Bruno Mars can’t “Marry You” & other Quebec curios

Arnolfini Portrait (detail) by Jan van Eyck. 1434, oil on oak. Currently in the National Gallery, London. Arnolfini Portrait (detail) by Jan van Eyck. 1434, oil on oak. Currently in the National Gallery, London.

You know that little peppy song from about three years ago that Bruno Mars sings? “It’s a beautiful night/we’re looking for something dumb to do/hey baby, I think I want to marry you”. If we’re talking about music here, I much prefer Stephen Sondheim’s musical about married life, “Company”. While Sondheim’s musical brings up interesting questions on married life in general, Mars’ lyrics about spontaneous marriage (it sounds like a disease, right?) carries some interesting contrast for Quebec marriage laws.

Las Vegas is famous for its instantaneous weddings: consent, identification, and 60$ (with a 5$ surcharge for credit card transactions) is all you need—love, apparently, is optional. Not so easy in Quebec. The federal government is responsable for the forms of marriage while the provinces are responsable for the celebration of it. Quebec doesn’t allow immediate weddings unless there are exceptional circumstances such as major illnesses. In fact, continuing a tradition going back centuries, marriages must be publicized. 20 days before the marriage, there must be a notice outside the place of marriage stating the couple’s intention to marry. The notice must also be placed outside the nearest courthouse. So if this song was set in Quebec, the conditions for marriage rules out Bruno’s slightly buzzed plans for him and his girl almost immediately.

Rings are an optional element in a legal Quebec marriage. After the official that will perform the marriage checks the identities of each person (including whether they have a parental authority’s permission, in case of a minor, and if their marital status permits them to get married), the official must receive consent from each person. The spouses, two witnesses, and the official sign two copies of the marriage declaration, one of which the spouses keep, the other which gets transmitted directly to the Directeur de l’état civil, the office who keeps all the birth, marriage, and death records for the province. The Directeur de l’état civil then checks the declaration for things such as spelling mistakes and then creates the official act of marriage.

But all is not lost. What happens in Vegas might just not stay in Vegas. You can still legally marry outside of Quebec. Before you hop on a plane to Sin City, as always, there’s a catch: your marriage still must respect Canadian and provincial marriage laws. You will still have to send your marriage certificate to the Directeur de l’état civil. Still, with the implications involved, why rush? Marriage is, after all, at its base a contract.