Oasis in a Dry Land
The American southwest is a dry and inhospitable place. Scorching deserts stretch for thousands of miles, heated to unbearable temperatures by the unforgiving sun. You can drive for days and never see another living soul, and the only animals you'll encounter are those lean and cunning creatures that have learned to pick their sparse living from the earth, or else from the bones of those who weren't hardy enough to survive. It is a place of desolate beauty, of unrelenting nature, a place not made for men. But in a tiny corner of this bleak and arid land an oasis has emerged, a haven for the thirsty, a respite for the weary, a lush and vibrant dream. The Spanish even named this oasis after verdant spring meadows alive with life: Las Vegas.
The home of Elvis impersonators and Wayne Newton, the mecca for prize fighters and gambling addicts? The tackiest place on earth? Surely I must be thinking of some other place, right?
In Las Vegas, you can't escape the pure exuberance, the pure joie de vivre that oozes out of every glittery costume and spectacular show. It's a place where most people go to recreate, to spend the money they've worked so hard to earn, to experience glitz and glamor and the high life for a week or two. The showgirls are elegant and beautiful, the musical shows are epic and sentimental, the food is cheap and the lights never go out, night or day. It may appear like the least serious city in the world, but it is probably the only one truly built around human beings and their absolute need to enjoy themselves, even if only for a little while.
But perhaps the thing I love best about Las Vegas, and the entire state of Nevada, is that it has one of the best attitudes towards marriage of any state or country on the planet. It well deserves the title "Marriage Capitol of the World" and ought to be respected for that reason alone.
More than 110 000 couples marry in Las Vegas every year, as a direct result of some of the most liberal marriage laws in the country. While every other state but one (New Jersey) requires a blood test, Nevada does not. And while every other state insists on a waiting period of up to three days between the issuing of a license and the wedding ceremony, Nevada has no such prohibition. You can be married five minutes after you get your license, or up to a year later if you so wish. It doesn't get more reasonable than that.
In fact, the Clark Country Marriage Bureau in Las Vegas is so geared towards helping couples get married quickly and easily that their office, where you get your license, is open from 8 am to midnight Sunday through Thursday, and open 24 hours a day Fridays, Saturdays and legal holidays. You only require proof of age to get married; even if you're divorced, you don't need to produce a notarized divorce certificate like you do in other jurisdictions. You simply tell them the city, state and year you were divorced. The reason for their lax attitude towards it, I suspect, is that they figure you have no reason to lie about whether you're divorced or not. If you're not divorced, the marriage you're entering into now won't be legal, so you're the only one who'll suffer if you lie about it.
There are countless full service wedding chapels in Las Vegas, even a drive-through chapel for those too busy to get out of the car. You can be married by an Elvis lookalike if you wish, or by an ordained minister, or by just about anyone licensed by the state to marry people. You can have flowers and music, or nothing at all, and unlike most other states, need only one witness to your marriage, not two. Most packages include a limo to take you to the Marriage Bureau for your license and a legal ceremony with marriage certificate, all for about three hundred dollars.
It is a perfect spot for romance, for those who want to begin their married life together with spontaneity and fun. And considering that is only a short drive from Los Angeles, it's also perfect for movie stars and celebrities, like Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, Whoopi Goldberg, Slash from Guns'n'Roses, and countless others to eschew the typical Hollywood hype over star weddings and tie the knot in a more private and enjoyable way.
And yes, my husband and I renewed our vows before an Elivs impersonator when we were there, who belted out "Viva Las Vegas" as our wedding song and dared me to touch his shaved chest.
Nevada is also great about divorce, too. Although it is a community property state like California, meaning half of everything you made during your marriage can go to your spouse upon divorce, there are liberal provisions for those seeking a simple dissolution of marriage. As long as one of you has resided in Nevada for six weeks and both of you file for a no-fault, uncontested divorce, you can be completely, legally free of each other in about a month. There are also paralegal services that will help you arrange an even quicker Mexican or Dominican divorce, if four weeks is somehow just too long to wait.
It's clear that this state values individual personal happiness very highly. It doesn't moralize or pass judgment, decree how long you must wait to marry someone or make you stay married to them for long when you want a divorce. The legislators in this state treat adults as adults, and trust them to use their own best judgment when deciding what course their life will take. Perhaps that's why Nevada, and the jewel in it's crown, Las Vegas, seem so removed from the humdrum blandness of other places; our society is unaccustomed to seeing a government that essentially leaves its people alone, trusts that they are responsible for their choices, and values things like marriage, glamor, money, recreation and beauty in spite of the disapproving attitudes of those around it.
It's no mirage, it is a true oasis in the desert. I hope the swirling sands of propriety and anti-value never get a chance to settle there for long.