WHAT IS THE LEGAL SIGNIFICANCE OF MARRIAGE VOWS?
In today's society there is no legal significance attached to MARRIAGE VOWS except for one rule. In most states the law requires that either a member of the clergy or a public official be present to witness the spouses declare themselves husband and wife. When an individual recites their MARRIAGE VOWS, whether traditional or their own, there is no obligation put towards them. Anyone who has ever been divorced is aware that the legal system will not forbid you from divorcing your spouse simply because you said, "for long as we both shall live" at your marriage ceremony.
WELL THEN WHY DO THESE VOWS EXIST?
MARRIAGE VOWS are strictly traditional in the legal sense. The main purpose of MARRIAGE VOWS are for religious and cultural significance. In the traditional Christian ceremony the MARRIAGE VOWS are not really vows at all but covenants. The idea behind the exchange of vows in the traditional Christian ceremony is to essentially make a contract between the husband and wife to perform certain obligations. "To have and to hold, in sickness and in health" although these statement might seem to carry zero weight in today's society in the Christian church those statements are considered binding on the party that made them and part of the reason for a marriage ceremony is so that God can be a witness to the "signing" of the contract.
SO WHAT IS IT THAT I ACTUALLY NEED TO GET MARRIED?
Most States differ in the nuances of what is required for a legal marriage. Essentially all that is required of is that the prospective husband and wife retain a marriage license and wait a short period of time before the ceremony.In the past many states required blood tests be performed on each prospective spouse before the clerk would issue a marriage license. The purpose of which was to prevent the spread of veneral diseases, specifically syphilis. Today there are only a handful of states that still require subjection to a blood test. However, although not required, it is still a good idea to have one performed. With the onset of genetic testing a blood test can be a significant factor in aiding to prevent the spread of genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia.
I HAVE MY MARRIAGE LICENSE, NOW WHAT?
Once you have obtained your marriage license, which could take up to four (4) weeks to receive depending on the state, a ceremony may be performed that only requires that the soon to be husband and wife take each other as husband and wife in front of a public official or member of the clergy as well as one other witness. There is typically no age requirement for the witness but they should be competent enough that they will be capable of testifying in court as to the act which they witnessed.
The requirement for marriage licenses and the process of getting married differ from State to State and if you are contemplating marriage you should refer to your County or City clerk's office for further details.