99-Cent Divorce?

A story (or, rather, my tagline), led to an amazing letter from a priest. Let’s start with the story:

With This Pop Top I Thee Wed

Not content with Walmart hogging the spotlight with its summer wedding promotion [This is True, 24 June], the 99-Cent Only store in Lewisville, Texas, is offering an alternative. For just 99 cents, couples can get married in its store. “The whole idea is to draw attention to the ludicrousness of the extravagance of weddings,” said bargain shopping maven Sue Goldstein, who helped the store develop the service. (Dallas Morning News) …A 99-cent wedding? Big deal. What the world really needs is a 99-cent divorce.

My wife didn’t like the tag, but I figured most divorced men would — and left it despite her disapproval.

Opening a Discussion

What I didn’t expect was an amazing letter from a Catholic priest — Fr. Rick in Louisiana:

No. What it needs is a very expensive wedding license, with clerics out of the business completely. By officiating at weddings we act as de facto functionaries of the state. We got involved in weddings in the Middle Ages purely to legitimize political arrangements relating to estate management and inheritance and in so doing gave up our claim to any semblance of moral authority.

Instead, we need to stop officiating at weddings entirely. My recommendation — based on almost thirty years’ experience — is that we wait for perhaps five years after the state function and then bless the wedding in an all-out joyous recognition of the civil wedding. That can be done — again, I know from experience — in such a fashion that it is virtually indistinguishable from a ‘traditional’ church wedding; and it has the advantage of recognizing a union that has a reasonable chance of success. (On top of that, the anticipation of the ceremony would provide a motive for working on making the marriage a success.)

I figured readers would want to weigh in on whether churches — Catholic or otherwise — should get out of the marriage business. I look forward to your comments below.

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122 thoughts on “99-Cent Divorce?

  1. Hell Yes. Marriage in this country carries a host of civil legal contracts, something that every citizen should have the right to. If people want to do the religion thing too, spiffykeen. They shouldn’t be forced to, and people shouldn’t have to kowtow to the religious nimrods who insist that civil legal contracts should be denied to a good chunk of the population because their religion says so.

    I’m a happily married atheist. We didn’t do the church thing, and I don’t regret it a single bit. Having a kickass party on the 5th anniversary sounds great! And, for the religious, it would probably be nifty to religiously recommit or whatever.

  2. Yes, churches should get out of the marriage business. Or rather, church weddings should not have any legal implications. Legal weddings should be done strictly by the government.

    Even better, do away with the concept of legal marriage entirely; any two consenting adults should declare themselves to be married, and that is that.

  3. I lived 14 years in Bolivia. There (as in many Latin American countries) no clergy had the civil right to perform weddings. So, couples would first have a civil ceremony at the Justice of the Peace or similar place, then have a church wedding later if they wanted to. Usually the church wedding was the same day, but sometimes it would be quite a bit later. I always thought that was a pretty good arrangement.

  4. What a wonderful idea. Any mixing of church and state dilutes both entities. Where is the uproar from church officials to separate these ceremonies, freeing them from being minions of the state? It’s a pity that the poor friar will be silenced because common sense and religiosity rarely co-exist.

  5. Marriage is a civil contract. It should be governed entirely by civil law and religion should not play a part in it. I’ll go one step further–the marriage contract should be a fixed term contract with a renewal clause should the parties wish to continue the marriage. Matters such as property division and responsibility for offspring are already a matter of civil law–why should marriage be for life if both people don’t agree on that?

    Furthermore, gender should not matter either. Two people should be able to enter into a fixed term marriage contract no matter who they are, as long as the terms of the agreement are clear. It’s an unrealistic expectation for two people to be forced to enter into an agreement with no clear termination date.

    Let’s make the marriage laws match the reality of life and treat it like the contract it should be instead of the unrealistic expectation of a binding lifelong commitment.

  6. Let’s make all legal marriages “civil unions”, solemnized as such when the marriage license is obtained.

    Sure, clerics can continue to conduct religious marriage ceremonies, but they should not have the authority to make their ceremonies legally binding. This allows for perfect freedom of religion for all faiths. If you believe your marriage must be blessed before you live together, then go ahead and have the religious ceremony before you get the legal license.

    As a side benefit, there would be no more need for controversy over gay marriage. Any two consenting adults could get a civil union with all the legal benefits that marriage currently provides. If your church won’t provide a religious ceremony for a couple, they can easily find a different one that will.

  7. Yes churches should get out of the wedding business. And they should get out of business entirely unless they can offer a contract defining exactly what their customers are going to receive and exactly what the costs will be.

  8. I agree with the Catholic priest on this matter almost entirely. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone as I’m a protestant pastor and I too am tired of being used by the general public as some sort of “Marrying Sam”. You can’t imagine the couples who just like to go shopping for a church that fits their image of a nice place to get married without any consideration for the actual ceremony.

    I don’t know if we need to wait 5 years to have the religious ceremony, but we certainly don’t need to tie state and church together on this issue. If we separate the two, it has the added benefit of getting rid of the issue that seems to be such a hot debate topic in American politics of whether or not gay couples should be allowed to get married. I say for couples who want to enter into some sort of contractual legal arrangement (whether you call it marriage or civil unions) let the state take care of that aspect with all couples. Then those that truly want God to be part of their lives can celebrate that in a church ceremony and each church can then also say for itself how it feels about who they are willing and not willing to celebrate as blessed by God without regard to legal issues that are left with the state.

    • A bit late to this party, but as a preacher’s kid, I have to agree. My dad’s church was a lovely little thing, built just before the American Civil War. Couples would pop in, seeking to get married, with just the attitude Gene mentions. When my dad suggested pre-marital counseling the couple would disappear in a puff of smoke. If you are not going to have a “religious” marriage, why bother with a religious ceremony?

      And the same goes for baptisms; it’s not fairy dust, folks.

  9. From what I can discern, the entire notion of the marriage license/contract first existed because the bride was considered the “property” of her father and he was “trading” or legally agreeing that she become the “property” of another male. Thankfully we’ve come a long way in our culture when it comes to choosing a mate.

    A few decades ago the Friar’s idea of civil ceremony followed by a Fifth Anniversary Celebration may have met with extreme opposition due to strongly held traditions. But with the sexual revolution and general moral upheaval we’ve undergone, traditional protocol is ripe for new notions. Folks all over the place are creating more unique styles of matrimony all the time. I say let YOUNG LOVE do what it will with commitment.

  10. Hmmmm.

    This really makes one think. I have often wondered why God’s servant would be subject to “the power vested in me by the state of ____”. The only power vested in a man of the cloth is the power granted by God. The church is responsible for helping us all to decide on the eternal destination of or eternal soul.

    Yes, a man and a woman who choose to follow God’s will for their lives (through the love of Jesus and guidance of the Holy Spirit) ought to most definitely enter into a covenant before God and His people. However, since this country has all kinds of laws regarding health care, kids, real estate and just about everything else, I agree the two are a silly combination. Now, I personally believe that God’s idea for what is marriage are what is best for us as humans, but if one does not want God, then that is their choice and their right. Where I draw the line is when someone wants to force me – or my church – to recognize their legal (or otherwise) arrangement as marriage. Marriage is a covenant before God. Anything else is a legal arrangement.

    The thing that saddens me about legal arrangements without God, is that they want to drag children – who do no get to choose and do not have the wisdom to choose if they were allowed to – into the fray with them; I feel that this should not be done. God does love us all and is well pleased when we turn to Him for guidance. Thank you all for sharing your hearts.

  11. I no longer consider myself a Christian, but I’ve got a better idea: Get the law out of marriage by getting rid of ‘marriage licenses’. If people want to conclude a lifetime-commitment civil contract let them do it. That would open the way for same sex unions or whatever — minus the name-calling and insult-hurling precipitated by the debate over whether homosexual or other non-traditional unions can be called “marriages”.

    As for getting the Church out of marriage, I’m surprised to hear a priest say that “We got involved in weddings in the Middle Ages purely to legitimize political arrangements relating to estate management and inheritance and in so doing gave up our claim to any semblance of moral authority”.

    My early religious training regarding marriage pretty much revolved around what Jesus told the Pharisees:

    “… Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
    And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
    Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
    [Matthew 19:4–6, KJV]

    I would have thought that if the Church jumped into the legal fray in the Middle Ages it would have been because it wanted to extend its powers into the temporal realm. Instead of getting out of the ‘de facto functionary’ business, maybe the Church should think about getting back into the ‘holy sacrament’ business.

  12. Agreed, totally agreed, however I am surprised to find men of the cloth agreeing with me. Surprised, but gladdened by it. I approached the question from the other side of the stick at this site.

    Government is weakened when it dips into the realm of religion, and religion is destroyed when it dips into the realm of governance. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. A clear call for separation of church and state if ever there existed one.

  13. I’m in favor of a covenant-based marriage which is an old fashioned marriage by public vows. These vows are recorded in a formal contract or pact and witnessed {signed} by 4 non family {adults}, 2 on behalf of the bride and 2 for the groom. Licensing only started in this country {USA} after the great depression of the 1920’s. Its sole purpose was to help generate tax revenue for each state.

    Most preachers are licensed or registered by city or county as clergy and as such are acting as government agents. Preachers serve a much higher calling than to become de facto government agents or bureaucrats.

  14. The priest seems to have it backwards. We need to get the state out of the business of issuing licenses. Licenses are nothing more than a scam by the state to tax something and like everything the state reaches its grubby hands into, it screws it up.

    The institution and sacrament of marriage pre-dates government. Civil society defined and regulated marriage way before the govt got involved. Privatizing marriage instead of making it a govt sanctioned act would solve a lot of divorce problems. Individuals would have to deal with the society they live in and its regulations on marriage and divorce instead of taking the easy civil divorce route.

  15. “…whether churches — Catholic or otherwise — should get out of the marriage business?”

    Not if they’re dealing with MY mother!! I personally don’t believe in organized religion, but got married both times in a church because I’d never have dared to cross my mother….

  16. What fun! I expected to catch all kinds of grief, so I’m pleasantly surprised. One correction, though, to the respondent who said, “I agree with the Catholic priest. . . . ” I’m Catholic, yes–but of the Cantuarian rather than the Roman variety.

    Probably my fault, since in my invitation to comment I mentioned “churches — Catholic or otherwise”. Glad you popped in to clarify. But yes, fun indeed! For the most part, TRUE readers are an open-minded bunch. -rc

  17. I agree that either the religions or the state should get out of weddings, there’s not room for both. Since not everyone is religious, and since the main consideration is indeed for purposes of clarity in regard to legal responsibilities such as property ownership and inheritance, then it indeed makes sense to get rid of the religions. I say this as a priest who has performed a wedding or two. The two functions, religion and state, serve entirely different purposes.

  18. Sorry, a great idea but it won’t happen.

    (1) The marriage industry is big business – just take a look at the size of a monthly “Brides” magazine.
    After 5 years, who’s pays? …

    (2) The couple can’t afford a big celebration – they’re paying for the kids braces, sports, etc.

    (3) And the bride’s mommy and daddy won’t pay – they’re in the clear.

