Mr. Kim and I have been married just over a month now, and it’s been great! I’m still reveling in the memories and warmth of our ceremony and reception and eagerly awaiting the rest of the photographs so I can
stare at us and think about how good-looking we are reminisce about the good times we shared with friends and family.
Of course, for all the promises and partying to mean anything to earthly powers, you need a marriage license beforehand. The process is different in every state (and in some states, every county), but here’s our experience.
First, the basics: Whether you’re a US citizen or not, getting a Mississippi marriage license involves the same requirements. To get married in Mississippi, you need about $22 cash and ID that proves age. A driver’s license or state ID is fine even for a noncitizen bride or groom; if you don’t have a driver’s license, a passport also works. If you’re under 21, you also need parental consent, and if you’ve been married before, you need a divorce decree or death certificate. You also need the information to fill out the forms–you can read more about this below. You can get the license the same day you apply if you fulfill all the requirements above, and it doesn’t expire.
So back to the story:
This being Mississippi, where it can get difficult to find a public building without a Confederate monument out front, I was slightly nervous, in the beginning, about even going to the courthouse with Mr. Kim to legalize our obviously interracial union. I didn’t think anything dangerous or even confrontational would happen–Mississippians as a group are the most polite people I know, in spite (or because?) of all the guns–but after all, 29 percent of Mississippi’s likely GOP voters surveyed in 2012 said they thought interracial marriage should be illegal (and 21 percent more weren’t sure).
Nevertheless, we headed to the Hinds County Courthouse in Raymond the Monday after Christmas. We didn’t succeed in getting our marriage license–they advised us to wait for the new year, when the forms would change–but my nerves were calmed by the cheerful African-American lady behind the Circuit Clerk’s counter.
The Monday after before our wedding, we headed back again. This time, a dark-haired, 50-something white woman manned the counter, wearing the layers of makeup that are part of the dress code for Mississippi’s female civil servants. We gave her some cash–$22, I think–and she gave us a form to fill out, asking for the usual information: Names, birthdates, addresses, education levels.
We completed the form over chitchat and handed it back to her. She turned to her bright blue computer screen–a text-based user interface, like something from my 1990s childhood, the kind that doesn’t even recognize a mouse–and began entering our information.
Mr. Kim needed his parents’ Korean address, so he looked that up while the lady entered our info and told me a story about a woman who waited at the courthouse for her fiancé all day, only to get a call from him at closing time that he’d changed his mind. I watched her, struck by the categories on the left side of the screen: BRIDE’S INFORMATION. GROOM’S INFORMATION. Hmm, I thought. Obergefell vs. Hodges had been decided six months before, but this was Mississippi.
Meanwhile, the lady asked Mr. Kim’s race.
“Asian?” I suggested.
We progressed down to birthplace. “Korea,” I said. “Maybe we should write South Korea.”
The lady typed “S Korea,” then paused and began tabbing backward. “Korean,” she said. Back in the box for race, she changed the A to a K and apologized that there was no room for the South.
At last, Mr. Kim found the address–pointlessly, it turned out, since it was way too long to fit into the system. As the lady finished up her data entry, I worked up my nerve and put on my best Southern accent.
“Oh, by the way, I noticed it says bride and groom on your computer… If y’all have a gay couple come in here, who’s the bride and who’s the groom?”
I would never, let me note, characterize the parties of an LGBT relationship that way under normal circumstances. Still, either I struck the right note, or the lady was a more liberal person than I expected; she showed us a second form with a touch of pride. “See here?” she pointed to the left edge of the form. “It says groom or partner, bride or partner.”
I felt a touch of pride too: Grudgingly or not, Mississippi was moving along.
The second form–the new 2016 one, it turned out–also included a surprisingly detailed list of choices for race: in addition to usual categories of white and African-American, there were check boxes for Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, and a few different Others.
The lady checked Korean for Mr. Kim and wrote an S above it. Very thorough.
You can get the license on the same day now, but a new circuit clerk, Zack Wallace, had just taken office and, according to the lady, still had the blank ones in his car. They called when it was ready, and we got it a few days later.