To be married in Las Vegas, Clark County, Nevada, a bride must swear that she is eighteen or has parental permission and a bridegroom that he is twenty-one or has parental permission. Someone must put up five dollars for the license. (On Sundays and holidays, fifteen dollars. The Clark County Courthouse issues marriage licenses at any time of the day or night except between noon and one in the afternoon, between eight and nine in the evening, and between four and five in the morning.) Nothing else is required. The State of Nevada, alone among these United States, demands neither a premarital blood test nor a waiting period before or after the issuance of a marriage license.
Driving in across the Mojave from Los Angeles, one sees the signs way out on the desert, looming up from that moonscape of rattle-snakes and mesquite, even before the Las Vegas lights appear like a mirage on the horizon: “GETTING MARRIED? Free License Information First Strip Exit.” One hundred and seventy-one couples were pronounced man and wife in the name of Clark County and the State of Nevada that night, sixty-seven of them by a single justice of the peace, Mr. James Brennan. “I could’ve married them en masse, but they’re people, not cattle. People expect more when they get married,” said Brennan.
What people who get married in Las Vegas actually do expect—what, in the largest sense, their “expectations” are—strikes one as a curious and self-contradictory business. Las Vegas is the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements, bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification, a place the tone of which is set by mobsters and call girls. Almost everyone notes that there is no “time” in Las Vegas, no night and no day and no past and no future; neither is there any logical sense of where one is. And yet the Las Vegas wedding business seems to appeal to precisely that impulse. “Sincere and Dignified Since 1954,” one wedding chapel...
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