New Jersey will not become a modern day Gretna Green. Governor Christie has vetoed legislation that would have eliminated the 72-hour waiting period for marriage licenses issued in the state, saving us from the possibility of tacky 24 hour drive-thru wedding chapels.
The current 72 hours required between the application and issuance of a marriage license in New Jersey is a cooling off period to prevent impromptu nuptials that might be regretted when the blinding light of a new love or the rush of spontaneity dims. When I served as a Municipal Clerk, there were a few instances when the couple was not aware of or misunderstood the waiting period. A visit to a Superior Court Judge always saved the day.
Senate bill, S2399, would have allowed for the immediate issuance of marriage licenses. It was designed in part to attract destination weddings to the state, particularly Atlantic City. As the once popular seaside resort struggles to find its place between a shore town and a casino/entertainment venue, it was thought that this could draw betrothed east-coasters away from Las Vegas.
“Gretna Green” is a term used for a town that is a popular wedding destination, usually due to its less-restrictive marriage regulations. These regulations could be a waiting period or a minimum age requirement. Its origination comes from a town in Suothern Scotland where many young couples were married after England set the minimum marriage age at 21.
If your search for a marriage record has been unsuccessful, try looking for a “Gretna Green” near the couple’s usual place of residence. Very often it is a town just over the county or state border. A list of popular wedding destinations can be found here on Family Search.
Should you find a couple who did go outside of their hometown to marry, it does not necessarily mean that they were trying to avoid a regulation. It could be that they wanted to keep the union private, had friends or family members in the other town, or they simply liked that location better.
When all else fails, try looking in Vegas.