As I watched all the happy people celebrating passage of New York’s same-sex marriage law, I couldn’t help but project to a time when Indiana adopts a similar statute. (It will happen, Hoosiers, even if we are the last state in the union to accept it.) What a lot of gay women and men may not know is, far out on the edges of the institution of getting married, away from formal wedding clothes, flower arrangements, ministers, vows and disk jockeys who program garter-removal music, there is the somewhat goofy process of applying for a marriage license at your local county courthouse.
My new husband, Bill, jokes that the Indiana application form “is really an intelligence test” because, if you answer “yes” to four out of the five specific yes-no questions on the form, you either don’t understand what you’re doing or you secretly don’t want to get married.
Take question No. 1 that is asked of all prospective brides and grooms: “Are you now or have you ever been adjudged to be mentally incompetent? If answer is ‘yes’ has the adjudication been removed?”
If that is not tricky enough, take questions No. 3 and 4: “Are you now under the influence of an alcoholic beverage?” and “Are you now under the influence of a narcotic drug?”
Studying the form as Bill and I sat side by side in the Vigo County Clerk’s marriage license office, I chuckled and said to the woman taking our application, “I bet you don’t get a whole lot of people marking ‘yes’ and admitting they’re drunk.”
She looked up from her typing and was all game face, no smiles.
“No, we don’t,” she said. “But if they did, I can tell you, I would stop the process right there.” She added that if she were able to stop the process every time she smelled alcohol on someone’s breath — which she would dearly like to do — a lot of people would be sent home to return another day. (Apparently, the law does not give much real cop power to a marriage license clerk unless the prospective spouse is soused.)
Bill and I curbed any further attempts at license application humor after that, especially the desire to riff on question No. 2 about whether we are first cousins.
We are first in-laws — Bill’s brother is married to my sister — but we thought it best not to muddy the waters with that. We busied ourselves instead with filling in the many information blanks about our education level, our “color or race,” our number of previous marriages and whether those marriages ended “by death, divorce or annulment.”
For “marital status,” Bill circled “widower,” and I circled “never married.” Had the air in the office been a little less official, I would have asked the clerk if she got many 61-year-old first-timers like me, but it wasn’t, so I didn’t.
Given our advanced age, we had only one living parent, my mother, for whom to furnish the required address. Bill’s folks and my dad were named but listed as deceased, as the form told us to “so state.” That item would have a creepy, almost offensive outcome when we received our Certified Marriage License in the mail a few weeks later:
My father and Bill’s parents all were listed as “Residence Unknown.”
(A Vigo clerk shared my dismay when I phoned to complain; Bill and I are pretty sure our parents reside in heaven. “I know,” she said. “It’s not very nice. We’ve tried and tried to get the state to change it, but that’s the way they do it.”)
We thought we’d gone well-prepared for the license application process because we had checked the web to see if Indiana requires a blood test. It does not, only various pieces of identification, significant dates, Social Security numbers, proof that at least one of us is a resident of the county in which we planned to marry, and 18 bucks in cash for the license fee.
For a while, because the web is full of outdated information that looks current, I thought that women under the age of 50 were required to bring along “a completed State of Indiana Premarital Examinate Certificate obtained from a health clinic.” That got me into feminist high dudgeon, of course, even though I am long past the age limit. I searched site after site, trying to determine why females had to have some sort of medical clearance and males did not.
“That law was changed,” said the person who answered the phone at the Vigo County Clerk’s office when I finally called for a definitive answer.
When? “In 2004,” she said. “There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet.”
No kidding. At the time I checked (in April), even an Indiana University website offered specifics about the premarital exam for women and promised it could be gotten for free.
From what I could glean, the intention of the pre-2004 law was to prevent any offspring of a state-certified marriage from contracting rubella, or German measles. The “Examinate Certificate” would state that a woman either carried no risk of passing along rubella or that she was sterile. Women over 50 were presumed to be incapable of becoming pregnant, which is one of those common but erroneous presumptions that a lot of very surprised women over 50 with babies in their arms will tell you they also made.
As it turns out, the only medical aspect of the marriage license application process that still exists in Indiana is the romantic little flier the county clerk’s office hands over to a prospective bride and groom along with the application form. In reverse-negative, black and white, a woman in a veil and a man in a fancy suit (with boutonniere) are sandwiched between these words:
“Before You Marry” and “Information on sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.”
What follows is a detailed primer on everything from herpes to gonorrhea, including the reminders that “You cannot tell by looking that a person has an STD or HIV disease,” “It’s possible to have an STD (including HIV) and not feel sick,” and “Some STDs cannot be cured.”
Kind of makes a person feel inclined toward an alcoholic beverage — or six.
Stephanie Salter can be emailed at SalterOpinion@gmail.com.