A few weeks before our Hindu wedding ceremony we went to the City Hall in San Francisco to deal with all formalities associated with getting married. We decided to make a small celebration out of it and we invited Anil's brother with the family and my friend Shiva to join us.
To get married in California one first needs to get a marriage license (or a license to marry, as I like to call it). The license has to be obtained - in person - from the County Clerk's office.
The only document that is needed to get it is any government-issued photo I.D., e.g. a passport or driver's license. I was positively surprised that no other document is needed, even if you are a foreigner. The license costs $95 and is valid for 90 days anywhere in the state of California.
Once you have a license, you can be married by a county clerk, judge (active or retired), priest, minister or rabbi of any religious denomination who is at least 18 years old.
Even though Livermore Temple priests could issue legally binding marriage certificates, we still decided to deal with all formalities before our Hindu wedding, as we did not want to spoil that day with any paperwork. (And, to be completely honest, we also wanted to have all the headache of getting married over as soon as possible after we decided to get married).
To get married at the City Hall in San Francisco one needs to make an appointment(*), pay a fee of $72, bring a marriage license and one witness (though two witnesses are also allowed). We asked both Anil's brother Gautam and my friend Shiva to be our witnesses. As their signatures are present on our marriage certificate, it is also their responsibility to make sure that we have a good long-lasting marriage :)
We got a license and got married on the same day. Even though both Anil and I considered it a formality, still we were both a bit nervous about it. (It might have been because of yet another drama that Anil's mother initiated a night before we were going to the City Hall). Still, everything went pretty smoothly, though it did not feel romantic. I guess you can see how it would be difficult to call romantic a marriage ceremony that involves signing a lot of papers... But the presence of our loved ones and gorgeous weather still made this day special to us. Thanks to them we have many fond memories of that day.
A few pictures taken in the City Hall:
(*) Appointments to obtain a license and/or to get married in San Francisco County can be made online through the County Clerk's website (they can be scheduled up to 90 days ahead of time). The website has also all forms that need to be printed and signed before one goes to the City Hall. It is also possible to pay all the fees online ($95 for a license, $72 for a civil ceremony).
(**) Total of up to 6 guests may attend the ceremony (that includes kids as well!). But if you really want to, you should be able to smuggle in a few more people.
(***) A certified copy of the marriage record can be obtained no earlier than two weeks after the civil ceremony (there is no expedite service). It can be obtained in person or by mail, and it costs $14 for each copy.
(****) If you want to change your name after the marriage, you can do it at the time when you apply for a marriage license. In the US you can opt not to change the name at all, you can change it to your spouse's name, you can add your spouse's name as your middle name, you can have two last names and those can be connected by hyphen or not, and finally, you can invent a completely new name based both on your and your spouse's last names.