First Person: Why Has South Carolina’s Marriage License Changed?

While attending a wedding ceremony in 2016, I discovered a change of wording in the marriage license. After the ceremony, the bride shared with me that the officiating minister was having trouble filling out the marriage license and asked if I could help. As a pastor, I had filled out numerous marriage licenses and agreed to help.

This was my introduction to a marriage license I had never seen before. This form was different. Previously, there had always been places for the bride and groom to record pertinent information. There was a line at the bottom for the groom and bride to sign their names. But on this new marriage license, the words bride and groom were missing. They had mysteriously been replaced with the designations “party a” and “party b.”

For the most part, I dismissed it. It got a little more personal for me the next year when I conducted the wedding for my son, who was marrying his high school sweetheart. The year after that, I officiated at the wedding of my daughter. These couples were more than “party a” and “party b.”

I did a little research, calling different counties to determine if any of them still used the traditional wording “bride and groom” on the marriage licenses. None of them did, nor did they have any answers about why or when a change was made.

Finally, I called the state senator from my district, Mike Gambrell, to find out why the change was made. He was not aware of the change. It seems these changes were made in the shadows, and the citizens of South Carolina were not supposed to notice.

Last year, Senator Gambrell filed a bill that would have brought back the traditional wording on the marriage license as an option for couples who preferred it. However, the bill never moved forward.

Senator Gambrell submitted a bill on Jan. 10, 2023, that, if passed, would provide a traditional marriage license as an alternative to the present one that simply says “party a” and “party b.”

If this bill gets traction, the Senate Judiciary Committee will pass it along to a subcommittee for a hearing. If the subcommittee approves it, it will then be heard by the full Judiciary Committee, who will decide if it advances to the Senate floor for a vote.

We can do something. Those who represent us in Columbia need to know if this matters to you. Hopefully and prayerfully, future brides and grooms can sign a marriage license that does not reduce them to “party a” and “party b.”

— Clarence Adkins is the pastor of Long Branch Baptist Church in Anderson County.