    Better keep this one quiet – you’ll get attacked more viciously than a global warming septic. And we won’t even get into the SSM debate.

    After 5 years, who pays? The couple! After 5 years they should have figured out how to budget. Kids in braces? I guess maybe, if they already had a couple of kids when they got married. While I’m not sure what SSM refers to, I just had to leave the typo: “global warming septic” is just too good! 😉 -rc

  19. Really the question is not if they should get out, but if they do, who or what will replace them?

    Churches officiate at wedding so that the union is recognized, if no church then how do we validate a wedding so that it is legally recognized?

    Please don’t suggest lawyers, the last thing we need is another excuse for a lawyer to put her/his hand in your pocket.

    a .99 cent wedding yes please, and a .99 cent divorce is the way things would be if we did not have to support the high social and financial costs to society of lawyers and an out of control legal system that is in place for its own gain not for the betterment of society.

    How do you make the wedding legally recognized? The parties (and, hopefully, at least one witness) sign the marriage license. That’s how it works in Colorado. Pretty simple. -rc

  20. I disagree. In my opinion, what’s necessary is not taking religious officials out of weddings, but taking the religious aspect more seriously. This could just be my opinion, but I think that if you’re going to want to get married by your religious leader (pastor, priest, rabbi, etc.), you should at least have a minimum of faith in that particular religion. The whole “I don’t believe in God but I’m going to get married at church because [it’s tradition, it’s nicer that way, that’s what my family wants, etc.]” seems to me to be an issue.

    I say that because I think one of the main purposes of a wedding is to make your vows to your future spouse in front of your community. Becoming a family is not something that affects just the two of you; you become a new unit in the eyes of society, and what happens between you does affect the rest of your community as well (your children first and foremost, but look at the extended families, groups of friends, etc. that have been torn apart because someone in them got divorces). If the people at the church/synagogue/etc. that you want to get married at aren’t a part of your community, then why do you want to get married there? And if you don’t know the religious official that you’re asking to marry you, why do you want him/her to perform the ceremony? (I know that sometimes you may not know anyone else in the area, say if you’ve just moved, but otherwise it doesn’t make sense to me.)

    I guess I’m strongly in support of the sort of wedding that the priest opposed because I’ve seen what a good thing it can be if you take it seriously enough. I’ve known a number of pastors (since I’m Protestant, that’s what I have the most experience with) who won’t marry a couple unless they’ve done marriage counseling with them (sometimes extensive) and feel like the couple has a reasonable idea of what they’re getting themselves into (that doesn’t necessarily mean that they personally have to agree 100%, but they want to make sure that the couple has thought things through). I’ve also known many couples for whom being married by their pastor at their church was part of what made things more serious for them; they had taken their vows in front of God and their community, and they couldn’t take them lightly.

    I hope this doesn’t come across wrong. I don’t want to condemn those who had a church wedding because it was the way things happened in their family, or because it was tradition, etc. I just get frustrated sometimes when people use the church to give what they’re doing a stamp of approval even though they don’t really believe in what the church says, especially when if it doesn’t work out the church and God get the blame. If you actually believe in God and your faith has meaning to you, great. But if not, don’t use the church just because “that’s the way things are done”.

  21. The church should get out and stay out of marriage. The only marriage ceremony that is recognized in the bible is the sex act (he took her into his tent and knew her as his wife). This same scenario is repeated over and over in the Old and New testament. The only reason the priest or pastor has a Bible with him when performing a wedding is to give his words the appearance of having true theological weight. He’s usually reading from a note he put into it that sounds nice. This is not to detract from marriage which is a beautiful and God ordained institution, but only that the Church has cheapened it by trying to take control of it. Much like what they did with the birth of Christ. I mean they can’t even get the date right!!

  22. I spent a number of years in Germany where marriage must be officiated by the state. The problem? An enormous amount of bureaucracy gets in the way. My wife and I had to travel to Denmark as the paperwork was too intense. Also, you can’t get “married” in a German church unless you claim the religion officially on your tax records so the government can automatically tithe in the church’s name.

  23. Big wedding >>–> small marriage.
    Small wedding >>–> big marriage.
    How big a wedding will you need?

    I like it. My first wedding was big and (as I liked to say) the most photographed since Charles & Di. Didn’t work out. My second wedding was tiny in the biggest and grandest “church” on the planet: the great outdoors (in my case, a mountain lake in the Rockies). And guess what? We’re still married. -rc

  24. I am a Baptist pastor in South Africa and we do free weddings. We work with a lot of refugees who can’t afford an expensive wedding, so the church provides everything, including the bride’s dress and wedding rings (not diamonds of course).

    But on the issue of Churches and ministers doing the legal stuff for a marriage – that is the way things are done in SA, though a couple can get married in the registry office (Home Affairs). As a Baptist I have always struggled with this as it is against our principle of the separation of Church and State.

    I rather like the idea of the state licensing the marriage and then the church having a blessing and celebration 5 years later! The only problem in SA is that our Home Affairs department is in such a mess and have such huge backlogs, they will never cope.

  25. I have often said the solution to many of our arguments like “Gay Weddings” is to separate the church and state as the constitution guarantees. The Legal part of the ceremony would be the “Civil Union” and the term “marriage” would be a civil union that has also been blessed by a church. Thus the “Marriage” would be full under control of the church and the state would be out of it. Where as civil unions would be handled by the state and would allow for alternative unions.

    Of course with many it’s no longer the church of Almighty God, it’s the Church of the Almighty Dollar. And I have to assume such a church would bless any civil union.

  26. IMHO, church wedding and civil wedding should be entirely separate concepts.

    Such need is dictated by the clause of state and church separation (which, to my best knowledge, is true in most parts around the world).

    Civil wedding, putting it bluntly, is a form of trust partnership including cohabitation and certain degree of shared finances and responsibilities.

    At this point, I`d disagree with David Weigel and his comment before – civil marriage actually gives a fair amount of mutual benefits and flexibility for people involved.

    What it would benefit from: removal of limits on number of involved and gender of involved. Of course, on other hand, that would complicate the jurisdictional affairs, most notably parental rights.

    Church wedding, on other hand, belongs to religion – aka, personal convictions of specific persons. While there is nothing wrong with such union, it is simply too rigid to cover all the range of civil unions.

    Therefore, church wedding is a specific ritual which is available only to representatives of certain religion. As such, it should NOT be substituted in lieu of civil wedding.

  27. In sort of a sideways manner, I agree with both David and Fr. Rick. I have no problem with the government issuing licenses (or charging for them – let the agency be somewhat self-supporting by supporting the people using it), but the government shouldn’t be in the marriage business. Put government in the civil union business, and register any two consenting adults that want to enter into that contract.

    Then leave the church in the marriage business. Churches & ministers have always had the option of setting whatever requirements they choose before permitting a couple to marry in their church. Even now, you can be married in a church without a state license if the minister chooses – the state won’t recognize your marriage, but I’m assuming that God would. And even now, no church has to recognize your marriage just because the state has chosen to do so.

  28. If the Church pulls out of this “sacred” ceremony then marriage will barrel towards what it is already heading for, a purely financial arrangement. It will be undertaken, without bar, for all the wrong reasons. Without some semblance of being a moral decision or one of the fruits of love, there will be no need for it. Maybe, with all the controversy over gay marriage, this is what the clergy and ministers have in mind. If weddings are no longer blessed by the church, they won’t have to endorse what some perceive as an amoral unity?

  29. The church should definitely get out of the marriage business. It would remove a great deal of controversy over the “civil union / marriage” for gays (as churches would now be taken out of the loop and not be required to give implicit approval) and preserve the legal status (which is all important when these unions are dissolved). The current church / state hybrid is way too troublesome.

  30. Revenue for the state? I was also under the impression marriage licenses were also racist in nature, keeping a member of one race from legally marrying another.

    This is one case where I say “A pox on both your houses.” It is the business of neither the church nor the state to get involved, except as a matter of contract law. Far as I’m concerned, you should be able to marry anyone or as many ones as will agree.

  31. A more profound discussion involves thinking about the response of the legal profession, rather than the religious profession, as it relates to 99-cent divorce. Attorneys would see their business collapse quickly, and I doubt they would let that happen without a [legal] fight. As it stands now, attorneys don’t make any money on wedding ceremonies.

    Jerry, I think you’ve hit closer to the truth than anyone so far! -rc

  32. I think the church stepping out of the legality of marriages initially and, a few years later, having a ceremony blessing the union, is a fantastic idea.

    Marriage isn’t a religious institution. If it were, then people who are not religious would not be allowed to marry, and all marriages would have to be performed by a religious figure and not, say, a justice of the peace. Sociologically speaking, marriages are to restrict sexual access and keep people from sleeping around with anyone they choose, thereby strengthening the family unit. More social guidelines for marriage would encourage this. A 5-year ceremony would be like a bar mitzvah or confirmation for the wedding, and who wouldn’t like that?

    That “restrict sexual access” bit hasn’t worked all that well, especially with politicians…! -rc

  33. Wow! Loving this discussion!

    I happen to be Roman Catholic, happily divorced and annulled. The interesting thing about my annulment is that the Church will not begin annulment proceedings until you have had a civil divorce. Then, they can do their investigations with no civil court oversight. So, divorce is the only way, apparently, to actually have separation of church & state…

  34. “Now, I personally believe that God’s idea for what is marriage are what is best for us as humans, but if one does not want God, then that is their choice and their right. Where I draw the line is when someone wants to force me – or my church – to recognize their legal (or otherwise) arrangement as marriage. Marriage is a covenant before God. Anything else is a legal arrangement.”
    Darrel in Tumwater, WA.

    I respect your position and it’s nice to see you were able to convey your thoughts as well as you did – too many deeply religious people seem to get defensive too quickly.

    Anyway, one thing I feel I need to point out is that “marriage” is simply a word, and in the event that church and state are separated on this subject, I’m fairly sure that the term marriage would still be used. “Civil union” is all right, but there’s no real adjective for it whereas marriage has “married”.

    You’d be hard-pressed to have that changed. It would be like Hormel trying to get people to stop calling junk mail “spam” (to my knowledge they’ve been unsuccessful in getting companies to change it through the legal system).

    “Privatizing marriage instead of making it a govt sanctioned act would solve a lot of divorce problems. Individuals would have to deal with the society they live in and its regulations on marriage and divorce instead of taking the easy civil divorce route.”
    David Weigel, Farmington, MI

    I have to disagree, David. Look back at history. Religion dominated politics in the Middle Ages, yet that’s when divorce first came about. It was taboo and it still caught on rather quickly. Even if privatized marriage didn’t allow divorce, you’ll still have people leaving each other, despite the fact that they “can’t”. Let’s say my (imaginary) wife and I have changed over the past couple years, and we no longer get along. We want to separate, but society says, “Tough, deal with it.” Do you really think that’s going to stop us?

    Being a child of divorced parents, I guarantee that the divorce and separation worked out much better than living in a home in which my parents would have been together, but fighting. I feel I should note that my dad lives in California, and my mom lives in Minnesota, so it wasn’t like visitation was easy. Luckily, they were both mature enough to handle the whole ordeal intelligently.

