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How To Avoid Self-Uniting Marriage License Legal Problems

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In October 2014, we got married in a Self-Uniting ceremony that left some of our guests wondering if this was even legal.

For this reason, when I wrote our ceremony we decided to have a master of ceremony who will explain to our guests what our ceremony was about.

This helped prevent Self-Uniting marriage license legal problems if you are not aware of your rights.

Many of you had questions about how we obtained this type of marriage license in Pennsylvania and in a county that doesn’t even offer it for that matter.

I wanted to explain what we did in order to obtain it in case a self-uniting marriage license is what you and your fiance want.

Many Pennsylvania residents who obtain this type of license find out you can not obtain it in every county in Pennsylvania.

They go to counties that offer them without giving them a hard time. Depending who is running your local Register of Will office, they will not grant this license to you.

As a reminder to those not familiar with this particular license, here’s a brief summary of what it is according to Wikipedia.

“A self-uniting marriage is one in which the couple are married without the presence of a third-party officiant. Although non-denominational, this method of getting married is sometimes referred to as a “Quaker Marriage.”

Meaning you don’t need a judge, priest, etc to initiate your marriage. Exchanging vows to one another and having you, your partner, plus two witnesses’ signatures are all that is required on your marriage license.

Check out these unique wedding creations:

How To Avoid Self-Uniting Marriage License Legal Problems

As mentioned before, we are not members of a church, nor are we very religious; this particular ceremony was what we wanted to do. Pennsylvania honors this marriage thanks to its Quaker origins.

A 2007 Federal judge ruling that allows Pennsylvania couples a self-uniting marriage without showing proof of membership with a Quaker or Bahai religion.

Self Uniting marriage license Legal Problems are not always your fault!

This type of license can be granted without being asked what religion you are. However, tons of counties in Pennsylvania do.

Unfortunately, a lot of these county clerks are not aware of this information when they ask your religious background and deny this license to people.

Some of these county clerks could be downright nasty and assume you don’t know what you are talking about.

Pennsylvania has this type of marriage license available for everyone that wants it. It is not illegal, and you should never feel or be treated like it is.

Do not let anyone tell you otherwise or make you feel like you are doing something wrong. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise or try to convince you that granting you a self-uniting marriage will not happen in their office.

How To Obtain A Self-Uniting Marriage License When You Have Been Rejected

Here are some steps to take if you want to obtain a self-uniting marriage license in your county’s Register Of Will and have been denied due to religious reasons.

Do your research online

Search your county Register of Wills office and see if self-uniting license is even mentioned on their site. This will give you an indication of how obtaining this license will go.

Counties that do not mention this particular license likely means they will give you a hard time to obtain it, or just won’t grant them.

Research about self-uniting licenses in Pennsylvania and everything you need to know about them.

Start to apply early, as soon as you legally can for your wedding license

The Pennsylvania law states that a marriage license is good for 60 days after obtaining it.

By doing this, if you are going to deal with a Register of Wills office that is going to deny you this license and you want to fight it, it will give you time to evaluate your legal steps.

Not every county offers this type of license. I was lucky that the county next to us did and I was prepared to head that way to obtain my license if my county gave me a hard time about it. I was not willing to compromise my wedding date whatsoever over this.

Make the phone call to your local register of will office to find information about self-uniting marriage licenses

This is what I did first before anything else. Depending on the county, a self-uniting marriage license fees vary per county. Philadelphia charges $90 for this particular license.

Every county in PA charges different fees for marriage licenses. Some offices only accept cash only, and others accept credit cards. So please call before you head to get your marriage license to avoid these issues.

Also, by calling or heading to their office early, you will find out exactly how this is going to turn out.

This is how I found out that I was dealing with clerks that did not know about the legality of asking about religious backgrounds. This particular clerk said I wasn’t a Quaker anyway (I have a Spanish accent) and when I informed her that asking me this was not even legal, she transferred me to another person.

After a few minutes on hold, this other person wanted to know how I knew it was illegal to ask about my religious background and where I found this information. So you see, not every county’s office are aware of legal changes, as dumb as it may sounds, it’s true.

If the county clerk rejects giving a self-uniting license out, simply ask why they don’t give them out and hear their response.

Always be polite when speaking to a clerk, no need to be rude about it. As stated before, counties are not well educated about this type of license or that it is illegal to ask your religious background.

Some offices will ask for your name and phone number to call you back. Do not go overboard with information, you don’t have to explain to them why you want a self-united marriage license.

It’s none of their business, not being rude, just a fact. Do they ask people applying for a marriage license why they want it?

This is what happened to me days after first calling the office, I received a phone call where I was basically told it wasn’t going to happen because this license didn’t exist in PA.

That due to this person’s personal opinion a self-uniting marriage license will not, ever, be granted to me.

