All you need to know about getting married in DC

Are you looking to elope in Washington DC?

Great news! Washington DC is one of the best places to elope in the United States because you can self-officiate your marriage. Not longer is the process easy to follow, you also have fantastic options for elopement photography - from renowned monuments like the Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial to classic architecture at the Library of Congress or the US Capitol to beautiful green spaces at the National Arboretum.

Below I will help answer many questions you likely have about eloping in DC. Not only have I witnessed couples getting married this way from being their wedding or elopement photographer, I have also gone through the same process when I eloped with my wife.

Who can get married in Washington DC?

The District of Columbia Courts Marriage Bureau will recognize marriages between any two individuals 18+ years of age. This includes same sex marriages, which has been legal in DC since March 3, 2010 and became federally legalized on June 26, 2015 as a result of Obergefell v. Hodges.

washington dc elopement photographer veil portrait at library of congress

Can I get married in DC if I don't live in DC?

Yes. As long as you meet the age requirement and will be physically in DC during your ceremony, you can get married in DC. This means people from other states and even countries can get married in Washington DC.

Unlike other US states that may require marriage applicants to be state residents, DC will issue marriage licenses to those living in any of the 50 states as long as both of you are physically present in Washington DC during your marriage ceremony.

Note that when you get married in DC, your marriage license will be a DC one but your marriage should be recognized in your home state. If you don't live in the US, you will need to make sure additional steps are taken to validate your DC marriage in your home country.

What documents do I need to get married in DC?

For your marriage license application, the only documents you need are one of the following:

  • US valid driver's license
  • Government-issued non-driver's ID
  • Passport

The documents are used to verify your identity and age.

DC elopement photographers DC war memorial winter

Do I need an officiant to get married in DC?

No, you do not need an officiant in the typical sense. One of the options when applying for a marriage license in DC is to self-officiate or self-solemnize. In the application form, you will see that one of you need to be the officiant to perform the self-officiating ceremony. How you choose to officiate is entirely up to you as long as both of you attest to it on the form.

Who can officiate the wedding ceremony?

If you would like someone else to officiate your wedding or elopement in DC, there are 8 other types of persons/organizations that are authorized to perform marriage ceremonies. These include a judge, Clerk of Court, minster/priest/rabbi/authorized person of any denomination or society, appointee of religious society, civil celebrant, temporary officiant, Members of the Council (of DC), of the Mayor of the District of Columbia (now that's one I'd love to be a part of).

You can see the full list of authorized persons/organizations to officiate marriages in DC under "Authorization to Celebrate Marriages".

Do I need a witness to get married in DC?

No. Unlike in many states where witnesses are required for marriages to be recognized, you do not need a witness to be able to get married in DC. The choice is ultimately yours - you are welcome to invite those who are important to your lives to witness your union.

DC elopement photographer - couple eloping at US Capitol

Where can I apply for a marriage license in dc?

There are two places you can apply for a marriage license in DC: online and in person.

Online: You can apply online. After you submit the online application, it will take a few days for the Marriage Bureau to process it and contact you for next steps. If you want a specific date to get married and that date is within 3 weeks from now, I would recommend the in-person route.

In person: You can go in person (both of you) at H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse (500 Indiana Ave NW #690, Washington, DC 20001) between Monday-Friday 8:30am-4pm, excluding DC holidays. Once you reach the Marriage Bureau office, the person in front will hand you a marriage application that you can fill out and return. Then you will need to wait to speak with a clerk who will verify your information before giving you the license.

After you receive the license, you can choose to conduct the ceremony on the same day as long as it is outside of the Courthouse property or hold onto the license until a later ceremony. Once the ceremony is complete, you will be signing the license with your signatures and the officiant's signature (whether that's your own as self-officiating or an authorized officiant's) and turning it back to the Marriage Bureau to be certified. You can choose to return in person or mail it in.

How much does it cost to get a DC marriage license?

The marriage license application fee is $45. The fee can be paid in cash, credit card (fees may apply), check, money order (payable to "Clerk, DC Superior Court").

DC elopement photo at the Wharf near the s'mores truck

Can I get married same day in DC?

Yes, you can. If you are looking for a spontaneous elopement, the best way to get married same day in DC is to apply for the marriage license in person at the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse (500 Indiana Ave NW #690, Washington, DC 20001) during the weekday from 8:30am-4pm.

If it's important that you receive your marriage certificate on the same day, I would recommend going in the morning and allocating at least 4 hours for the process. There are multiple steps to the process: getting into the courthouse, applying for the marriage license, paying for the marriage license, getting information confirmed by the Marriage Bureau and receiving the license form, conducting your ceremony (must be outside of the Courthouse), submitting your signed and officiated license certificate, and waiting for the printed certified marriage license.

If you don't need the certified marriage license on the same day (for other paperwork reasons), you can take the license form and mail it in later. The date of your wedding ceremony can be same day or any day after you receive the marriage license. The license never expires. So if your ceremony is after the Courthouse office hours, you can still use that date as the date you got married on your marriage license when you sign the form before sending it in to get certified. (This is what we did for our elopement since we didn't want to wait around and didn't need the certified license same day.)

If you have an officiant for your same day DC marriage, they should be able to help you with the process. Just note that the ceremony must take place outside of Moultrie Courthouse property.

How can I get married at the DC courthouse?

You can have a DC courthouse wedding (also known as a civil wedding ceremony) but first you must have already applied and received your unsigned marriage license. You will need to submit the Civil Wedding Ceremony Request to the DC court with your marriage license application date, issue date and license number. In the same request form, you can enter your desired court wedding date and time although the court cannot guarantee that you will get it since the courtrooms are used for other cases. Per the Marriage Bureau, you should ask for a courthouse wedding date at least 10 business days from receiving your marriage license. My recommendation is to give the courthouse at least 3 weeks if you have a desired date and time.

Can I have a same day courthouse wedding in DC?

No, this is not possible. You must first obtain a marriage license (this part can be same day) before you can even request for a courthouse wedding in DC for a date at least 10 business days away.

dc elopement photos at constitution gardens with washington monument view

Where can I self-officiate the ceremony?

If you are self-officiating, you have plenty of options since you only need the two of you present. I have seen various ways couples decide to self-officiate their marriage:

  • In their homes
  • At a local park
  • By a famous landmark
  • At a hotel
  • At a restaurant

You can make your self-officiating ceremony as casual or formal as you want. Just remember that to self officiate for a DC marriage license, you must conduct the ceremony in DC.

Next step - find your DC Elopement Photographer

Now that you know the ins and outs of a DC elopement, it's time to find a Washington DC elopement photographer to document your special day. I love doing elopement photography in DC as there are so many amazing locations to be a backdrop for couples.

My most popular DC elopement package is a 2-hour coverage which can fit in a 30-minute ceremony as well as candid and formal portraits. I can also customize the elopement package based on your timing needs starting at 2 hours. Inquire here.