    As a good friend of mine once said, “If you hate each other when you break up (or divorce, in this case), you were together for too long.”

  35. I absolutely agree there needs to be a separation of church & state in everything, including marriage. As I’ve read the comments posted so far, I find that most of the posters have the same opinion & belief that I do regarding marriage. I especially like the term limit idea!

    Marriage in today’s society is a legal business arrangement. It is totally unnecessary from a civil standpoint. There are laws that protect and provide for the care of children. There are laws that provide for property ownership. Civil marriage is anachronistic.

    Let people marry within their religion if they choose. That is their right. But let’s get the government out of the business of deciding who gets to live with whom, who gets to have children with whom. People already do as they please anyway.

  36. I found the reference to the reason that “the church” originally got into the marriage business interesting. If I may I’d like to add another bit of history to that.

    Back in the pioneer days it was sometimes a year or more before a cleric visited some of the more remote outposts. The couple would celebrate their union and live together until a representative of a church was available to “formalize” their state. The resulting confusion, when lawmaking bodies got involved, is seen in laws involving “common law marriage” that are still on the books in some states (Texas included).

    This method works quite well and eliminates the need for superfluous licenses and legal maneuvering if it becomes necessary, for whatever reason, to end the marriage.

  37. No, leave the churches in the marriage business and get the GOVERNMENT out of the business altogether. Stop punishing people because of the color or the gender or the numerosity of their spice, and stop giving special privileges based on marital status.

  38. I totally agree that religion should get out of the marriage business. Lawyers should also get out of the divorce business or at least have their fees cut way down. $3000 for a few hours work in a divorce where both parties are reasonable and have worked everything out on their own is ridiculous. The world would be better off if there were no lawyers or if lawyers were forbidden from holding elected offices and so would marriage.

  39. If you look back at the middle ages there was a lot of turmoil about the role of the church in society. Around 800 AD the “current” wedding traditions began as the bride and groom were usually joined at the outside entrance of the church after which the wedding party entered the church for mass. This was, of course, after the announcement of marriage was made for three weeks prior to the ceremony. Since the church was the only public building and was used for all government functions such as courts, councils and education, of course all civil ceremonies such as marriages were held at that building.

    In addition, most protestant religions can look to the most famous divorce in history for guidance… Henry VIII. He not only wanted to divorce his wives to ensure a legitimate male heir to the throne, but he divorced the Anglican and Roman churches over the concept of marriage in the church. In all areas Henry VIII was a defender of the church, but he believed that marriage and divorce were strictly state issues.

  40. The conversation seems to be heavily weighted toward the opinion that the government should marry, and if desired a church wedding can follow. As a previous commenter pointed out, this is how it works in many Latin and South American countries.

    My limited experience is with Mexico and the Mexican culture. It’s tragic to see the plight of women and children who have been affected by this system.

    What happens all too often is a couple gets married in a civil court, and the religious wedding is meant to follow, when they can raise enough money. After a few years, they have some kids, never get around the the religious wedding.

    Since the Catholic culture considers a church wedding to be legitimate, it’s usually the man who justifies abandoning his wife and children because “they were never really married anyway.”

    Maybe I just met the wrong crowd of people in Mexico, but that story seems to have played out far too often, and it’s the mother and children who suffer.

    I’ve been married twice and divorced once in the States. An amicable divorce with paperwork help by a mediator cost $300, including child custody and support arrangements. I wouldn’t consider that to be too expensive a price to pay considering the gravity of what is occurring.

    Perhaps if divorce were more expensive, people who can’t find any other reasons to work things out would try, just to save some dough. Perhaps if getting married was more expensive, people would be more careful about who they marry in the first place.

    I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions. If divorce were more expensive, abandonment would surely increase. If marriage were more expensive, marriage rates would decrease. -rc

  41. It happened in colonial America. The Pilgrims settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony to get away from the Church of England. The colonial government decreed that they would only recognize weddings done by an agent of the state, the first Justices of the Peace. George III, the head of the Anglican church, agreed because he didn’t want to lose the colonies.

    I think America should adopt the French standard of marriage, where everyone has to marry at city hall. You’re free to have a church wedding, but the government won’t recognize it.

    My husband and I aren’t religious, so we didn’t see the point of a church wedding. My state will grant anyone a one-day license to perform a wedding, so we were married at a nice hotel by Hubby’s sister. My very religious mother still calls our wedding “weird”, but no one else cared. If we decided to have a church wedding down the road, we’ll do that.

  42. Marriage is ordained of God and is a vow (which is a promise to God). Church officials most definately should continue marrying heterosexual couples. Celebrating 5 years later is fine as is renewing vows butthis special occasion should not be passed off as the wedding day. Obviously, if it were,it would leave far too many children appear to be illegitimate.

    Please actually read the letter from Fr. Rick and the other comments — it’s “definate” you didn’t spend much time doing so, since your argument about illegitimate children proves you missed the point entirely. -rc

  43. I’ve actually long said that we need to create a system where “marriage” is no longer a legal or civil institution. No one will be married in the eyes of the law or the government, but they can have a civil union.

    They could go and be married by the church as well if they want, but I agree that the two processes need to be completely separated from each other.

    Of course, I think that we need to make it much harder for people to get married. Because we were married by a Catholic priest, we had to jump through quite a few hoops and they actually were, for the most part, good things. They made sure we’d discussed the things that commonly lead to fights, that we’d talked about our future, and that we were sure of what we were doing.

    I don’t see anything wrong with that.

  44. Maybe I’m missing something, but the only people “making” the church get involved are the participants. I got both of my marriage licenses at the court house, and could just as easily have gotten married by the Justice of the Peace right then and there.

    I also saw nothing anywhere that tried to prevent a mixed-race marriage, like one of your posters alluded to. Questions of race are collected for demographics, not as a means of weeding out undesirable pairings. The idea that an official (either religious or secular) would attempt to block a marriage based on the differing races of the couple is archaic paranoia at best and downright illegal at worst.

    I do agree with the big wedding/small marriage hypothesis. For my first marriage I just had to have the big church wedding, with cathedral-length train and veil and the horse-drawn carriage. I picked the historic church based on appearances for the photos (I’m not even Christian, though my first husband was), and did the same for the reception hall. Even with pre-marital counseling, my train was longer in feet than the marriage was in months! I was paying off the bills from the wedding for even longer! My divorce was cheap, quick, and easy, mainly because there were no children and I showed up in court with a cast and fading bruises as proof of our “irreconcilable differences.”

    My second wedding was much simpler. We may have spent $500 (including my new wedding dress on clearance for $90) and held a beautiful reception for 30-40 people by supplying the main course and having pot-luck sides. I and my new relatives got together beforehand and did all of the silk flower arrangements ourselves, giving us time to get to know each other. A chaplain married us at the base chapel in a simple, non-denominational ceremony that combined Christian (for my husband) and Wiccan elements (for me). We have been together now for eleven years and are still going strong.

    People get married with a lot less and do just fine. We consider ourselves blessed to have what we do, church or not.

  45. “What God has joined together”? I’d venture to say that this only happens on extremely rare occasions. The simple truth is that we do what we want, then try to squirm out of it by blaming it on God or religion or “whatever”.

    God gets blamed for a lot of things that simply aren’t his fault — and there seems to be a lot of people who want to speak for Him when He is perfectly capable of doing so without our help. So let’s take God out of the marriage business. Do you think we would have such a high divorce rate if He were really bringing people together in marriage?

    The church should focus more on providing counseling, training, and encouragement before and after the wedding — and let the government take care of the actual wedding.

  46. My opinion is simple, but appears to be opposite to that of most. I think the GOVERNMENT should get out of the marriage business. Marriage is a religious function. How a couple decides to have that done should be up to them. If a church doesn’t believe in gay marriage, it shouldn’t marry gays… somewhere there’ll be a church that will. If a church believes a particular couple to be unready, they can refuse to marry them. Requirements for pre-marriage counseling, etc. remain up to the individual church.

    Once upon a time, our entire world was more “religious” and the government shared religious roles and religious beliefs were passed into law. This is no longer the case, generally, in the western world.

    There is no longer a reason for a categorization under law of married or not… common law couples have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as married. Common law: what nonsense is this? Essentially the government had to decide when to call someone married under the law when they didn’t want to be!

    The government should stop having categories for married or not on pretty much ANYTHING (taxes, insurance, whatever). When a child is born, its parentage should be documented and both parents held financially (at least!) responsible for it until it attains the age of majority, whether they remain together or not. And why are so many men getting away with not paying “child support”… just include it with taxes… enforcement of THAT seems to work fine.

    When people move in together to share their financial resources (whether to raise children or not), they should put together something akin to a partnership agreement to define at least the division of “stuff” when/if they later dissolve the partnership. If everybody did this, the negative perceptions associated with a “prenup” would go away. The law already has provisions for the “blanket agreement” that would apply to those unwilling or unable to make up their own, in divorce law.

    Marriage was once considered one of the building blocks of society. Now people’s relationships are often both shorter and more creative than the limitations of marriage. Just for an example: Why is bigamy illegal? Who cares? OK, If a guy has two wives that don’t know about each other, that’s at least fraudulent, but if some group of three (or more) consenting adults want to cohabit and even raise children together, what’s the big deal? Sounds like another holdover from religious beliefs to me… just like the hoopla against gay marriage.
    Stop regulating relationships under the law, and just make sure nobody gets taken advantage of, and that the children are looked after by those responsible for them. Leave the rest to religion… any religion.

  47. I think it’s the best suggestion ever given. Why should the church be involved in weddings? I have been with my fiance for 13 years, and while we are considering marrying in the fall, the last thing I have in mind is a church wedding. The state of marriage is an invention of the government to give you better and bigger deductions once you have children. But if you choose to have children before you can afford them, the more of those you have, the bigger your tax return.

    How about if we abolish church weddings entirely and eliminate the pretenses that come with the institution of marriage? It’s nothing more than a tax break charade.

  48. Well, I came here to post my opinion, only to find that Doug from BC has gotten there ahead of me. I very much appreciate the direction that Fr. Rick is moving, as it is consistent with my own views on the separation of church and state. But I frankly don’t see what business it is of the government’s whom I choose to share a life with. Everything that happens via a “legal” marriage, such as property arrangements, medical decision-making, etc., can be accomplished without that one piece of paper. I’m not at all opposed to the idea of people choosing to make a formal commitment, whether it’s via their religious protocol or some other way. I just don’t think the government needs to be involved in the process.

  49. In all areas Henry VIII was a defender of the church, but he believed that marriage and divorce were strictly state issues.
    –Rick – Georgia

    I have always thought that Henry VIII believed that marriage was a religious issue, but didn’t want religious rules to distract from his own agenda… and thought that the best way to achieve it was by keeping church and state together, but placing the latter above the former.

    It’s more than a little unfortunate when hypocrisy and principles can’t be distinguished….

  50. I disagree.

    Marriage is in the purview of religion, and the Guvmint should get out of the marriage business altogether. The government should be facilitating people in putting together their families rather than forcing them into a single model of family structure.