Yes, I was told that. I was given a hard time about my decision to obtain a self-united license.

I was even told that what I was looking for was a Commonwealth Marriage and that doesn’t exist anymore.

This person told me that people had tried to fight his personal decisions before, and all have failed. So fighting his personal decision was not going to get me anywhere.

I was made to feel like I was uneducated, dumb, and doing something illegal during this phone conversation. I was very calm and polite during this conversation.

Though I really wanted to tell this particular person exactly how I felt. Arguing with someone that doesn’t know all the information is not going to get you anywhere.

By the tone of this particular person’s voice and arrogant attitude, I knew it wasn’t worth arguing.

Was I angry? Heck yeah!!

I was treated badly by this particular individual. Before I received this phone call, my plans were to go to the next county and obtained my license there.

BECAUSE OF SOMEONE’S PERSONAL OPINION A MARRIAGE LICENSE CAN NOT BE GRANTED?

After this phone call, it was clear to me that I needed to report this.  I wasn’t granted my marriage license because of this person’s “personal opinion” about self-uniting licenses.

I couldn’t let this go. I knew I wasn’t the only one that had been treated like this from this particular person.

Even if they would have said something like ‘No, Sorry; we just don’t give them out’ BS would have been more acceptable.

But to tell me that due to personal opinions from the person in charge of the office, a license that the state of Pennsylvania offers to couples that want to get married in the state will not be granted infuriated me to no end!

So I made a few phone calls and sent a few emails to see what was my next step. Even if I obtained my marriage license in another county, I wanted to make sure that this never happened again to anyone trying to obtain a license in my county.

Steps to obtain a self-uniting marriage when rejected.

Here’s what you need to do. Call ACLU immediately at 1-877-744-2258 if you were denied due to religious background. This is the Pittsburgh area office and very helpful about helping you obtain a self-uniting license.

They will contact you via phone in about 2 weeks. Be prepared to give them a few minutes to answer their questions. Be honest and listen to them, they are very helpful and knowledgeable.

You can also call or email The Pennsylvania Human Relations Department about your experience as well. This particular office takes a bit longer to respond and will mail you a letter when they read your email.

They have helped many others to obtain their self-united license as well. My suggestion is to call or email them with your questions first since they take a bit longer to respond. Also, know that getting your case reviewed will take forever!

In my case, ACLU from Pittsburgh took care of my issue with a simple phone call to this particular office.

I was informed I could get my self-uniting license in Berks county via email. We did with no problem whatsoever.

Seriously, I spoke to Rose twice, once to hear my case and a second time to inform me a plan of action. It only took one phone call to the office, that was it.

We got married in a beautiful self-uniting wedding, but it wasn't as simple. Learn how to avoid self-uniting marriage license legal problem in Pennsylvania.
Here are some legal tips about why counties give a hard time from what I have learned:

Besides not being updated about current legal rights, using this particular license, the way it was NOT intended, will get you in trouble.

Your friend can’t marry you. Please, if you go and say that, you are violating PA marriage law.

If your friend is not legally able to marry you, he can’t marry you. Saying you want a self-uniting marriage license because you want your friend, mom, or kids to marry you is NOT going to get your self-uniting license.

This is a question ACLU asks because it is important that you know what a self-uniting marriage license is for.

Many people walk into these offices saying that they want their friends, etc, to marry them, and the only way they can is by getting a self-uniting license.

Saying this to your local register of wills office gives them the right to deny you the license.

Before you start the process, you need to inform the clerk that you are applying for a self-uniting marriage license.

The reason is that it’s a different style of license they must print. The license cost us the same as it would a regular marriage license in Berks County, $55.00.

This is how we were able to obtain our Self Uniting marriage license in Berks County after a few phone calls.

Do not let anyone intimidate you or tell you otherwise. This is a type of marriage license that is available to us in this state and no one should tell you otherwise.

It’s not about what kind of religion, sexual background, race, etc; it’s about a license that is honored and legal in Pennsylvania and because people are not educated, many people are turned away.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or leave a comment.

A special thanks to Femme from Femme Frugality for your support!

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60 Comments

  1. I have a self uniting license from Berks county . We are doing the s ceremony at our house with the 2witnesses. So do we put our address on the certificate where it says place?

    1. Make sure you read it carefully and one copy is your and one copy is sent. I think it says county in location. Let me know. I am looking for our copy right now.

    1. Put the city or address there and then berks county. When you get the marriage license it will say an example Leesport, Berks county, PA I did put the address where we got married and they used the city.

          1. We put the location where we got married and I signed my maiden name because it is not legally changed until you submit it to SS.

  2. Pingback: How a Self-Uniting Marriage License Can Save You Money!
  3. I am looking to get married in Elizabethtown, PA and am interested in the self-uniting license. What exactly must or should you say is the reason?

