JEFFERSON COUNTY, WI– “I just went to Vegas, hired an Elvis impersonator and a pink Cadillac convertible and did it,” advised the friend of a soon-to-be married local couple. Destination weddings in Las Vegas have been a cultural phenomenon for decades. That trend is more recent in South Eastern Wisconsin. Agritourism is growing and family farms like Busy Barns outside Fort Atkinson have reinvented themselves as educational, recreational, and nuptial ceremony destinations. So perhaps it is not surprising that the local couple opted to stay closer to home and make the family farm a destination to receive guests following the formal wedding ceremony at a church in town.
Clark County, Nevada need not worry about losing too much wedding business to Jefferson County, Wisconsin any time soon, however. For starters, couples intending to marry locally must comply with a statutory five day waiting period between application and issuance of marriage licenses. Divorced individuals must demonstrate patience by waiting six months from the date the divorce is final before applying for a marriage license. At $90, a locally obtained license is among the most expensive in the country (Indiana issues marriage licenses for $18). Payment must be made in cash. While clerks in many counties nationwide accept typical twentieth century forms of payment including personal checks, money orders and credit cards, Jefferson County, Wisconsin is steadfast in maintaining the rural nineteenth century cash payment tradition. And unlike the Jefferson Counties of Tennessee and Florida, Wisconsin’s Jefferson County has not subscribed to the recent fashion of granting substantial marriage license fee discounts to couples who have completed at least four hours of marriage counseling. In addition to government issued forms of identification from both bride and groom, the county clerk also requires “certified copies” of birth certificates, social security numbers, as well as the name and address of the officiant. In short, the state expects some advance planning from couples planning to spend their lives together.
The Midwestern common sense approach to regulating marriage arguably has virtue, despite being at odds with the demands of a growth industry. But even with less onerous marriage license requirements, pumpkin patches and corn mazes will have difficulty competing with the Las Vegas spectacle “of Harley bikes with the bride dressed as the groom and the groom dressed as the bride and the rest of the bikers falling off their bikes laughing, across from the Little White Wedding Chapel.”