    Let the civil part of marriage be a legal contract, like any other, and let the parties of that contract structure it any way they like. Then people would be able to structure their families in any way their religion, or lack thereof, allows.

    If a Muslim wants to have the 4 wives allowed him by Islam then let him.

    If a Mormon wants to have as many wives as he can support then let him.

    If 3 women and 2 men want to get together and all marry each other then let them.

    Let the religion take care of the religious part of the marriage, and let the state simply see that the civil portion of the contract, as written by the parties to the contract, is properly handled in contract law.

  51. Certain “christian” denominations will not want to get out of the marriage business because it will bugger up (pun intended) their ability to demonise homosexuals. If that happens they only have the abortion issue with which to win more followers (and please existing followers) through anger and devisiveness.

  52. Begs the question — what is marriage? I guess it’s different things to different people. So I suppose it can be anything you (and your intended) want it to be. It seems to me that for most people it’s an arrangement to make it harder and more expensive to break up. I guess so you’ll be less likely to do it (break up, I mean).

    Personally, I think neither the church nor the state should be involved in my love relationship. As it stands right now, a state recognized marriage needn’t have a church sanction. My girlfriend and I had been living together for 5 years without any particular plans to marry when we discovered a tax advantage to marriage. We decided, why not? My own feeling was I knew her well enough to be pretty sure I’d be fine spending the rest of my life with her. So we did it. Neither of us being religious we opted out of any sort of ceremony. There was a place on the marriage license for a “minister” to sign so we had a friend who was a Universal Life minister officiate the document for us. We cracked a bottle of champagne with him and another friend and passed out candy to children coming by the house (it was October 31) — and that was that. We were just as married as anybody — but in reality, no more married than we had already been.

    If you and your intended mate want a tax break and other spousal benefits you will need to have a relationship the state recognizes as a marriage — you know, “legal,” as they say. If you don’t care about that, you’re free as a bird to make your relationship anything you want.

  53. Of course churches should get out of the marriage business ~ either that or the government should! It is vital that religious groups be able to practice as they see fit, and that should be completely unrelated to enjoying the benefits of being partners.

  54. I’m of the opposite opinion. Government should get out of the marriage business. All the problems we have with marriage now can be traced to the fact that government recognizes the marital practices of one particular religion as the only practices it will honor, to the extent that, up into the 1970s, there was some question as to whether a Muslim or Buddhist wedding was recognized as “legal” in the United States, and that’s not even getting into the laws against interracial marriage – all of which had a religious basis.

    Why shouldn’t each religion, from atheism to fundamentalism in all its varieties, be able to define the form of marriage it will recognize, WITHOUT government getting involved in the process? Then we would no longer have arguments in Congress over whether homosexual marriage would “endanger the institution,” and we would no longer have to worry about religious colonies facing down the entire might of the US Army with an ultimatum to change their marriage practices or be invaded, and we would no longer have to worry about couples who happened to be married by a practitioner of a non-mainstream religion being frightened of whether their marriage would be accepted as “legitimate” by the government.

    The government needs to say “If everyone involved, freely and without coercion, considers it a marriage, then it’s a marriage,” or the government needs to get out of the marriage business entirely. Either way, it would bring its marriage laws, at least, closer to fitting the ideals the Founding Fathers expressed when they said that America would be a haven for ALL religions, not just different sects of the Christian religion.

  55. This is why the whole same sex marriage thing is a bogus non-issue. Couples (groups??) not wedded in a religious ceremony are state-licensed relationships with certain legal benefits (tax advantages, easier inheritances, etc.). So outside the context of a religious ceremony, there’s absolutely no good reason why the legal benefits extended to married couples can’t and shouldn’t be extended to all others (and this would even include those who could marry but only live together).

  56. A previous commenter mentioned: ‘Everything that happens via a “legal” marriage, such as property arrangements, medical decision-making, etc., can be accomplished without that one piece of paper … I just don’t think the government needs to be involved in the process.’

    What happens when only one member of a partnership works?

    Without marriage/de facto status on a government piece of paper, the stay-at-home-mother would suddenly appear to be impoverished, while someone else at the same address has MUCH more disposable income than others. Should the non-working partner suddenly appear on statistics for living in poverty?

    Here in Australia, anyone applying for benefits discovers that it is assumed that you ARE in a family relationship with others at the same address .. unless you fill in paperwork to insist you aren’t.

  57. Fr Rick’s idea dovetails nicely with what I have been advocating for years. The state should also get out of the wedding/marriage business, instead issuing generic civil union contracts for all. Then, churches and other like private organizations (lodges? humanist societies? whatever) can marry whomever they like however they like.

    I also like his idea of waiting until the union has some miles under its belt before celebrating it. Conservatives like to advocate making divorces harder to get, but if they really wanted to strengthen the institution, they should raise the bar for marriage.

  58. In the Soviet Union it was quite common for Christian couples to have two ceremonies (though not years apart): the “official” state-sanctioned, “courthouse-style” marriage, and then a Church-sanctioned one such as is familiar in the United States, Canada, etc.

    While not for the same reasons, my wife and I also had two “weddings”: one before a judge at the courthouse and another one about a week later with family and friends at a very nice park. Since we went by the “priesthood of all believers” doctrine there was no “official” clergy necessary (and no “vows” per Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12), and the state was satisfied. That was in A.D. 1985, and, by the grace of God, we are still happily and lovingly together.

  59. The problem with Fr. Rick’s suggestion is that almost all religions condemn couples who are living together and having sex without the approval conferred by a religious ceremony with the term “living in sin.” Children of such unions are termed “bastards,” and although this has little meaning in the U.S., it has been, at least until recently, an official designation stamped on all official papers, e.g. passports, in Germany. In Israel, these children cannot marry a Jew except another bastard in an Orthodox religious ceremony. Orthodoxy is the only officially recognized religion for all Jews, and there are no civil marriages. Of course, having to wait 5 years living together without sex would give people a hell of an incentive to qualify for a religious marriage ceremony.

  60. Getting the church out of the wedding business is a great idea. People might then realize they are entering into a legal contractual commitment that the state will enforce.
    It will also make it easier to provide equal protection to everyone without an argument about “desecrating marriage”.

  61. Fr. Rick’s idea is a brilliant one. It would help to kill two problems with one stone. The first is that, interestingly enough, the more religious states in the U.S. have some of the highest divorce rates, so making all couples wait 5 years before they’re recognized by their respective religions as married would potentially go a long way toward helping people find spouses they could spend the rest of their lives with, as religion is a very important part of many divorcees’ lives.

    The second problem this move would solve involves the contention around same-sex marriage, and some religions’ vehement arguments against it. The five-year gap would make same-sex marriages no different from any other marriages, albeit potentially without the 5-year plan. People would no longer be able to argue against same-sex marriage from a religious standpoint, and most other anti-same-sex-marriage arguments are specious and nonsensical anyway, so putting a 5-year gap in place would also go a long way toward improving equality in the U.S.

  62. we are not the soviet union as one commented and it is hard to believe a priest does not recognize sacramental union so perhaps his comments were edited to not be recognizable to his original intent

    1) Read more carefully; the commenter didn’t say we were in the Soviet Union, he brought up what they do there as a comparison, just as others brought up France. The points are good; too bad you missed them.

    2) Read more carefully; the priest’s comments were not only not changed from his intended message, he has already weighed in (in the comments area) with his satisfaction over the resulting discussion.

    3) Write more carefully — consider using proper capitalization and punctuation. Your lazy construction makes you at least look stupid and ignorant, which means most won’t even bother to consider your actual message. I nearly deleted your comments without reading them, as I do with morons who type in IM-like shorthand. If you’re too lazy to take a little time to express yourself in what is an obviously well-read forum, why should anyone bother to spend the time trying to decipher your scribblings? Using proper English shows respect for other readers. -rc

  63. This has been an eye-opening discussion, to say the least. (which is probably a good thing, eh?) [That’s why I host them. 🙂 -rc]

    I do have one question, however. Why does everyone feel that it’s such a bad thing to have both the govt. and churches able to perform a legal marriage? I have a hard time seeing that as a bad thing. The constitution guarantees us “freedom of religion”, and I feel like the laws allowing us to be married in either way are in fact permitting that (as long as religious leaders of all religions are allowed to perform the ceremony [not sure how one becomes an official “religious leader”, but I think that could be worked out fairly easily]). Are you a member of a specific religion who wants to have your religious leader perform your marriage ceremony? Great! You go to your church/synagogue/mosque/etc., have the ceremony performed, sign the license, and voila. You have no particular religion, are against church weddings, or for some other reason don’t want to go that route? Great! You go have a civil ceremony, sign your license, and again, voila. Either way your rights are respected. I can’t see, however, how peoples’ rights would be more greatly respected by taking AWAY an option that is a very significant and important option to many (or, to look at it another way, by creating more hoops for them to jump through — instead of getting everything taken care of at their religious ceremony, they have to have TWO ceremonies).

    I also have to say that I think people are really missing the boat when it comes to marriage and what it means. I have to admit my bias beforehand; I’m a Christian, and so I do think that marriage is something given and ordained by God. That view will come through somewhat in what I’m going to say. Yet even apart from my religious viewpoint, I think that people have really missed something.

    Namely, marriage is NOT just a legal contract. Nor is it merely a piece of paper, a way to define who gets to sleep with whom, or even a way to make sure the rights of children are protected. Marriage is first and foremost a commitment that two people take in the eyes of their community (and in my mind, in the eyes of God, but even for those who don’t believe in God, it’s still in the eyes of those around them) to each other for the rest of their lives. One of the key points of marriage is that it is meant to be for the rest of your life. I know that not all marriages end up that way, but that is still one of the key underpinnings of a marital relationship — two people choosing to make a PERMANENT connection between them. As such, this is (at least in theory, and in practice as well in a large number of cases) a different story than, say, a couple merely choosing to live together but without necessarily making a permanent commitment to each other.

    That DOES have an important impact on society. First of all, think about the increased stability of such a relationship. Again, I recognize that many marriages fail. But starting off with the idea that you’re committing to each other for the rest of your lives is going to give you a greater amount of trust and resilience ( sorry if I spelled that wrong; I’m rather tired) in your relationship, because you can hopefully believe that the other person isn’t going to run off on you at the first sign of hard times. And look at the benefit to kids of having a stable family. I’m not saying that there aren’t times when it’s not working, and it may be better for the kids for you not to be together. But after all that’s been said over the last few years about how hard divorce is for kids, how can it be seen as a good thing for relationships to be EASIER to dissolve?

