Friday, June 26, 2015

What Makes a Marriage Valid?

In many cases, I'm seeing people view the Supreme Court's legalization of Same-Sex Marriage (SSM) as either a civil rights issue, a religious issue, or both. (For the purposes of this blog post, I'm focusing on those two aspects.) This leads to the question of what actually makes a marriage valid.

Is it being married by anyone who is legally permitted to perform the ceremony? Is a marriage valid only if a couple is married in a house of worship? Is that marriage valid only if that marriage takes places in your house of worship? Ed and I were married in a Catholic church; would our marriage be considered invalid because we were married in a church of a different Christian denomination, or in a Jewish Synagogue, or a Mormon or Buddhist Temple, or a justice of the peace?

My brother and sister-in-law were married by a justice of the peace, as was my a cousin and three friends. Others I know were married by members of the clergy but not in places of worship. The last wedding that took place in a house of worship - a wedding to which I was invited - was more than 20 years ago. Are these marriages invalid because they weren't in places of worship, or married by someone of who is not a member of the clergy?

Legally, any recognized member of the clergy, a judge, a court clerk, and justices of the peace have authority to perform a marriage (one can become an ordained minister thanks to an online ordination process through the Universal Life Church), although in some states have laws that permit other persons to apply for authority to perform marriage ceremonies. In South Carolina, for example, notary publics may perform the ceremony.

In Pennsylvania, where Ed and I got married, persons may marry themselves if they obtain a certificate from the clerk of the orphans' court, although each marriage license bureau has different requirements. (We got married in a Catholic church, where the thinking is that we marry ourselves; the priest presides over the ceremony. Historically, a couple would promise verbally to each other that they would be married to each other; the presence of a priest or witnesses was not required. This promise was known as the "verbum" and was unquestionably binding.) Although we married in Pennsylvania, we live in Utah, where "[m]inisters of the gospel or priests of any denomination who are in regular communion with any religious society may perform marriages."

Cousin marriages (when both parties are above a certain age, and/or can prove sterility) are legal in Utah, since apparently "many cousins do get married in their senior years.") Arizona, Illinois, and Minnesota also allow first cousin marriages with certain conditions such as sterility and/or age, while Maine considers this a civil violation. In some states (California, Hawai'i, Alaska, New Hampshire, Florida, Massachusetts, and other states), marriages between first cousins are outright legal, while in other states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Arkansas, Texas, Washington, and others) marriage between first cousins are not legal. Am I to consider cousin marriages invalid, then, because they're legal in some states but not in others, or because I wouldn't want to marry my cousins? (They're lovely people, by the way.)

So who does validate the marriage between two people? If the government legalizes a marriage, but it's not the way I "would have done it," that does not invalidate the marriage. The only two people who validate an otherwise legal marriage are the people who are in that particular marriage. Personal disagreement over whether those people should be legally permitted to be married is not your decision to make.

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