    1. All you have to do is asked for a self-uniting license and that’s it. That’s it! The reason why you must say that is because the license is different than the other marriage license.

    1. Not at all. Only my husband and I went to get the license. You just have to make sure that you let them know its a self-united marriage license because its a different style of license.

  4. Did you get to take the license home same day, or did you have to go back to pick it up? I know the license isn’t valid until 3 days after applying, but I’ve heard varying reports about when you have it in your hand. Some say same day, just can’t use it yet. Others say you have to physically go back and pick it up 3 days later.

    1. You get it the same day. The marriage will have a date and will say valid with in 3 days. At least we got it the same day in Berks County. Hope this helps.

  5. Related to the last comment… Is it possible to avoid the 3-*work*day waiting period if we went this route? We live in WI but having a wedding in PA, won’t be there til Thursday for a Saturday wedding.. wondering if we went in on Thursday, got a self-unity license, could it be valid to sign Saturday?
    It’s in Wyoming county which I already know lists these licenses on their site so should be able to attain..

    1. Hi Anna, that I don’t know. We officially got married when the witnessed signed and put the date on the license. The license will state clearly about the dates it will ask you for location and date of the union too. So keep that in mind. You can also get your license anywhere in PA too.

  6. My daughter is getting married in Lancaster county and live in Chester County. Do you know if Chester County is a good county to get the self-uniting license in?

    1. Hi, Shelly! Chester county is great when it comes to self-uniting marriage licenses. They even have a spot on their site about it.
      https://www.chesco.org/435/Marriage-Licenses#Self-Uniting
      Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more questions.

  7. Great article. Very helpful. Do you know if there’s a minimum age for the witnesses? I’d love to have my 16 year old daughter and his 17 year old son as the witnesses. Also, do you need to get it notarized or anything to show who the witnesses are?

    1. Hi Jennine! Good question about the minimum age because I can’t find anything in my papers, BUT you can call the Register of Will and find out. You do NOT need to have your marriage license certified at all. Just fill out the license and send it in. If you do find that information about the witness age please let me know. Hope this helps!

  8. Thank you for the information–this is great! Question: we live in Virginia but will be getting married in Lycoming County, PA (in his hometown). a) Do you know for sure that we don’t need to be residents of PA to get a self-uniting marriage license? b) Because we live four hours away from LycoCo, I’d like to minimize trips. 🙂 I know we have go in person to apply for it, and we have to be in LycoCo when we sign it (right?), but will we need to turn it in in person? Or could we ask a family member to do it, or mail it in, etc.? Thank you!!!

    1. Hi Lori!
      Treat this license as any PA marriage license. You both have to be there to get your marriage license. Since you are getting married in PA you need a PA license. You don’t have to turn your marriage license in person. We mailed it since we were leaving for our honeymoon early Monday morning and we put it in our mailbox. If you have any questions let me know.

  9. Hello, Do you know how Lebanon or Lancaster county is with Self Uniting licenses?

    1. Yes! Once the license is turned in you will receive a marriage certificate that looks the same as all other PA licenses. Hope this helps.

      1. I had the same question! This is super helpful, we were concerned our license wouldn’t be recognized in other states!

        Thanks for the article!

  10. Self marriage license in Butler County is a go. Just so everyone knows, Butler County in Pennsylvania DOES participate in the self-marriage license. I called them and they gave me the full details as described here. I couldn’t find any information on Butler County regarding this, hopefully it will come up on a search query for some folks looking to find out.

  11. My friends are getting married later this month and plan to do a self-uniting marriage and they’ve asked me to be their master of ceremony. If it’s too much trouble doing that, they’d try to find an officiant (kinda last minute though). I want to bug them about what I will be doing and saying during the wedding but don’t wanna add to their stress. Before I do go ahead, could you help me out with what you wrote for your MC to say and do in your ceremony?

    1. Good question! What we did was we had our friend be like the “MC” and explained the ceremony and what we were doing and when we did our vows she will say Now, Joyce will share her vows and so on. You CAN’T say by the you legally married them, you can introduce them as husband & wife (etc.). Also, you can have the witness signed the document during the ceremony too. If you have any questions I’ll gladly answer them.

  12. You mention having a Master of Ceremony to avoid running into problems. What kind of problems might there be, or do you just mean from friends and family questioning the validity? As long as there are two witnesses to sign in addition to you and your partner, it should be fine, right?

    1. You legally get married when two witness sign, but on your ceremony you can’t have a person say “By the power vested in me” because that person has no legal power to marry you. We have our actual witness be the master of ceremony and like you stated, to help family and friend understand what is going on. When all of us sign our document she introduced us and mr and mrs. If you have any more questions let me know.