    Also, I feel like people haven’t truly thought through the consequences of taking away the legal benefits of marriage. Some of those benefits include medical benefits, the legal right to make decisions for the other person in a medical emergency, the ability to buy things together and make financial commitments together (do you really want to make that impossible?), childcare decisions being shared, tax benefits, and a whole list of other things. Is that really something you want to take away from people? Conversely, is that something that you want to make available for anyone who moves in with someone else or at the beginning of a romantic relationship? That seems to me to be an unstable way to dole out such benefits. But marriages can dissolve as easily as live-in relationships, you say. That’s true, but I think there’s generally a greater level of initial commitment with a marriage than with a couple who lives together. But such benefits should be available to any couple who has made a commitment to each other, you say. Well, perhaps. But like it or not, the way that society has chosen for pretty much all of known history to define a relationship that is that committed is marriage. And honestly, if a couple has a life commitment to each other, it seems to me that rather than seeking out some other way to make it possible to get legal benefits or something so they can avoid marriage, they should just get married (assuming of course that this is possible; I know that homosexual couples and some elderly individuals with social security issues might not have that option. But at least in Washington, people in those categories now have a way [or we’re going to vote soon on it; can’t remember which] to gain the legal benefits of marriage, so this is theoretically available to all couples now if I have understood correctly). I know that might sound crazy and old-fashioned, but…

    Okay, everyone jump on me now. 🙂

  64. Personally, I think it should be the other way around. I think the government should get out of the marriage business. If a couple wishes to make a personal commitment to one another, then they could have a religious ceremony or throw a party.

    Insurance providers could start extending coverage to a designated partner rather than a defined spouse or same-sex domestic partner. Hospitals and doctors could consult with a responsible party as designated by the patient (perhaps with a card in the wallet?) instead of the traditional spouse. State and federal tax departments could either do away with joint returns, or allow anyone who cohabitates to file a joint return.

  65. Okay, Jackie. Consider yourself jumped on! 😉

    My intention was to allow couples the benefits you described, while allowing couples desiring a religious ceremony to have one, just at a later date. Civil ceremonies can take mere minutes, but can be as elaborate as the couple and the officiant desire.

    One civil ceremony done by a judge followed the ritual used in his own church except for the blessing of the wedding. The judge’s parish priest allowed his church building to be used for the wedding and, in fact, even attended. It was a small ceremony and took about twenty minutes, and everyone was happy with it.

  66. “We got involved in weddings in the Middle Ages purely to legitimize political arrangements relating to estate management and inheritance and in so doing gave up our claim to any semblance of moral authority.” And a way for the feudal lords to keep track of their serfs, and how many cons of fighting age they had.

    I think we should do away with marriage altogether; it is an outdated, fairly pointless institution. If you, unlike our good friend Jackie, are NOT a religious person, what real reason have you got to make vows to each other? Even a civil ceremony is pretty much outdated in most parts of the world because simply being in a relationship for more than one year with some one, and declaring it…gives you pretty much the same benefits (unless of course you are homosexual…)

    I have been with my partner for over 8 years. If you love with someone you stay with them…if you stop loving someone you leave them. Simple.

  67. The issue of should marriage and its regulation be under the arm of the government and not the church is an interesting one to say the least. I am very confused on the fact of how a supposed man of GOD can have the stance that the Government should only handle marriages? My reason for stating this is the following reference from the Bible in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

    If the origination of the thoughts that are written in the Bible is attributed to the GOD of the Bible, than this GOD held the first marriage ceremony. If the belief held by a person, is indeed one of Christian than this reference I have made should be true. If this is the case than how can the statement that the government is or should be the only legal overseer, be correct.

    I beleive that government has to legeslate morality if we are to have any in a society. This should be the extension of the moral foundations of the Christian church. I have used the Christian church as my reference for this point because of the background of Christianity that is part of the foundation of this country and it’s laws. In other societies the observances of thier religion dictate the morality of their laws. My point to this is that marriage is founded (again per the Bible stance) by GOD and thus must be the responsibilty of the church and it’s mouthpiece (the pastor). So back to my question, how can someone who claims to be a Christian and futher more a leader in a christian church say that marriage should be handled by the government only?

  68. Yes, I think churches should get out of the “wedding/marriage” business. A ritual or ceremony is not what makes a marriage; the marriage is made by the wills of the people involved. The ritual is intended to invoke the blessing of whatever higher powers one believes in upon the union. *That,* and that only, should be the function of the “religious ceremony.” I don’t see why people can’t just hook up and part at will, provided they abide by some sort of legal code regarding property, particularly that which each brings to the union and that which they subsequently acquire together.

  69. I am SO glad to hear a person of faith recognizing the futility of the church’s involvement in marriage. It’s amazing how blind we can be: when we marry, it’s all goodness and light and church; when we divorce, it’s all nasty lawyers. Marriage is a legal contract and must be treated as such. The trappings of religion overshadow the legal side and when divorce comes, as it does in over 50% of the cases, it’s only a legal matter. Get the church out of the government ceremony and have church ceremony, too, if you must!

  70. Wow, so many comments already; so many things I can say.

    Let’s start off with the fact that marriage is indeed a religious event. It has always been a religious event. God made Adam and Eve and put the two of them together as husband and wife. Much later the government decided they wanted to be involved (what else is new.) Now, as evidenced in this blog, many people only care about the government portion of marriage and couldn’t care less about the religious aspect.

    I don’t care who uses what term, but the religious aspect and the legal aspect are and should be completely separate.

    Personally, I would like to see “marriage” continue to be a religious term meaning that a man and woman have pledged before God to live together as a man and a wife, and take on all the roles and responsibilities that come along with that commitment per God’s direction.

    But, since intellectuals have a tendency to give idiots what they want to hear and change the meaning, I definitely see “marriage” referring to the legal aspect in the future and the church creating a new term for the religious aspect, or possibly using the term “wed” and “wedded” instead of “marry” and “married”.

    Either way, though, they should be completely separate.

    Personally, I don’t think the government should be involved at all. What is the real purpose for all of the government involvement and bureaucracy? If two people (or more than two people) want to enter into a legally binding contract, all it takes is their signatures. A notary would make it even more substantial. From a legal sense, why does the government need to get involved until one ore more of the parties believe that the other(s) is(are) not living up to their agreement? The only reason I can find is for taxes. There is tax revenue for the issuing of the license, but more so, there are tax breaks for those that are already married. (The whole married filing jointly thing is almost always a better way to go than filing separately.)

    So, let’s eliminate them. Eliminate the tax and the tax breaks, thereby eliminating the need for the government to keep track. If private insurance, medical, or other companies want to make a distinction, they can do so based on the religious ceremony or on the legal contact, of which they can require a copy or some sort of proof. There is no need for government involvement, period.

    On the Henry VIII thing, the accurate account is that he became the head of the Anglican church in order to get a divorce because the Pope would not allow the catholic church of the day to give him one. As such he showed that the state was more important than the specific church in which people worshipped, as he required his subjects to accept his divorce (or I think technically it was an annulment) or be tortured/executed.

    As to the “What God has joined together” skepticism, this refers to the fact that a marriage should only be undertaken if one truly believes that God has pointed you to your union. If you do not believe that it is God’s will that you be married to your to be spouse, you should not allow yourself to be wed. As such, God is to be in your marriage. “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

  71. I have to say I agree with the theory behind Fr. Rick’s statement—people spend way too much time planning their wedding, and next to time planning their marriage. I think that’s what Fr. Rick was getting at anyway. I remember very clear some advice given to my fiance (now spouse of 15 yrs) and I by my parish priest. He told us that when couples live together first, its much more likely that their marriage will fail, because they spend their whole pre-marriage relationship thinking that everything that annoys them about their mate will change “when we get married” … and it doesn’t!

    Nothing (personality wise) changes when you get married. Marriage is the commitment you’ve made, to each other, in front of God and the community, to deal with “it” (“it” being whatever life brings you) together, as one. Haha this is the same priest who thought that marriage handcuffs were much more appropriate than a ring because you’re in it together. Nothing pretty or fancy like a ring about it, just you & your spouse.

    Sounds like Fr. Rick was saying hold off on that big fancy wedding celebration until you’re sure that what you’re celebrating is going to last.

  72. I also disagree with Fr. Rick.

    The church has LONG been in the marriage business – as has been noted by many other posters. (I may have missed this thought, though)… The very first public act of Christ as he began his ministry was to turn the water into wine at a marriage ceremony.

    Texas recently doubled the cost of obtaining a marriage license. However, if the couple attends at least 8 hours of pre-marital counseling, the charge is “free”. This MAY have the intended effect of reducing the divorce rate.

  73. My husband and I are Christians, and we got married without the involvement of either the church or the state — yes, it’s possible and (imo) the best way to do things. Yes, we followed it up with official things a few months later (because lots of people were annoyed at us), but we don’t celebrate the anniversary of when we “signed the marriage license” or when we “had the public church ceremony.” We celebrate the anniversary of when we got married.

    If we had it to do over again, we would not do the legal paperwork or the religious ceremony again. There are lots of reasons NOT to get married in the eyes of the law (e.g., it gives the government certain rights over your family, at least here in Louisiana), and the only reason to get the legal license is for tax breaks and other financial benefits. Puh-leeze. Who was it that said, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for!”

    There are also lots of reasons NOT to have a traditional “church” ceremony…namely, it has nothing to do with God. You spend 10 or 20 or 50 grand just so that you can be stressed out for 6 to 9 months and then not remember your wedding day. (Not joking…none of my female friends even REMEMBER their own wedding days through the haze of stress, organizing, and smiling for pictures. They told me to be sure and have the wedding videotaped because it might be my only memory!!!!)

    This has nothing to do with your commitment, nothing to do with God (the Bible does not give priests, pastors, etc. any authority to marry people), and nothing to do with financial responsibility (unless you’re independently wealthy!!). “Church” weddings have become simply a social/cultural institution. Government and the church should both get out of marriage.

  74. I go the opposite direction of Fr. Rick. Government should get out of the marriage business. The only way to reclaim our moral authority over marriage is to reclaim, not give it up completely to the State!

  75. I’ve been saying for years that the government needs to get out of the marriage business! The religious ceremony should stand independent of the civil contract-law portion, which again should be none of the government’s purview. Taxing couples differently than individuals is their only legitimate reason to care, anyway, and changing that portion of tax law wouldn’t hurt my feelings any.

  76. I find it interesting that people keep pointing to the Bible as the reason that the church should be involved in weddings.

    Great. So God said marriage should be between one man and one woman and they are joined together in the Eyes of God and are one flesh from that point on and only God can sunder the union. Therefore, Christians (and probably Jews, since that’s all Old Testament) should get married in a religious ceremony.

    People seem so focused on their own ideals that they forget to ask where that leaves the rest of the world? You know, the really big part that isn’t Christian, doesn’t believe in the Bible, and/or couldn’t give a rat’s patootie about Jehovah or Jesus.

    Since I live in America where freedom of religion means freedom for all religions, enforcing the Christian standard raises questions of Constitutionality in my mind. It is so much simpler to have a legal act witnessed between two consenting adults (or more to taste, regardless of gender) so the law can hold their feet to the fire for the support of spouses and children of the union. Religious ceremony optional, thank you. As no religion in the US has the legal right to force people to stay married or enforce child support or alimony laws, when it comes to the nitty-gritty of communal support provided by a marriage, religion really has no part. Yes, I realize that Islamic sharia laws may be the true exception in countries where they have power, but most countries have a separate legal system for dealing with these problems.

    Besides, Islamic law still allows for multiple wives, so we’re back to the argument about who gets to decide what a “marriage” really consists of!

