Explained: How Vegas became the ‘marriage capital of the world’

From Elvis and Priscilla Presley to Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck Dozens of celebrity weddings along with countless pop culture references over the decades have made Las Vegas on the map as the “Marriage Capital of the World”. Today, Sin City boasts a $2 billion wedding industry, with hundreds of couples from all over the world choosing to “drive through” ceremonies at one of Vegas’ famous chapels every day.

In Hollywood movies and popular TV shows, the quintessential Vegas wedding is farcical, often associated with Elvis impersonators as officials and instant decisions by drunken tourists. But aside from the excitement and the plays, getting married in Las Vegas is also much faster, cheaper, and simpler than anywhere else in the United States.

The history of weddings in Vegas

Las Vegas was first associated with quick and easy weddings in the 20th century when Nevada relaxed its marriage license requirements. While getting a marriage license can take a few days in most states, it only took two minutes in Vegas. Quickly, young couples from neighboring states, including California, began to flock to Nevada to tie the knot.

In 1931, the Vegas wedding became pivotal in the city’s fledgling tourism industry after officials legalized gambling and also shortened the time couples could get a divorce.

Las Vegas was first associated with quick and easy weddings in the 20th century when Nevada relaxed its marriage license requirements. (Express Photo)

This wedding ceremony increased in popularity during the 1940s, when World War II drove a large number of young men and women to marry before being drafted. About 20,000 weddings took place in 1942 in Clark County, according to a report by Las Vegas magazine review.

By the 1950s, a number of Hollywood celebrities—including Francis Ford Coppola, Eleanor Neal, Elvis Presley, and Priscilla Beaulieu—were also marrying in Vegas, adding a touch of glamor to the wedding experience here.

Amid the frenzy of weddings, the city decided to open a marriage license office at the train station. This office was open until midnight on most days and 24 hours during weekends and holidays – a practice that continued until around 2006.

In 2006, the Marriage Licensing Office announced that it was ending the old tradition of staying open 24 hours on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays — a decision that was expected to save the county about $200,000, according to a New York Times report. Alternatively, couples can now purchase their license 365 days a year between 8am and midnight.

Dozens of wedding churches have sprung up along the famous Las Vegas Boulevard over the decades to take advantage of the city’s nascent 10-minute wedding industry.

Today, wedding tourism accounts for about $2 billion of the city’s $58 billion annual tourism industry, and provides about 18,000 jobs, according to a report by NPR.

But, why Vegas?

It is famous for being simple. A marriage license costs about $102 and can be obtained without a blood test or waiting period. Spouses wishing to marry in Las Vegas must be at least 18 years old, and must be able to provide government-issued identification to prove name and age.

The popularity of these weddings rose after the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic began to lift across the United States. In June of last year, the number of marriage licenses issued and marriages offered in Clark County rose dramatically, according to a report in Associated Press.

Jennifer Lopez announced her marriage in the latest issue of her newsletter: “Exactly what we wanted. Last night we flew to Vegas, queued up to get a license with four other couples, all of whom made the same trip to the wedding capital of the world.”

“Stay long enough, and maybe you’ll find the best moment of your life on a Las Vegas car ride at 12:30 a.m. in the Tunnel of Love by Car, with your kids and the one you’ll spend forever with,” she added. JLo and Ben Affleck aren’t the only celebrities who have opted for a fuss-free Vegas wedding in recent years. Celebrity couples like Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Parker, and Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas too, tied the knot at a chapel in Vegas.

Pop star Britney Spears also married her first husband, Jason Alexander, during a New Year’s Eve trip to Las Vegas. The marriage lasted for three days and was eventually annulled on Monday, January 5, 2004.

Marriage in Vegas is all about the whole experience – after the ceremony (which can cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars), couples often flock to hotels and casinos all over the city.

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Most recent references to a quick Vegas wedding include an Elvis Presley impersonator running the ceremony. Since the 1960s, Elvis has been indelibly associated with Las Vegas. In fact, the lead track of his 1964 movie “Viva Las Vegas” became the city’s unofficial lead single. He is best known for his Las Vegas International Hotel performance for many years.

Presley married himself in Las Vegas in 1967, cementing his relationship with Vegas weddings, AP mentioned.

However, last month, the licensing company that controls Presley’s name and image ordered Vegas churches to halt Elvis-themed festivities. Several small churches received cease and desist letters from the Authentic Brands Group in June, according to Las Vegas magazine review.

The company has urged these churches to stop the unauthorized use of “Presley’s name, likeness, voice, and other elements of Elvis Presley’s personality in advertising, merchandise, and more.”

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