By Irene F. Starkehaus -
What exactly is the point of legal marriage? If two people love one another and are willing to make vows before God and witnesses, then what does a state's seal of approval do to improve upon that sacred commitment? More importantly, why are the rule followers of this world still genuflecting to the authority of government in its embezzled role as vicar when legislatures, administrators and the courts don't take their role seriously and continue to weaken the significance of matrimony as an institution?
A license to wed has historically acted as legal proof of a lifelong commitment that two eligible people can make to one another of their own free will. The government bestows a unique set of legal rights and obligations upon people who unite in this way. Marriage has a recognized impact on society, so the government alleges that it has the duty to regulate it in order to protect marriage and our culture…the implication being that religious authorities lack the resolve to properly vet marriage applicants in defense of the individual and society.
Because government will scrutinize the candidates better? So clearly, there are some rhetorical arguments to be made against submitting to legal marriage –
Marriage has long been considered preferable to a lack of legal commitment for its influence over domestic stability. A growing number of people, however, don't marry in order to produce their offspring. And as we well know, there is no law that requires such a pledge of fidelity.
There are certainly cases where the legal union of two people might place undue social or financial burdens on one or both of the individuals in question. And while it is true that divorced and unmarried parents may face economic challenges that married parents don't because they are supporting two households, federal, state and local governments happily provide financial aid and tax breaks for those in need of food, medical care, child care and housing. It is part of their drive towards micromanaging individual lives...because individuals also cannot be trusted to protect the culture.
In many instances, these safeguards provide a better lifestyle for parents and children than a legal marriage would. There's a financial trade-off between single parenthood and marriage, but imagine two people obtaining a religiously blessed marriage, living as husband and wife in the upbringing of their children, but not suffering the financial penalties associated with legally sanctioned marriage…
Did my suggestion have you shaking off the odd sensation that this would be an act of illegitimacy? Well, then you have just place the State's authority over God's (Don't feel bad. I did too.) in spite of the fact that circumventing the government might actually act as a stabilizing force for society. It could be argued that government has actually been destabilizing marriage and the culture through its control over both.
But regardless of the economic losses that befall those who play by the rules, the sustaining argument for legal marriage has been that married couples enjoy legal guidelines and rights with regard to: division of assets, child support and child custody in cases of separation or death of a partner, social security and benefit disbursements, and spousal rights in executing end of life decisions.
So the question is, do cohabitating partners have restricted legal rights or protections with regard to the dissolution of a relationship through separation, illness or death?
Actually, there aren't as many restrictions as you might think. Partners can create legally binding cohabitation agreements including a durable power and medical power of attorney, child support and custody agreements, and written wills or trusts that specifically stipulate the legal decisions which were made before tragedy or separation occurred. Municipalities and corporations are increasingly extending benefits to registered domestic partners and all of this codifies cohabitation as a legal structure that enjoys an equivalency to marriage.
So the unique legal rights and requirements bestowed upon married couples can easily be simulated by couples who cohabitate.
Further to this point, marriage has a one in two chance of ending in divorce. Shouldn't it be harder to obtain a divorce if the true purpose of secularized marriage is to provide stability for children and the culture?
Yes, but the State holds that creating too many obstacles to divorce may discourage couples from separating if they are in marriages that are abusive. The government believes that for the safety and welfare of individuals and their children, people must be free to leave relationships that are no longer working for them.
The only actual purpose then of a government approved marriage is to discover legal obstacles that would prevent a marriage from being lawfully recognized in the first place… such as polygamy or incest.
With regard to polygamy, it isn't illegal for an individual to marry, have children, divorce and then marry again so as to have children with a new spouse. It also isn't illegal for an individual to remain unmarried and have children with multiple partners…so the government's statutory concerns associated with polygamy are simply form over substance.
And that means that the only enduring reason for the government to remain involved in marriage is to prevent incest…
Since incest is already illegal in every state in the Union?
Since the federal government and a growing number of states legally recognize same sex marriage for the distribution of benefits including joint tax filings, social security benefits, and legal immigration status for foreign partners regardless of the incapacity of same sex couples to produce offspring?
Since polygamy is indirectly tolerated?
Since cohabitation reaps nearly the same legal rights as marriage?
Since legal marriage is easily dissolved?
Since there is no legal requirement for a person to be married in order to procreate?
Well, it seems to me that the government has made itself irrelevant through the process of asserting its relevancy.
There is little reason for this modern administrative intrusion into marriage beyond its desire for revenue generation because marriage as an institution has been nullified by our representatives for all intents and purposes. Given the undeniable obsolescence of legal matrimony, the more interesting question is why mainstream religious institutions still hold themselves to the requirement of a state issued marriage license before they will perform a marriage ceremony.
Religious leaders will say that they are required to obey legitimate civil authorities and laws so long as the laws do not conflict with the ethical requirements of their faiths. They will explain that the law obliges individuals to obtain a marriage certificate issued by a state. On the surface, this law does not run contrary to the moral obligations set by mainstream religions. Further, it is illegal for anyone to perform a marriage ceremony without properly reporting it to the government.
Superficially, marriage laws do not challenge the moral tenets that mainstream religions obey, but since the government fails to uphold its self-imposed legal obligation to protect the institution of marriage, illegitimacy has cast a shadow over the process and annulled its executive authority over marriage.
When the legislative branch abdicated its power by refusing to safeguard traditional marriage and when administrations failed to execute any remaining laws that defended traditional marriage and when the judiciary undermined its own legitimacy by acting extra-constitutionally in striking down marriage laws and amendments, this authority that government claimed was exposed for the foolishness it has been all along.
But here's something to consider. Since religious institutions are regularly punished by the State for upholding tenets of faith in opposition to certain marriages, continuing to adhere to state requirements will ultimately embolden the government to further regulate and suppress religious expression. This would produce more regulation like the HHS mandates that run in direct opposition to religious doctrines, and this would encourage additional punishments like the strictures placed upon religious organizations that were once involved in adoption and foster care because those groups refused to place children with same sex couples.
With the growing dilemma of legal marriage coming to a head, is it possible that we will we live to see a day where churches perform marriages without the government's permission as an act of profound civil disobedience? In doing so, would religious groups then be successfully restoring stability to the traditional family and our culture in this ultimate display of irony? Would this tiny act of defiance (which could be viewed as almost symbolic for the total erosion of marriage that government has achieved) act to sustain the philosophical tradition that America remains one nation under God?