way of happy and healthy relationships.
I may never say this again, but New Hampshire should emulate New York here. It’s time to do away with licensing barriers to marriage.