The Sexes: Secret Love

More than 20,000 couples will do something furtive in California this year—they will marry. State law allows confidential marriages with a minimum of fuss: no marriage license, no blood test, no three-day waiting period and, best of all, no public record that the marriage ever took place.

The century-old statute was intended to allow common-law couples to legitimize their marriages quietly and without embarrassment. Now growing numbers of couples are using the law to avoid red tape and keep word of the marriages from parents and friends. In 1972, only 532 such weddings...