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Wedding Chapel in Las VegasLas Vegas: a city of decadence, luxury, and good times. Huge jackpots can be won in the blink of an eye, but it’s easy to lose all your money in a matter of minutes. Yet say the words “Las Vegas” and you’ll likely conjure up another mental image: drive-through weddings. From Britney Spears’ headline-making elopement in 2004 to films such as 2008’s “What Happens in Vegas,” Sin City has become a national destination for quickie nuptials. What’s the history behind the marrying-in-Vegas phenomenon? The answers may surprise you.

Lenient Marriage License Requirements

Las Vegas is the largest city in the county seat of Clark County, Nevada. As with other Nevada jurisdictions, it benefits from the state’s famously permissive guidelines for obtaining a marriage license. The Little Vegas Chapel reveals the history behind these laws,  explaining that they were first passed in 1931 to eliminate blood tests, waiting periods, and other previous requirements. Additionally, the application fee is only $77 and the county’s Marriage License Bureau is open between 8 a.m. and midnight 365 days a year. Couples can easily obtain a license by following a simple process:

  • Apply online or in-person at a Clark County Marriage Bureau location.
  • Present acceptable forms of identification to the clerk.
  • Pay the required license fee.

Online applicants get their licenses faster, since they receive a confirmation number and can use the Bureau’s express service window.

Creating the Vegas Wedding Industry

The Las Vegas area experienced a significant economic boom after World War II, thanks to casinos springing up in the city. Through the influence of business magnates like Howard Hughes and celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Elvis Presley, the local entertainment industry experienced skyrocketing growth through the middle of the 20th century. With the development of megaresorts and hotels in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Las Vegas became a well-established center of tourism and entertainment.

Naturally, the state’s lenient marriage license requirements eventually led to an upsurge in wedding-focused businesses alongside the casinos and hotels. This included some of the first wedding chapels along with bakeries, florists, and photographers. Those seeking a traditional nuptial celebration could host their receptions in a local hotel or casino while those eloping could quickly tie the knot and be on their way. In fact, A Little White Wedding Chapel credits itself as being the first to innovate the drive-thru wedding after its founder observed a disabled couple struggling to leave their car and make their way inside to get married.

So, What’s the Deal With Elvis?

It’s unclear exactly how Elvis impersonators got in on the act of officiating or performing at Vegas weddings, but this likely happened due to his iconic pop culture status and association with the city. Some of the earliest evidence exists in a 1988 episode of “Golden Girls.” This story depicts one of the show’s regular lead characters, Rose Nylund, mixing up two guest lists and accidentally inviting several Elvis performers to her friend Sophia’s wedding. Of course, many chapels capitalize on this trend, including the Las Vegas Weddings company. A September 2015 New York Times article describes the venue’s services, listing weddings officiated by the King himself as just one of their many options.  

Tying the Knot in Sin City

Las Vegas boasts a unique combination of liberal marriage license laws and profitable multibillion-dollar hospitality and entertainment industries. Did the two occur together by happenstance or did Nevada lawmakers see a golden opportunity back in the 1930s when they revamped marriage license requirements? With more than 115,000 weddings being held each year in Sin City, it’s no surprise that it continues to be known as the “Marriage Capital of the World.”


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