Eloping or the term “to elope” , most literally, merely means to run away. More specifically, elopement is often used to refer to a marriage conducted in a sudden and secretive fashion, usually involving hurried flight away from one’s place of residence.
In England , a legal prerequisite of marriage was the “reading of the banns ” — for the three Sundays prior to the intended date of their ceremony, the names of every couple intending marriage had to be read aloud by the priest(s) of their parish(es) of residence. (The intention was to prevent bigamy or other unlawful marriages by giving fair warning to anybody who might have a legal right to object. In practice, however, it also gave warning to the couples’ parents, who sometimes objected on purely personal grounds.) To contravene this law, it was necessary to get a special license from the Archbishop of Canterbury — or to flee somewhere the law did not apply, across the border to Scotland , for instance.
In the United States , more recently, some states required blood tests or waiting periods before marriage; a couple wishing to wed quickly (before, usually, their parents could object) would travel to a state without such a rule. In the musical Guys and Dolls , for instance, a police officer suggests that Nathan Detroit and Adelaide, his fiancée of fourteen years, elope to Elkton, Maryland , which does not require a blood test.
Today the term “eloping” is colloquially used for any hasty marriage or one performed away from home with few (if any) guests. Some couples find it romantic, for instance, to “elope” to Las Vegas, Nevada and be married by an Elvis impersonator there. More seriously, now that certain states and municipalities in the United States have begun allowing same-sex marriage , elopement for legal reasons may see a resurgence.
Young couples in the United States and similar countries have been resorting to elopement to circumvent anti-marriage laws (usually based on age) since the 1970s when such laws became popular. Prior to this, lovers had to elope to avoid anti-marriage laws that prohibited marriage based on skin-color. There is some speculation that mixed-race marriages were one of the motivations behind restricting all marriages in the United States in the 1970s after the civil rights movements of the 1960s.