Is That Legal – Flash Weddings

Photo by Maggie Winters for Pop! Wed Co., used with permission

Photo by Maggie Winters for Pop! Wed Co., used with permission

I saw an article on NPR the other day about a company that is helping couples elope in creative ways – with flash weddings. Pop! Wed Co. is an all-in-one elopement concierge in Washington, D.C., run by photographer Maggie Winters and secular humanist officiant Steven Gaudaen. The two select the location, obtain the marriage license, take the photographs, and perform the ceremony. They show that a fast wedding doesn’t have to be plain.

According to the article, they never get permission or a permit for any of the locations and they have been asked to leave a few venues. Apparently Gaudaen finished the ceremony for one couple while they were being escorted out of the Natural History Museum so they could still claim the location on the marriage certificate.

I’ve had a few people over the years approach me because they wanted to have a flash mob wedding and they wanted to know if it was legal. Of course the answer is always, “It depends.”

For years I’ve said I’m going to elope on a street corner on a Tuesday. If weddings weren’t also a reunion of family and friends, I would definitely elope because all the decision that go into planning a wedding will make me crazy. If you want to have your wedding on public property – like a park, or a street corner, or the beach – you can probably get away doing a ceremony in a few minutes as long as you’re not interfering with other’s enjoyment or use of the space. If you turn it into a production where you have a full set up and take over the area, that’s when you draw attention, and that’s a situation where municipalities require you to get some type of event permit.

If you want to have you flash wedding on private property – like a church, art gallery, or museum – you probably have to move quickly to avoid getting caught. These places are open to the public so you’re welcome to walk in, but if you don’t leave when requested, you could be trespassing. If your flash wedding causes a big commotion, police might try to give you a citation for something like disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct.

I think flash weddings are pretty innocuous as long as they’re performed with the right spirit. These are the biggest potential risks I see.

  • If the venue normally charges a fee to hold a wedding at their location and they find out that you had a flash wedding without their permission, they could send the couple or the organizers a bill . . . but then they’d be the jerks who sent a bill for a five-minute wedding ceremony that didn’t interfere with their space.
  • If the organizers have previously been kicked out of a place for doing a flash wedding there and they try to pull off another one at the same venue, they might be at risk for trespassing because they know they were using the space for an unauthorized purpose.

If you’re looking for a resource about the legalities of flash mobs, I wrote an entire book about it called Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans. In it, I share the process I go through as a flash mob organizer to help ensure that no one’s going to get sued or arrested during or after an event.

If you want to chat about flash mobs or other guerilla events, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
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