A marriage license
is a document issued, either by a church or state authority, authorizing a couple to marry. The procedure for obtaining a license varies between countries and has changed over time. Marriage licenses began to be issued in the Middle Ages, to permit a marriage which would otherwise be illegal (for instance, if the necessary period of notice for the marriage had not been given).
Today, they are a legal requirement in some jurisdictions and may also serve as the record of the marriage itself, if signed by the couple and witnessed.
In other jurisdictions, a license is not required. In some jurisdictions, a "pardon" can be obtained for marrying without a license, and in some jurisdictions, common-law marriages and marriage by cohabitation
and representation are also recognized. These do not require a marriage license. There are also some jurisdictions where marriage licenses do not exist at all and a marriage certificate
is given to the couple after the marriage ceremony
had taken place.
Article 16 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights
declares that "Men and women of full age
, without any limitation due to race, nationality
or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution
. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses."