I always thought that to get legally married in California, you had to (1) get a license, (2) perform the ceremony, and (3) mail in your certificate.
Apparently I was wrong. Or so holds the Court of Appeal. Even when you deliberately don't do (3), you're still married.
This case arises because Joseph and Tanya Cantarella got "married" in 1991 in front of a judge, and all was well with the thing, except after they mailed in their certificate and had it twice rejected for various defects, Joe and Tanya decided that rather than send it in a third time and have it accepted, they'd "stay" formally unmarried in order to get the tax benefits. So they never registered the marriage. A decade later, they got married "for real" and registered this time. Then in another decade, they got divorced, and the question arose regarding how long they'd been "actually" married -- since this mattered for spousal support. Joe said they'd only been "really" married since 2000, whereas Tanya says the 1991 ceremony did the trick.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Tanya. Sending in your certificate, and registering your marriage, is helpful. But even if you deliberately refrain from doing so -- and even if you get material benefits therefrom, including claiming that you are "single" on your tax return -- the marriage still counts.
So maybe here's another money-making possibility as well. Get married, have the ceremony, and get all the benefits. But don't mail in the form, at which point the state doesn't know that you're married, and claim to be single on your tax returns. Thus obviating the marriage penalty while still getting all the benefits.
You just have to make sure you're spouse is up for it. Which, at least on my end, I'm quite positive is not the case. Sandy's no Tanya.