  13. Thank you for writing this. I’ll be going to get a self uniting marriage license next week in Berks county. I’m sorry you had a hard time given to you but thank you for taking action.

  14. Would you happen to know what the legality is about leaving PA after being married in this way? I just want to be sure that the marriage will be recognized in other states.

  15. Thank you for the information. Do you need the signatures certified by notary? Or you just go with your document to the City Hall?

    Thank you again!

  16. Hubby and I went to the Westmoreland County Court House to apply for a self-uniting marriage license in November 2018, and we had no problems at all. The women in the Clerks office was very pleasant and tyknowledgeable about the entire procedure. We held our own ceremony at the clubhouse of our 55+ community with friends and witnesses, mailed in the required paperwork, and received the official license a week or two later. Funniest part of going to apply for the license… when we went through the medal detector, we asked for directions to the offices of marriage license and gun permits. Got some strange and funny looks from the policemen standing in the area.

    1. I’m so glad it went well with you both. I think over time, this license is getting more popular and people are becoming more educated about it too. We had a small ceremony at our local firehouse and had a blast. And I’m laughing reading the last part of your comment. Too funny!! Thank you so much for commenting and adding the county, info and your experience.

  17. I accidentally applied online wrong for a traditional marriage licensein Allegheny county if I call will they chance it to self uniting for me

  18. Are 2 out of states residents and witnesses allowed to obtain this license in sullivan county?

    1. My fiancé and I both live in Berks County (he recently moved here from Missouri) and we’d like to do a self-uniting license as we want to get legally married ASAP, but have a regular ceremony and party next year sometime. A self-uniting marriage license isn’t mentioned anywhere on the Berks County Registrar of Will website, nor anywhere on the online application. Their website also says no in-person applications due to COVID so the application must be done online and then you schedule your video conference. How are we going to get a self-uniting license in this scenario?

      1. Hi, Kris! I would call them and ask that you want an or even mention that you are requesting a self-united marriage license. That way when they print the license they print the right one. Berks, never mentioned it, you have to ask for it. I will suggest you call their office and ask for a self-united license and that you don’t see the license application online. Good luck!

  19. Hi. My fiancé and I would like to have/perform a self uniting marriage. I live in Bucks county and he lives is south Jersey. Is that legal or must we both reside in PA?

  20. Just so I am understanding correctly, whoever is doing the “officiating” or running the ceremony cannot say “power vested in me” because of lack of legal power, however they can announce you as husband and wife.

    Also, you don’t have to get married in the county you obtain your license in, correct?

    And they technically can’t deny you a license on the grounds of your religious beliefs?

    Thank you, your article really helped clear some things up!

    1. Hi, Deanna!

      Great questions and I will answer them to the best of my abilities. Also know this not legal advice.

      Yes, anyone can announce you as husband as wife, but can’t say “power vested in me” because they legally don’t have it.

      In Pennsylvania, a marriage license is required before being joined in marriage. The license permits the performance of a marriage ceremony in any county.

      You have to request the a self-uniting marriage license because is different from a regular marriage to start the process. Once you request that license, they have to give it to you. They can’t say oh no, you are not Quaker. It is against the law and you should report it right away. Also, let them know the question violates your rights and it’s against the law.

      The self-united marriage license when turned it, you will receive a regular marriage license.

      I hope this helps, if not, let me know.

      1. Thank you so much it was very helpful!

        So we could hold a small “ceremony” at our house and just have our family be present and two of our parents sign the license, is that correct? Also, if they do try and deny it, who should I be reporting the incident to?

        Happy New Year! And thank you again!

        1. Yes. We picked our good friends to as witnesses in our ceremony. Filled out the license with the location and sent it. If they declined it, they have to give you a reason for it. Now, make sure you request a self-united marriage license because its different and than a regular one.
          If they do refused you can call the two offices mentioned above. Now due to Covid I am not sure how long it will take to get a response from them.

          1. Hey!

            I read the entire forum however I have a few brief questions.

            I am a resident of Franklin County PA and when we called the office about a self uniting marriage license they told us they cannot offer legal advice and we need to consult a lawyer. I have a feeling my fiancé and I are running into the same troubles you did.

            Any guidance would be appreciated.

          2. This is for Caitlin (I am not a lawyer so this is just my personal opinion) – I’m not sure what questions were asked but all you had ask them was for a self-unites marriage license. I am not sure why they couldn’t give you a yes or no answer. If they asked you to get a lawyer then asked for a supervisor and email them the questions and link to the state marriage license guidelines. If you are having trouble call and email the numbers on the posts.

  21. Do we need to have a ceremony? Or can we just have 2 people sign for us as witnesses? We want to legally get married, but have a ceremony after we buy a house (so we can it there)

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