A pop-up marriage license office at McCarran Airport this month illustrates the importance of the wedding industry to Las Vegas. The effort is among several initiatives to increase the number of weddings amid a long-term national decline in marriage rates.
Millennials putting off marriage in the wake of the Great Recession and being more cautious about wedding planning are among the reasons frequently cited for the decline, acutely felt in Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed "Wedding Capital of the World."
Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, issued 73,143 marriage licenses in 2019, a more than 40% drop from 2004, when 128,000 licenses were issued. About 80% of the licenses were issued to tourists, and 20% of those were international visitors, according to the county clerk's office. About 6% were issued to same-sex couples.
"It's a $2.5 billion industry per year in economic activity for Clark County," county clerk Lynn Goya said. "When people come to Las Vegas to get married, they bring their family and friends. They stay at the hotels, they eat at the restaurants, they go to the shows and they usually do some kind of multiple group activities. A lot of them fly through the airport."
Easy weddings are as traditional as easy divorces in Nevada. The Nevada Legislature in 1931 passed the most lenient divorce law of any state when it reduced the residency requirement from three months to six weeks.
"We're one of the few places in the world that has a dedicated wedding industry," Goya said. "So it makes this really easy and simple and actually less expensive for people to come here and get married."
Temporary office for licenses
To make the process even easier for tourists, Goya teamed with Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County's director of aviation, to create the temporary marriage license office at the airport. This is the third year the office has been set up in February for Valentine's Day lovebirds and those taking advantage of the Presidents Day weekend. This year was expected to be even busier because of Leap Day and the idea of having 2020 forever etched in personal event timelines.
Signs in the baggage claim area point the way to the office in Terminal 1. In front is an Instagram-worthy, life-size cutout of Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas, who secretly wed in Las Vegas in May. Couples who purchase their marriage license from the airport office and fly on Southwest Airlines receive priority boarding, special in-flight announcements and a custom Married in Vegas bottle of Champagne.
Both the airport office and the main bureau downtown have a custom "Married in Vegas Feb. 2020" Snapchat filter. All couples getting married in Clark County in February will also get to take home a souvenir "Married in Vegas Feb. 2020" keepsake and auto decal.
"This year has been our best year at the airport," Goya said. "It is outperforming all of our other satellite offices."
Goya was also instrumental in the 2015 founding of the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce (LVWCC), an organization dedicated to growing the destination wedding tourism industry in Las Vegas. It's made of businesses throughout Clark County that benefit directly or indirectly from wedding tourism in Las Vegas. Its website has resources, a directory of wedding-related businesses and tips for getting married in Las Vegas.
The Marriage License Bureau, a division of the County Clerk's Office, is typically the busiest in the nation. Since the county's founding in 1909, nearly 4.9 million marriage licenses have been issued.
Planning is underway to celebrate the 5 millionth-license milestone, expected to walk down the aisle next year.
Goya said the Nevada State Museum is working on a Las Vegas wedding-themed exhibition for spring 2021. Also in the works for promotion: Wedding photography contests, testimonials from couples who got married in Las Vegas and a chronology of celebrity marriages are being discussed.
Celebrities who have gotten married in Las Vegas include: Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (Jan. 28, 1958); Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow (July 19, 1966); Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu (May 1, 1967); Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (Nov. 21, 1987); Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw (Oct. 12, 1991); Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie (May 5, 2000); Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf (Oct. 22, 2001); and Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner (May 1, 2020).
Goya is talking with Las Vegas officials about preliminary ideas to create a "Wedding Way," from the Neon Museum downtown to the Stratosphere on Las Vegas Boulevard, where many of the city's classic wedding chapels are located.
Among them are the Little Church of the West, which opened in 1942 and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Elvis Presley and Ann-Margaret recited their vows there in "Viva Las Vegas." Themed packages include Elvis ($209 to $995, not including minister's fee), country-western ($995 to $2,975) and Harley-Davidson (in the motorcycle manufacturer's store on the Strip, $399 to $1,599).
A Little White Chapel, with its Drive-Thru Tunnel of Love ($50), is one of a handful of chapels that accommodate those who don't even want to leave their car, and Chapel of the Flowers features three distinct chapels on its Strip property.
Strip resorts also offer countless high-end packages for those exchanging vows.
Mandalay Bay Beach is a popular spot for wedding ceremonies. Photo Credit: MGM Resorts International
Mandalay Bay offers wedding and reception packages ($950-$6,000) in a traditional chapel setting, a beachfront or a 64th floor view, among other locations. Luxor offers a Titanic-themed Grand Staircase as a wedding backdrop as an option; Caesars Palace hails elegant options fit for a king and queen; and the Venetian suggests its indoor gondolas for proposals with "Will You Marry Me?" projected on the faux sky above St. Mark's Square on the Grand Canal.
Cheap, Easy Process
The temporary marriage license office at the airport will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Leap Day, Feb. 29. Couples may also get a license at the Marriage License Bureau main office at 201 E. Clark St. in downtown Las Vegas. It is open from 8 a.m. to midnight every day, including holidays.
Marriage licenses cost $77, and couples can fill out a marriage license pre-application from the county's website. After completing the application online, the couple will be issued a reference number that they bring with them to the Marriage License Bureau. Anyone seeking a marriage license must show proper identification. No blood test is required, and there is no waiting period. A marriage license is good for one year.
Goya remains optimistic for a wedding rebound.
"We are seeing an increase in weddings in the last half of last year, we were up 8.5% in January and we've been doing really great in February," Goya said.
February kicked off with more than 500 licenses on the eight-digit palindromic date of Feb. 2 (02/02/2020) followed by almost 800 marriage licenses issued Feb. 13 and 14 for Valentine's Day. Those getting married may also have been attracted to special dates 02/20/2020 and 02/22/2020. Leap Day -- Saturday, Feb. 29 -- also promises to be a busy day at the altar. The last Leap Day, a Monday in 2016, attracted 536 couples to get hitched in Clark County.
Among the easy-to-remember dates coming up for those contemplating vows: April 20, 2020 (4/20/20); Oct. 10, 2020 (10/10/20); Jan. 2, 2021 (1/2/21); Feb.1, 2021 (2/1/21); Feb. 21, 2021 (2/21/21); and April 3, 2021 (4/3/21).