  77. In the US (I’m a citizen but live/work in Malaysia) there is a little thing called separation of church and state. Fr. Rick is exactly right — the government has NO business in religious morality and relationships.

    The big brouhaha over gay weddings would completely go away if the government got out of the wedding business and allowed civil contracts that defined relationships and rights, to be determined by the couple. I’m sure there would quickly be standard contracts, including pre-nups and terms of contract cancellation, penalties for nonperformance, and so on.

    Then if a church wanted to wed two people, it would be the church’s business and theirs, but NOT the government.

    Note that a corollary to this must be that a church wedding absent the civil contract would NOT be binding in legal terms upon either party.

    Surely it is only a matter of time before some gay couple in a state that supports gay marriage sue a major church for refusing to marry them — since the pastor, in performing marriages which function as a state contract, is under law NOT entitled to discriminate against anyone based on sex, religion, or sexual preference.

    I do look forward to that. Pity it couldn’t have been Falwell, but perhaps Haggard would serve?

  78. I’ve been reading everyone’s comments, and I’ve got to say that this particular issue is not one I’ve really pondered all that much before today since I have absolutely NO intention of getting married. I’ve seen WAY too many people screwed up by marriage and/or divorce to want to have ANYTHING to do with the institution. That’s about as far as I had gotten up to this point.

    The whole “till death do you part” thing is a relic from the days when people got married when they were still kids around 14 years old and only lived until they were 30 or 40 years old; they spent the majority of their lives together, heck, they weren’t even adults yet! Since being together was the way they grew up and was incorporated into their self-images, it was the only reality they knew.

    Today, most people don’t get married until they’re at least 20. At that point, both parties have a pretty good idea of their own identity and sense of self; the amount of adjusting required to make a marriage work is, quite frankly, beyond most people without making major changes to their self-image. Making major changes to your self-image is not something ANYONE wants to face; the majority of us have enough problems coping with the rest of the world, much less someone else’s needs and desires. And even if both parties are at the same point and have the same ideals and hopes and dreams and goals when they get married, that can change 10 years down the road. Then the married couple has a serious problem since both parties want to go in different directions; they have different goals and needs and desires. And so the fighting starts, and the compromises, and the feeling that the other person isn’t trying while you’re trying too much…it becomes a total mess.

    And then you get the divorce and the hostility and the anger and the hatred. The sad thing is that, in a lot of cases, both parties still care for each other (domestic abuse issues aside; that’s a whole other problem) but are so lost in the muck from trying to make something that’s over work that no one takes ANYTHING good from it. The amicable divorces are the ones that take place before the yelling and the accusations start. That’s not to say that some of the marriages can’t work with a little discussion; don’t get me wrong, I’m all for marriage counseling BEFORE the yelling starts. It’s just that we’re a different species than we were when marriage was first instituted legally or religiously or however it happened. Our life spans are more than twice as long, we have children later in life, both sexes have MANY more options in terms of jobs, life style, morals and beliefs.

    And our longer lives give us more opportunities to evaluate our self-image and identity and to change; I’m sure that most of you would be horrified by your world-view 10 years ago if you looked at it now. In fact, I bet most of you can’t even really remember it. My point is that I have to go along with the viewpoint of the people who advocate limited time marriage contracts with the parameters laid out in writing. “Till death do us part” just doesn’t work anymore.

    I also have to agree with the people who state that the religions should not be allowed to legally marry anyone; legalities should be handled by law, religious beliefs by the religious institutions. For those of you who have stated that you don’t feel it’s legal and/or morally valid unless your priest or pastor or religious official (whatever the title) officiates, then go ahead and get blessed in the church or synagogue or whatever of your choice. However, if you want get the benefits of the legal institution, go and get the license signed by an authorized government official. After all, the benefits that you want are offered by the government and companies (insurance, etc.) based on legal grounds, so you should have the documentation handled in a legal manner not a religious one.

    I am also in favor of group and same-sex marriages as long as all involved parties are legal consenting adults. Do the fundamentalist fanatics and the moral bigots out there REALLY believe that your refusal to acknowledge these unions and your tying up the courts and political agendas with this “morally wrong” garbage is keeping these types of unions from occurring? If you’re truly that naive, then I’ve got a message for you: YOUR RANTING IS NOT STOPPING ANYTHING. It’s just irritating the rest of us.

  79. The government should set up a registry whereby any two people who wish to assume responsibility for the other’s financial and emotional needs can register. Nothing further would be required to have all the rights and responsibilities the state attached to marriage. You could have all of festivities associated with it: the skydiving, underwater or mountain top mantras would have as much validity as anything any church would do in the eyes of the legal community.

    Such registration would, however, be a prerequisite before any time of religious ceremony, called a wedding, that the couple might choose to enter into. The religious authorities then would have full control over who they married (or refused to marry) within their own denomination or faith. It would separate the two objectives, you make people decide if they wanted anything more than the state gave them, without involving the church in what is frequently a farce put on for the benefit of family and friends without the proper thought and preparation for a lifetime relationship.

    Either that or change the law to acknowledge that any couple which has lived together for six months is lawfully joined for the purposes of the state and that a divorce will be required to undo it. Religious rites, optional.

  80. There is no reason for the requirement for ANYONE to approve, manage, or officiate a wedding, neither the church nor the government. Marriage can be handled like any other contract and let people celebrate it like they want.

  81. When you boil it all down, marriage is a commitment between two people to one another and the children they may bring into the marriage. This commitment can be made without the involvement of a third party. Why then would the government or the church want to get involved in this decision?

    The government has an interest to keep order and prosperity. The family unit of man-woman-child has been shown to be beneficial for the development of children into responsible, productive members of society. This benefit of the nuclear family is why tax advantages are accorded to married people and parents. What other reason could there be for the government to collect less taxes?

    The church does not need to be involved with any marriage. When clergy are ordained, they do not become compelled to perform marriage ceremonies. Also, I can see nowhere in scripture where God has appointed priests to officiate weddings. For those who choose to be held accountable to their religion’s marriage covenant, having the ceremony performed by their religious leader in their house of worship before their family and body of believers is a way to proclaim their commitment and agree to be held accountable to the promises made in the wedding vows.

    So why would anyone want to subject themselves to the rules and regulations of marriage as set forth by the government or the church?

    The government bestows all sorts of nifty rights to you after you get married, most of which can be set up via various legal documents. Anyone can appoint a beneficiary after death, grant hospital visitation rights, the right to medical decisions, and shared property rights to anyone they want. It’s just that in marriage it all comes wrapped up in one convenient package.

    For those with a religious affiliation, the church offers a sort of “stamp of approval” or sanctification. This brings assurance to the wedded couple and the religious community that the union is in accordance with the spiritual laws of the faith. If you have no religious affiliation, this is meaningless – which is why it is not required.

    I think the biggest reason why people allow any third party to have a say in their marriages (and why some want to change the traditional definition) comes down to one word: Validation. They want others to accept the choice they have made. The church is in a position to do this. One of its functions is to lead and instruct in the ways of the faith — and most believers believe marriage was ordained by God. The government, on the other hand, should limit its involvement in marriage to sanctioning unions that will benefit society as a whole, allowing unions that are neutral to society, and banning those that are detrimental. We can debate what unions fit in each category, but that’s where the discussion should start.

    As far as having separate ceremonies (that’s how this all got started, right?), I’ve never witnessed a “civil ceremony”, but I can’t imagine it would require anything more than the bride and groom’s signatures on a document witnessed by two people or a notary. There is no reason that couldn’t be done on the same day as the “church” wedding. It just seems like a matter of convenience that clergy have been “empowered” by the state (I don’t remember my pastor using that line when I got married) to officiate the civil ceremony. I don’t see a huge church/state issue here at all.

  82. My first wedding ceremony was performed by an Episcopal priest. It failed (not because of God or religion by any means). My second marriage was done at the courthouse by a justice of the peace. 9 years ago, and so far it is successful. Perhaps the success of a marriage (or union of two people) has more to do with the compatibility and willingness to work of the two involved. Whether they desire a government or church blessed marriage should be their choice.

    Also, my experience with the government after Hurricane Katrina related to marriage is this: people who were not married but who lived together were seen by FEMA as roomates, separate individuals.They EACH got the monies given by FEMA. As a married couple with a child, we ended up being worse off as a “family”-the three of us got treated as one and received as a family the same amount that each of the “roomates” got as individuals. And yes, I’m thankful for what we received, but marriage at all in this case didn’t prove to be helpful.

  83. One of the definitions for the word marriage, in the Webster’s Dictionary on my desk, is any close or intimate union. It does not always mean wed. In my opinion, the reasons for the license are many, some good, some maybe not so good.

    Not all states have the so called “common law” marriage laws. In those states you can live with someone for years, then when a medical emergency happens a family member of the patient can legally step in and take control and leave you out in the cold with no say so. If you have a legal civil union the control is much harder to lose & a legal civil union requires a license.

    Many laws would have to be rewritten or changed. I can fully comprehend the reason for the license. Can’t comprehend the reason for the Judge, Justice of the Peace, or Cleric involvement. Any kind of service you want should be allowed, as long as you have witnesses to serve as evidence of the act.

    The “separation of church and state” prevision, I believe, was meant to keep the church from dictating to the government. The system was based on the Christian beliefs when it was set up and since the majority of the population of this nation are so called christians I see no reason to change things.

    Let the government issue the license, no big deal, then let the license holders choose the route they want to take. Let the Cleric have their choice also, they should have the right to decide if they want to do the ritual or not. If not, so be it, find someone else. If domestic partnership is your choice then there should be a form of registration so all of the benefits of a wedded couple could apply to a domestic partnership.

    The license or registration process is a mere form of record keeping.

    I’ve married more than once, divorced more than once, and see no reason to repeat the process again. ; )

  84. Few things are more ironic than a cynical man of faith. I wonder if Father Rick makes a sinner go straight for five years before offering him Absolution. Did he wait to join the clergy until he was sure there was a “reasonable chance of success” for his efforts to save souls?

    Marriage is easy and divorce difficult because marriage is deemed the fundamental building block of society. Upon one’s commitment to one other person, goes the theory, rests one’s commitment to others in one’s community. Those who break their contracts with the ones they purportedly love are considered unreliable members of society, apt to break the social contract. If you cheat on your spouse, you probably cheat on traffic lights and taxes. Hence the stigma attached to divorce.

    I was about to add, “in days gone by”, but then I remembered that no divorced or never-married person has a snowball’s chance in Hell of being elected President. The equation of marriage with fitness for social leadership is still virtually absolute, no matter how dysfunctional the marriage may be. What else could explain the Clintons’ continuing matrimony?

    The power of religious faith, no matter how weak it may be in any given couple, is added to the power of the state in order to strengthen society’s imprimatur on marriage. A religious marriage ceremony is not so much God’s blessing upon a union as it is a couple’s vow to God that they will remain united. Whatever terror the consequences of breaking a vow to God may inspire is used to keep people married for the supposed benefit of society.

    So, Father Rick, it is perfectly reasonable for church and state to unite in approving marriage and censuring divorce. It makes as little sense for clerics to withhold their approval of marriage for five years as it would for bureaucrats to withhold marriage licenses for the same period. The whole idea is to lock people into marriages as early and firmly as possible.

