What Is a Confidential Marriage License and Why Does California Offer Them?

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If you’re getting married anywhere in the United States, the first step is to get your marriage license. The rules for doing so vary from state to state, with different minimum age, cost, number of witnesses, and blood test requirements. California, however, is the only* state that offers both a regular public marriage license and a confidential marriage license.

[*One other state, Michigan, has something called “secret marriages,” but unlike confidential licenses, secret marriages require a judge in a closed court to seal the court file, and the clerk has no record at all of the marriage.]

A confidential marriage license is legally binding, just like a public license, but it’s not part of the public record. Section 501 of California’s Family Code allows for the county clerk to issue a confidential license, and Section 511 states that these licenses are not open to public inspection, except by a court order. Public marriage licenses, on the contrary, allow anyone, for any reason, to look at the personal information that appears on the licenses at the County Clerk’s office. This information—the couple’s full names, dates and places of birth, parents’ full names, and any previous marriages—is private for confidential licenses.

But why does California alone offer this option? The origin of the confidential marriage license goes back to 1878, when it was meant for unmarried cohabitating couples in the state. Some of these couples lived in rural, remote areas that were inconveniently far from a church or court, but most simply “lived in sin” and/or gave birth to children out of wedlock. Shacking up was majorly frowned upon, so couples could maintain the appearance of respectability within their communities by keeping the details of their nuptials confidential. Confidential marriages were also a boon to the California legal system because inheritance and property rights were more clear-cut when the majority of people cohabitating and raising children were married. 

Until the 1970s, confidential marriage was still an option, but it wasn’t widely taken advantage of as social mores shifted and it became less scandalous for unmarried couples to live together. In 1972, California state legislators changed the law so that laypeople, not just pastors, could perform confidential marriages, allowing couples to marry quickly (without getting their blood tested and waiting for the results) and privately. By the early 1980s, almost 1 in 3 marriages in California was a confidential one. Polygamists, minors, and people falsely claiming Social Security benefits took advantage of the confidential option, though, and the state legislature came close to doing away with it in 1984—it stayed alive by one vote. In 2012, approximately one fifth of all California marriage licenses issued were confidential.

To apply for a confidential marriage license today, a couple must swear that they live together, but it’s a technicality since the couple doesn't have to provide any proof and there is no required minimum length of time for cohabitation. In Los Angeles county, confidential marriage licenses are actually a little cheaper than a public license, but couples opting for the confidential route have to pay $14 to order a certified copy of their license and certificate, so the cost evens out. And since it’s private, no witnesses are needed to be present at the ceremony to sign the license. It’s not exactly clear why other states’ legislatures never added the option for a confidential marriage license after California instituted it, perhaps due to lack of demand. For now, if you want to get a confidential marriage license, you’ll have to do so in California.

Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?

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Today, people around the globe will feel uneasy about getting out of bed, leaving their homes, or going about their normal daily routines, all because of a superstition. These unfortunate folks suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia, a common neurosis familiar to us all: the fear of Friday the 13th. But just where did this superstitious association come from, and how did it catch on?

The truth is that no one is absolutely sure where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originated. Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, suspects the fear can be traced back to a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes feasted for eternity after they died—that was interrupted by a 13th guest, the evil and mischievous god Loki.

According to legend, Loki tricked Höðr (the blind god of winter and son of Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology) into shooting his brother Baldr (the benevolent god of summer who was also a son of Odin) with a magical spear tipped with mistletoe—the only substance that could defeat him. Thus the number 13 was branded as unlucky because of the ominous period of mourning following the loss of such powerful gods by this unwanted 13th guest.

For whatever reason, among many cultures, the number 12 emerged throughout history as a "complete" number: There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 sons of Odin, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 Jyotirlingas or Hindu shrines where Shiva is worshipped, 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, and 12 tribes of Israel. In Christianity, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles—Judas—who was the 13th guest to arrive for the Last Supper. Surpassing the number 12 ostensibly unbalances the ideal nature of things; because it is seen as irregular and disrespectful of a sense of perfection, the number 13 bears the stigma of misfortune and bad luck we know today.

WHY FRIDAY?

Friday joins in the mix mostly because all of the early accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion agree that it took place on Friday—the standard day for crucifixions in Rome. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance." Yet perpetuating Friday as an unlucky day in America came from the late 19th-century American tradition of holding all executions on Fridays; Friday the 13th became the unluckiest of days simply because it combined two distinct superstitions into one. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th itself wasn’t until 1913. (So despite actually occurring on Friday, October 13, 1307, the popular notion that the Friday the 13th stigma comes from the date on which the famed order of the Knights Templar were wiped out by King Philip of France is just a coincidence.)

The repercussions of these phobias reverberated through American culture, particularly in the 20th century. Most skyscrapers and hotels lack a 13th floor, which specifically comes from the tendency in the early 1900s for buildings in New York City to omit the unlucky number (though the Empire State Building has a 13th floor). Some street addresses also skip from 12 to 14, while airports may skip the 13th gate. Allegedly, the popular Friday the 13th films were so-named just to cash in on this menacing date recognition, not because the filmmakers actually believed the date to be unlucky.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Despite centuries of superstitious behavior, it largely seems like psychological mumbo jumbo. One 1993 study seemed to reveal that, statistically speaking, Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the study's authors told LiveScience that though the data was accurate, "the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously." Other studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th.

And Friday the 13th isn't a big deal in other cultures, which have their own unlucky days: Greeks and Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day, while Italians steer clear of Friday the 17th. So today, try to rest a little easy—Friday the 13th may not be so unlucky after all.

Additional Source: 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition.

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Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

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iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception: in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

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