Consult the Experts: Judge Frank Simon's licenses to wed

Judge Frank SimonTrue love may know no bounds, but getting married in the state of South Carolina — like driving a car, catching a fish or owning a gun — requires a piece of government documentation to be fully legit. The man to talk to about that in Beaufort County is Judge Frank Simon, a Korean War vet who has served as the Beaufort County Probate Court judge since 1994. The court oversees the little bit of bureaucracy that attaches itself to every bit of true love: the marriage license. The court issues about 1,800 licenses every year. Even if you and your betrothed are just in town for vacation, you can still get a license (for an added fee of $45). The court doesn’t see too much Vegas-style eloping, but getting married in the Lowcountry can come with its own hazards.

Q. Why do we still need marriage licenses?
A. It’s statutory by state. Each state has enacted laws pertinent to marriage and family, including divorce.

Q. But what’s the rationale behind it?
A. It probably goes back to days when we were governed by clerics, where the church was more of a major player in society than it is today. Today the rationale relates to the legal concept that the state is party to every marriage because of the interest in the family unit as the cornerstone of society. The state can bless marriage, and creates some sort of a legal process to undo it either by annulment or separation or divorce.
Is the state intruding on people’s lives? It would be hard to change that concept now. To go back to some free-love concept would be pretty difficult.

Q. What else is required besides the fee?
A. There’s no blood test, but there is a 24-hour wait from the date and time of application. That’s to give a cooling-off period. There are instances where they will make the application, pay the fee and never pick it up. It’s not often, but it happens.

Q. The law says you need parental consent to get married at age 16. How often does that happen?
A. The norm is not to see it. But it’s not unusual.

Q. When you’re out in public, do people ask you for marriage advice?
A. It probably applies to all elected officials. We’re fair game. When you’re at a party and you’re having a beer, you can be hit with any question. The hot topic is same-gender unions. I don’t respond to what my own opinion is. I go on the law.

Q. Have you received any applications from same-sex couples?
A. We haven’t yet. With several states now honoring samegender marriages or unions, I’m sure we will.

Q. What will happen?
A. In South Carolina the statute is clear that to be valid a marriage must be between a man and a woman. We would more than likely not accept that application. We can’t render legal advice. We would suggest that they see a lawyer. Certainly if they are intent on such a union, there are states in which you can do that.

Q. Ever see any weddings go wrong?
A. I’ve done several (weddings) for friends. In one, the parties absolutely insisted that it be on the beach. I insisted that you have to really look at the tide tables, because if you don’t play the tides right you’re going to have wet fancy high-heel shoes. Sure as shooting it was delayed, and they did get wet. It’s romantic and exciting to get married on the beach. But you need to visualize what’s going to happen.