    I think that you, disappointment-weary priest, need to find a more suitable vocation.

    You’re such a contrarian, Dave! And by the way: Ronald Reagan was divorced; Nancy was his second wife, after Jane Wyman. -rc

  85. My father is an accountant. When I was younger, maybe 12 or 13, my father mentioned a couple of clients of his that weren’t married but had 2 children together, both older than me. I assumed they were divorced, but my dad assured me that they were happily living together as a family…just not married. He saw my confusion and explained that financially it would be terrible for them if they were married.

    “Why,” I asked, “didn’t they get married in synagogue or church or something and just not get a marriage license? I mean, since they clearly love each other and have a life and kids together?”

    He explained that it was illegal for a ‘member of the clergy’ to perform a wedding ceremony without a government issued marriage license. Even at thirteen, that struck me as grossly unfair. In fact, that is probably a big reason as to why I wound up becoming a Libertarian.
    When I find a man who I want to spend the rest of my life with, I want a ceremony to honor our commitment and I want friends and family there to share our joy. The government can mind its own business.

  86. Fascinating debate. I honestly have felt for a long time that government should get out of the marriage business and allow it to be a right. That would then allow the government to register and record legal civil unions of any type accepted by the community. Of course, this is a compromise that no one would ever agree to. Oh well, give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s but give unto God that which is God’s.

  87. I’m in the camp of separating the idea of church ceremonies from legal unions. Whether a couple (and by couple I mean male/female, male/male, female/female, monogamy, polygamy and any other consenting adult combo you care to consider) wants to have their union god-blessed at the beginning, the middle or the end should be entirely up to them and entirely separate from any civil contract they make that needs to be recognized by government.

    I also totally appreciate the sentiment of the individuals who commented on the church-shopping brides & grooms. The argument I have the biggest problem with are those who think making marriage should be totally within the authority of the church because it will increase society’s commitment to god and good behavior. I might buy that if religion had demonstrated an increased capacity for moral living, but from the Spanish Inquisition to the Jonestown massacres to our local picketing bigot, I pretty confident that any church has the potential to be every bit as detrimental to righteous living as any atheistic or gay lifestyle.

    I also don’t care NEARLY so much about marriage licenses as I do about baby licenses. When a marriage doesn’t work out it’s two adults who are free to go their separate ways, but when they fail at parenting that little kid is pretty much trapped with them until the age of 18 or when an impossible legal/foster care system steps in to “rescue” him or her.

  88. As a gay man I have to agree. So many people have commented on this. So many people are opposed to same sex marriage–because they think the Bible says it is wrong. Does it really matter to anyone else how someone lives their lives?

    Taking the church out of the business of marriage is the right way to go. The United States was founded because of religious persecution. Now many in the US are facing some of the same issues. Monunents of the ten commandments on city property, gay marriage, different religious beliefs.

    I have to agree the first step is to remove the church from civil unions.

  89. The two should definitely be separate! I agree with the clergy who don’t feel their power is vested by the state. I also see that religion is used to deny taxpaying citizens full rights under the law. I say, Civil Unions for all. Let the religious sector continue to perform religious marriages. It would get our mind off the gay marriage debate long enough to start paying attention to the tremendous problems facing our country… recession, war, corruption, and an all-out corporate free for all.

  90. I agree that religious organizations should have nothing to do with marriages. When I was first married in 1958, my bride and I chose a Unitarian minister. That was about as close as we could get to a non-religious ceremony, and we wrote our own text. The ceremony was only for the parents anyway. That marriage lasted about 20 years.

    My second marriage was at a courthouse since we had stopped worrying about parent’s wishes. It has lasted 25 years and is still going strong. Except for the tradition, and the act of pledging one’s self to the other person, I’m not sure I see any reason for marriage in a formal sense, but I’m not going to worry about it much.

  91. “In the meadow we can build a snowman,
    Then pretend that he is Parson Brown.
    He’ll say: Are you married? We’ll say: No man,
    But you can do the job When you’re in town.”
    ~ Winter Wonderland, Felix Bernard, 1934

    Interesting, isn’t it, how pervasive cultural influence is?

    I’ve long admitted around here that I’m a Christian, but I can’t claim any particular denomination (& refuse to do so). So my wife and I were married in a civil ceremony, to provide certain legal rights and protections to each other. I’m certain that we could have accomplished the same thing with individual arrangements, but one civil ceremony covers a blanket of arrangements.

    But I’m amused with the belief that a marriage of 5 years confers longevity of success. My first marriage didn’t begin to deteriorate until 10 years and we were divorced after 12 years of marriage. My current marriage is coming up on the 16th anniversary in a couple weeks. It’s been a good 16 years, but who can say 10, 20 years from now?

    As for getting the government OUT of marriage, it will never happen because divorce is an inevitable aspect of many marriages. And courts ARE the government. So who needs courts for a divorce? How about WHO gets the children, when and for how long, who pays which share of support, what about division of assets, both current and previous, AND division of past joint obligations? In that last one, no matter how much both parties agree, the finance companies will not. And check out how many people, just living together, go to court for solutions to their financial disagreements. Also how often the courts exasperatedly tell them that they created their own problems without legal protections (such as a marriage contract) and NOW want the courts to resolve those legal complications, which ain’t gonna happen.

    To wish the government out of marriage licensing is as dreamy as wishing the government out of motor vehicle registration or home titles, although I agree that those have little religious basis. But the religious aspect of marriage has been created by people (read culture) as evidenced in the song lyrics above.

  92. This has been a fascinating discussion. Thank you, everyone, for giving me some interesting food for thought.

    I wanted to bring up a couple of points that don’t necessarily negate anything that’s already been said, but might be of interest to some people.

    According to Jewish law (which, by the way, is not only based on the bible, but also on the opinions of generations of rabbis — written down in the Mishnah and Talmud and other such books), the marriage ceremony is very different than is commonly understood.

    First of all, the marriage contract (the Ketuba) is solely a document to protect the woman in the event of divorce or death of her husband. It requires the husband’s family to provide monetarily for her welfare if he cannot. Thus, it’s a very different way of viewing the legal obligations of marriage. It’s solely about finances and requirements. This, it seems to me, is closest to what has been talked about as the government’s current role in marriage.

    Secondly, the Jewish wedding ceremony does not involve any vows. The couple’s obligations are laid out in the ketuba (she agrees to live with him “in the manner of the daughters of Israel,” while he agrees to provide food, clothing, and sex). (Yes, really. The document requires him to provide her with sex. Interesting view of religion, no?) The actual ceremony has two parts. There’s a symbolic action — witnessed by the guests — where he gives her an item of value — a ring. And then there are blessings. That’s pretty much it.

    Again, this seems to me to be similar to the idea of “blessing the union” and showing the community that the couple is taking on this mutual obligation. (The reason the woman’s specific obligations are so much less is a holdover from times when women had very little legal standing — so they needed to be protected, rather than pushed into action.)

    To move from marriage to divorce, Jewish law also has addressed the dissolving of unions. Even in the middle ages, when the general population didn’t allow such things, Jews could get divorced for a variety of reasons up to and including the couple simply not wanting to stay married. However, Jewish law requires that the divorce go through before the woman can get married again. (Latent sexism, I know.) This has led to situations in modern times where some men withhold the religious divorce to punish ex-wives. As far as I understand it, New York state has addressed this very simply. They say that all barriers to remarriage (as defined by the participants) must be removed before a civil divorce will be granted. This means that if a Catholic wants an annulment, the civil divorce can’t take place before that happens.

    This seems to me to be a good way of separating the religious aspects from the civil aspects of divorce. The religion stuff only applies to those who want it, but the state will acknowledge it as binding upon those who want it.

    I don’t know if this theory works well for marriage, but I think it’s the original idea of letting clergy perform weddings. If people so choose, the state will recognize their choice of HOW to marry. But it does not require such religious ceremonies.

    One final point — the question of big weddings/small marriages should be reframed. My husband (of five years) was married the first time in a tiny civil ceremony, and that marriage lasted only a couple of years. But they chose the date based on preserving an anniversary — which meant that his parents weren’t there. I believe that when the ceremony becomes more important than the relationship, that’s when people run into trouble. Beyond that, have as big a party as you want!

  93. Do I think churches (and other religious bodies) should get out of marriage? No.

    That said, however, I do feel that the religious ceremony and the civil “marriage license” should be distinct. (And I believe that they are.) I have a Ketubah (basically, a Jewish marriage “contract”) hanging on my wall. However, without a separate piece of paper that was filed with the city, I would not be “married” as far as any civil authority would be concerned.

    You can certainly combine the two, as virtually anyone who has had a religious marriage ceremony has done.

    You can also have a civil ceremony with no religious portion to it, and churches/synagogues/etc. are certainly free to refuse to recognize such marriages. (Which is why I don’t understand people using religious arguments against things like gay marriage. Using those same arguments, divorced people shouldn’t be allowed to remarry, and people who are married should be forced to have children.)

    So, keep religion out of civil “marriage” and keep the government out of religious “marriage”, but there’s nothing to say you can’t have both.

  94. I disagree with those who have stated that marriage is just a matter of convenience, or something that has come about only in the last couple of thousand years. You may or may not agree that marriage comes from God (obviously someone who doesn’t believe in God would think it hogwash that He created marriage); however, I do think that most societies (perhaps all, but that’s a big statement) have had marriage and family as one of the foundations of their societal structure. If nothing else, it provides a certain amount of structure and permanence for raising children as well as for romantic relationships. The fact that “it’s always been done that way” doesn’t necessarily mean we have to keep doing it like that, but on the other hand I think we should think carefully before throwing something that’s been so prevalent in so many cultures out the window.

    I’m definitely noticing a difference in past life experiences here. Part of my opinions come from my personality (influenced by my faith but different from other Christians); I tend to be a sort of “til death do us part” person in all of my relationships (I’ve had the same best friend for 16 years, wouldn’t cut off a close friend for hardly anything, etc.). Part of them also come from more positive experiences with marriage than many people here have apparently had. I’ve certainly seen a decent amount of rotten marriages (including one of someone very close to me that was ended because of domestic violence and other abuse issues), but the majority of marriages that I’ve seen up close and personal have been reasonably good. Not perfect, and some of them I personally wouldn’t want to have, but in general the people are happy being together and glad they’ve stuck it out through the tough times. Kind of interesting how different peoples’ experiences can be.

  95. I don’t think that churches should be taking out of weddings in general, it really depends on the people in question. I know people who are more committed to making it work because of the vows they made before god.

    On the other hand I know people who are “god fearing” people who have ended up divorced though it goes against their religion. I also know a couple of people that enjoy long lasting marriages that the government will not recognize. Let’s face it: it does not matter whether the state or church recognizes your union but that you and your spouse do. I was officially married only four years ago (in a living room of a state ordained minister of no domination), but have been married in my heart and mind for six years.

    I think most people just need to put more effort and time into getting to know each other to start with, and to making it work. Unfortunately to many people are thinking more about the happily ever after and less about the work and commitment that it takes to truly share your life.

