Oklahoma is a good neighbor, often greeting travelers from neighboring states with an immediate casino, if not a collective “howdy.” In turn, however, Oklahoma needs just one thing: a place to get hitched, at least for some seeking to remarry.
Due to an obscure law that is still in practice and enforced, Oklahoma prohibits recent divorcees from remarrying within six months of a legal separation. This means that many couples in this situation choose to leave the state’s borders to get married.
Although neither the state nor the wedding industry collect or retain statistics, Eureka Springs, Ark., is one city that has seen the economic effects of this Oklahoma legislation. Bill Ott, marketing and communications director of two hotels in the small town, says that he has definitely noticed the business that Oklahoma has sent to his establishments.
“Oklahoma continues to be our annual number one geographic market for weddings at both of our local hotels – the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa and the 1905 Basin Park Hotel,” he says.
And since the town boasts the title of the “Wedding Capital of the South,” this is no small market, nor is the number of Oklahomans driven to wed out of state negligible.
“Notable numbers of Oklahomans using our facilities and our services would be an accurate description,” Ott says.
A hotel manager concierge from Eureka Springs, speaking on condition of anonymity, agrees that much of his establishment’s business comes from Oklahoma.
“A substantial amount of our business is from Oklahomans – probably around 50 percent,” he says.
Also, he says, it is not just the hotels that gain business.
“You have to remember, too, that there are wedding planners and organizers, and also probably pastors and different churches that gain business,” he says.
The manager says it would make sense for Oklahomans to travel there as a means of avoiding the trap of the unusual law – and Eureka Springs businesses appreciate the boon.
“If you took a survey of all the businesses in Eureka Springs, you’d probably be surprised about how large a percentage of the business comes from Oklahomans,” he says.
Deborah Shallcross, attorney with GableGotwals, says that most of her clients were already familiar with the law prohibiting a quick remarriage. As a former district court judge of 30 years, Shallcross spent nine of them in the divorce division.
“I didn’t hear a lot of surprise from either party about the remarriage law,” she says. “But I did hear complaints.”
Shallcross says that most of the complaints that she heard were from those who wanted to marry again quickly.
However, as old-fashioned as the law might sound, Shallcross says that it is still in place for a reason.
“The legislature passes laws that reflect the policy of the state. This has always been Oklahoma’s policy to prefer marriage over divorce,” she says. “This makes it harder to jump from an old relationship into a new one.”
As to her personal opinion of the law, Shallcross says that she isn’t opposed to its presence in the books.
“I was obligated to enforce it, of course, but I personally have no problem with it,” Shallcross says. “The six months after a decree is signed is a time when people should reflect. I would hate to see people jumping from one failed relationship into another relationship so quickly.”
But for those who are ready, of course, there’s always Eureka Springs.