Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Marriage and the State

John and I went to get the marriage license yesterday. It cost us a hundred bucks. That is what my dress cost. I am filled with righteous indignation.

My indignation grew when I heard that the priest told us that he would go to jail if he married us without a license. That just made no sense to me. Why couldn't he perform a quiet, religious ceremony without the state getting involved? Sure, we wouldn't get a tax break, and we wouldn't have a marriage certificate to show anyone, but why is it that two people can't make a religious commitment without paying Uncle Sam $100?

Of course, it's not just money. In the state of Washington, a 3-day waiting period is required before getting married. Since the state was involved anyway, I guess they felt that while they were at it, they might as well insert their own provisions. The idea is to reduce the divorce rate. But the question is still, who gave them the right?

The fourth thing (if you were counting) that bothers me is this. I'll be watching a movie, and there will be a wedding. The minister says, "By the power vested in me by the State of California ..." What? The State of California? The State of California has the authority to proclaim people man and wife, or not? No wonder there's a fuss about defining marriage. The state thinks it has the authority to do so. But people were marrying and giving in marriage long before the State of California set up shop.

Nowadays, people shack up all the time. They are in no way distinguishable from a married couple, except by their lack of a license. (I would say they lack the lifetime commitment, but so do the married people, too, much of the time.) I say, why can't they have a lifetime commitment without the license while they're at it? Why can't they go by their local church, synagogue, or hippie guru and proclaim their lifetime commitment? Why in the world is it against the law for them to do this? Maybe they don't want the state to bother with them. What about that scenario is so terrible?

What about this notion. Everyone gets married with their churches or religious groups or whatever. If they have no religion, they get up among their friends and profess their commitment. They can get a friend to act as minister, if they like -- people often do. Then, if they want to get a legal marriage license, they go into a courthouse or before a clerk and sign a document that says they wish to form a legally binding partnership. Most people would probably do this. But that way, they can do it before or after the wedding, whenever they like. And it wouldn't be the state's authority to marry people, just to recognize and give certain legal benefits to their union, and later to moderate their disagreements, if they should divorce. But if people were content with a religious arrangement only, I see no reason at all why they should not be allowed to do so.

All right, that's my soapbox speech for today. In other news, I'm getting married in ten days. I'm staying with my future in-laws and just as busy as I can be. Between Wii Golf, gardening (and getting burned), and watching the cows, the days are just packed. The hard part is to carve out time on the computer. There are a lot of Connollys. But I will try to post at least once more before the wedding.


Mrs McLean said...

Aha! I was wondering if you had gotten married yet. I will pray that you have much better weather than my groom and I did!

Sheila said...

So far it's looking good! But you never know -- it rained last night. So long as we have sun for our outdoor cookout rehearsal dinner, I'll be happy.

paul bowman said...

Sheila, you must be married by now. Congratulations!

Haven't been keeping up with blogs all that well, lately. Missed this post. It would be nice to see you get into the topic further here in future.

The thing to be accounted for, of course, is that marriage & family are civil structures in a greater fabric of civil relationships, so that civil authority is implied & invoked in a variety of dimensions in its establishment. If by 'religious' you mean something with a definite interlocked connection to civil life & order — which is a Catholic idea, I think — then it makes sense to challenge the state's assumption of full authority over marrying (& other 'unions'). But in modern societies, religious and civil are supposed to be strictly separate aspects of our life together; and since the civil is the province of the state, if marriage is civil, the state assumes authority in its establishment. As Christians, we certainly don't want marriage to be merely 'religious' in the modern sense, and just dismiss the civil as unimportant. We affirm the civil priority of marriage's significance — though we also insist that there is something greater, something of eternal significance, to which marriage belongs. We don't wish to weaken the civil order by weakening the civil significance of marriage & family more than has already been done in the modern world. We really have to be careful about challenging the state's role, I think, where the state is actually upholding — though very imperfectly — the integrity of something we agree must remain a coherent element of civil life for the well-being of all.

MichelleKendall said...

Sheila - I noticed on your other blog that you didn't want to post up your real last name for privacy concerns. You put your husband's last name in this post - you may want to edit it out!

My friend sent me a link to your blog about a week ago and I've been enjoying all your photographs and your stories. You are an exceptional young woman and I look forward to reading on! :)

- Michelle