Next month I’m going to Barbara and Shane’s wedding. I’m excited. For the first time in my life, I’m attending a wedding where both bride and groom are good friends of mine. The wedding will take place in a historic church not far from the Old Town Square in Prague, a city I’ve been itching to visit for years.
The ceremony will be religious, and the happy couple will have to renounce sins they don’t believe are really all that bad to receive absolution they don’t really believe in.
Still, they will be joined together in the eyes of God, the IRS, Social Security, Medicare, local law enforcement, and, most importantly, the Mormons and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, who take seriously the superstitious mumbo-jumbo that the happy couple will repeat good-naturedly for the sake of a pretty and personally significant occasion in their lives.
For most of human history, marriage has been a private matter, between two families or between two individuals.
Until the seventeenth century, the Church accepted the validity of a marriage so long as a couple claimed that they had exchanged vows, even in private without witnesses—though “licit” only if they were confirmed in and by the Church (1).
In the Renaissance, some European nations began to require “legal” or civic recognition of marriage, mainly to maintain the authority of parents over their children’s destinies and thus keep inheritable titles and estates under a patriarchal thumb.
For most of US history, states required marriages to be “registered,” like births or deaths, but exerted little or no management over who was officially or legally married. Later, in the early twentieth century, some US states began to “license” marriage as a means to prevent or de-legitimize interracial unions (1).
In the 1950s, when most adults of a certain age were married, licensed marriage became an expedient way of qualifying individuals for legal privileges and institutional benefits (1). The downside of this practicality was that these privileges and benefits were denied to those who were unmarried … or whose relationships fell outside a state’s legal definition of a marriage.
Forty-one years ago, Loving v Virginia (388 US 1) ended all race-based discrimination in state marriage laws—thus ending a 40-year history of anti-miscegenation laws, principally in the South.
It is now time for marriage to be loosed altogether from its ties to the state. Individual places of worship should be able to consecrate whatever relationships they deem sacred, without government interference, provided the arrangements are consensual. Such matters are the business of the congregation and religious hierarchy ... and should not be subject to public scrutiny or approval.
Neither should the government deny civil rights and legal privileges to individuals who have no such relationships—or whose relationships are entirely secular, unblessed by any God.
Current state ballots contain proposals for new and stricter legal hoops that states can require ostensibly free individuals to hop through before they are allowed the same privileges and rights a favored few can acquire at the comparably cheap price of $50 (in North Carolina, less than I pay annually to own a dog).
This is unjust and un-American.
Proposition 8 in California and the Florida Marriage Amendment seek to perpetuate legalized inequality, denying lesbians and gays the right to marry whom they please.
Even if these propositions fail, state marriage laws in general remain discriminatory against the single and “illicitly” coupled.
I urge everyone in every state to vote against statutes that would make current injustices more firmly entrenched—and work towards a system of distributing benefits without regard to one’s marital status, religious affiliation, or conformity to community standards of behavior.
Vote no on Proposition 8. Vote no on the Florida Marriage Amendment. Speak now or forever hold your peace.
(1) Coontz, Stephanie. “Taking Marriage Private.” New York Times 26 Nov. 2007.