  96. Have to add a little history update for Dave in Denver. There has been one unmarried president; James Buchanan, our 15th president. So it’s rare, but not impossible.

    Why are so many thinking the marriage/divorce thing didn’t start until the middle ages? I seem to remember reading of divorces among the Claudian family of Rome (the family that provided the early emperors). Look in the bible for references to the various wives. Remember the stories of Ruth and Esther?

    By the way, I was married in a church, although my wife wasn’t baptized until 5 years later. We’ve been married for over 30 years.

  97. “Marriage is a wonderful institution” was once said… but who wants to live in an institution?

    To me, marriage is another example the wishy-washy way our culture operates. We hail the near perfect Constitution of The United States of America as standing for the people…by the people…in very clear language. Then someone or other comes along and changes it to suit them, be it marriage by the justice of the peace or a minister, if one is accepted without the other then the reverse should be true…BUT… (What about the separation of church and state?) Don’t get me started on gun ownership (I am for it), or church groups that gather on government property to exercise their rights to free speech (Talk about a conflicting rights).

    As far as cheap marriages, I could care less. If two people love and respect each other, be they straight or gay or… and they feel the need to have a ceremony, and a piece of paper to make them feel “Legal” or “Holy” great let them have it, or not…as long as the attained result is in the “Pursuit of happiness”, AND any offspring (natural, adopted or…) of that union are cared for until they are old enough and capable to take care of themselves. Then maybe some other important things could be addressed, and maybe even made right for everyone.

  98. I agree that churches should not be arms of the state in regards to marriage. My preference, which both separates church and state and puts everyone – gay or straight – on an equal footing, is to have all state-sanctioned legal relationships be civil unions, and religious ceremonies for those who so choose be marriages. The state can regulate civil unions; they are legal relationships with societal ramifications. The church can oversee marriages and deny them to some based on church tenets or doctrine, but not prevent legally sanctioned civil relationships that are – and ought to be – the exclusive province of civil government regulation, not church control.

    Yeah, that’ll happen.

  99. This is a good idea IMHO and I’m glad to see a “man of the cloth” advocating it; takes the heat off of us liberal pansies. It would “divorce” the whole conversation about who should and should not be allowed to get married (gay/straight) from ‘marriage’ as a legal status. If ALL marriages were ‘civil unions’ in the eyes of the state, any two people who wanted to set up shop together could. You wanna get married in a cathedral, you have to pass the tests for that cathedral. You wanna get married at the fire hall, join the fire dept.

    It makes no sense to me that the policies surrounding who could and could not inherit/claim dependents on their taxes/file jointly/execute advanced medical directives, etc. should be so entwined with religious tenets that were set one or two millennia ago when we were all chasing sheep for a living. It ain’t that way anymore.

    If you think it is, you are more than welcome to live that way. You are cordially un-invited from setting policy for the rest of us.

    For the record, I’m straight, married once and still married (coming up on 24 yr), in my 50’s, with a couple of kids in college.

  100. All I have to say about church and weddings is why? Hasn’t anyone studied the formation of the Catholic church in detail? Why would we care what they have to say after the years of religious persecution it has wrought on those not willing to accept their “sensibilities”?

    Of course they should get out of the wedding business. What validity does marriage have when celebrities are married and the divorced in a matter of hours? Why not let it be a legal binding contract between two parties, with the terms of divorce written in at the time of marriage? I know that is a pre-nup, everyone should have, otherwise she will get half.

    And then can we do away with the electoral college.

    One topic at a time! But I have a question about your comments: so we’ll outlaw the Catholics from doing marriage ceremonies, but it’s OK for all the other sects and denominations to do them? -rc

  101. A quick note: several people apparently have assumed that I’m Roman Catholic and that my comments are intended to apply only to that denomination. Neither is the case. My catholicism is Cantuarian, not Roman, and the comments are for all denominations and religions, including but not limited to Christian.

  102. It kind of makes sense since all of this hubbub about same sex marriage is against Christian beliefs. To do this they would have to stop using the term ‘marriage’, since this IS a biblical term, and just start calling them civil unions. The term ‘marriage’ could then be used by Christians who would follow their civil union with a ceremony overseen by a priest.

  103. My wife and I are both deeply devout atheists and tend towards socialism in our philosophy of government, so we would have actually rather liked to apply for a license for civil union.

    Unfortunately in this state, we could only get a marriage license (oh well!).

    As far as whether wedding or marriage have religious connotations, the Online Etymology Dictionary has a nice description: O.E. weddian “to pledge, covenant to do something, marry,” from P.Gmc. *wadjojanan (cf. O.N. veja “to bet, wager,” O.Fris. weddia “to promise,” Goth. ga-wadjon “to betroth”), from PIE base *wadh- “to pledge, to redeem a pledge” (cf. L. vas, gen. vadis “bail, security,” Lith. vaduoti “to redeem a pledge”). Sense remained “pledge” in other Gmc. languages (cf. Ger. Wette “bet, wager”);

    Given the odds of a successful union, the “bet/Wager” definition has some weight!

  104. Better that government AND religion both get out of the marriage business. Marriage, legally speaking, should be no more than a civil contract between two adult-just like any other contract. This would keep a lot of lawyers and moralists out of the mix. Forget all the other b.s. that has been attached to it since the Dark Ages.

  105. In France (where I got married) the church has no power to marry anyone. ONLY the state can marry anyone. You have to register with the town hall and the mayor or his/her deputy carries out the wedding. You can then,if you want (and my wife did) get the marriage blessed in a church.

  106. I think it might solve a few problems, including the whole same sex marriage fiasco. If people are in love, who cares if they want to get married? I say let them, life is hard enough without other folks making it more difficult. If the church is no longer officiating weddings, then no one can (or should) be proposing whether it is moral or not. Love is love, no matter whom you love.

    A few years ago I was ordained by the ULC in Modesto CA just so I could perform marriages for people who aren’t religious, don’t want to get married in a church, and feel the Justice of the peace is too impersonal. I can perform religious ceremonies, if asked, but I got ordained simply to be able to provide a service for nonbelievers.

  107. This is a brilliant idea, in my opinion, though I doubt most churches would go for it, since once people get their “civil” marriage, they’ll be doing all that living together and having sex stuff (as though unmarried couples aren’t doing that regularly anyhow), and the church would have to ignore that 5 years later when inviting them in to be married “in the eyes of God.”

    But still, in my books, it’s a great concept and in the end would result in better marriages both in a civil and religious sense. Bravo to Fr. Rick for suggesting it.

  108. This is such an encouraging thread. I thought I was pretty lonely as a Christian who thought that true separation of church and state would mean that civil unions were done by the state and marriages by the church – each according to the specific needs and beliefs of the individual church and the laws of the state.

    I’m pleasantly surprised to see the number of folks who agree. So, how do we make it happen? Maybe we should all email the link to this discussion to all our elected representatives – and everyone else we know.

  109. I, too, have long thought we should separate the civil union from the religious marriage. There are 4 types of couples: Those who want both the civil and the religious recognition; those who aren’t religious, so they want only the civil union; those who want neither (we won’t worry about them); and those who want to be married in the eyes of their congregation and deity, but for whatever reason they don’t want all of the legal and civil recognition. Others have talked about the first two, but no one’s mention the last one.
    There are some disadvantages to marrying, especially a remarriage. For example, a widow can lose her late husband’s pension and SS benefits or an ex-wife can go after the new wife’s income for child support and alimony (at least in some states). For couples in this sort of situation, they can marry in their church and not worry about the legal disadvantages. If they need to, they can have papers drawn up that name each other as next of kin/power of attorney for specific situations.

  110. Should the state charge high fee for marriage license?

    Only if they want to make the marriage license redundant.

    If the marriage license is unexpectedly expensive, many, maybe most people will opt to not get the license.

    Should the Clergy get out of the marriage business?

    They can’t so why ask the question?

    Besides, shouldn’t the clergy be asking “why does a blessed marriage fail?”? Why has the blessing lost its power?

    The obvious answer is that the marriage partners never had a total commitment to the marriage. No amount of “blessing” can fix a spiritually empty marriage.

    For the same reason that drug traffic interdiction will not solve the drug problem in this country, Clergy postponing marriage ceremonies for newlyweds will not change the demand for marriage ceremonies. What would happen if clergy united behind the idea of postponing the marriage ceremony? Suppose clergy waited until it became evident that the marriage was strong enough to survive without the clergy blessing, and the priest would not be embarrassed by blessing a failed marriage?

    I would guess that, as a result, a large number of “marriage preachers” would pop up. The number of newly wed church marriages would not change. Not until the population at large has reason to change its behavior would the marriage divorce situation change.

    Manipulation of the public behavior is tricky. The most obvious attempts will almost always fail because majority of people will simply find ways around those attempts. If you wish to change the public opinion, you should seek ways to persuade everyone why it should change.
    If it’s not possible to persuade almost everyone that a particular idea is superior, then perhaps that idea is not so superior after all.

    “Why ask the question?” Because that’s the only way to a solution. -rc

  111. “Why ask the question?” Because that’s the only way to a solution. -rc

    But is a solution necessary? Other minds besides a single forum have been debating the topic of failed marriages for decades. Nobody has arrived at a consensus despite increasing statistics of failed marriages. What do I care about other people’s marriages failing? It’s mine that I’m concentrating on. Might as well try legislating good manners in city traffic. Or, like the Pope recently, try instituting some 10 Commandments for drivers. Old Chinese proverb, very old, very wise: Rotsa ruck.

    This is a discussion about individuals, as well as institutions. It’s thought-inspiring (for those with open minds). I know when I was first married, I thought I “had” to do it in a nice church. The second time, I chose the “church” — the shore of a mountain lake. The witnesses: two friends and three ducks. Guess which marriage has lasted longer? My mind was more open the second time, to my benefit. Society at large? As you indicate: not my problem. -rc

  112. RC, here’s why I thought your tagline was sexist: because of your comment, “My wife didn’t like the tag, but I figured most divorced men would — and left it despite her disapproval.”

    As a divorced woman who paid alimony, I do tend to bristle at the notion that men are “taken to the cleaners” by divorce.

    Possibly if we returned to the concept of marriage as an economic union, people would think more before getting married, instead of being carried away by hormones and romantic fantasies.

    You may not know that the church didn’t take over the marriage business until the Middle Ages. About the same time they started refusing to bury unbaptized children in holy ground. Another source of revenue, and ideological control.

    Thanks for following up (Jennifer had made a side comment about the tagline on this story being sexist in the calling someone “blonde” is racism entry, and I asked her to explain here).

    To say that it’s common that men get taken to the cleaners in divorce isn’t sexism, it’s an observation of what is. That doesn’t mean all men do, or that no women do. I suffered financially a bit in my divorce, but felt lucky that it was only “a bit”. In my case, I had a bachelor’s degree and had helped my wife to get two master’s degrees before she split. If anyone “owed” anyone money in that split, it should have been the one with the big education. Didn’t work out that way. Was it because I’m male? I don’t think so; it was because I had the better job — and that was because I went and hustled for it, while she continued her education.

    But I digress. I still don’t see it as sexism, but I appreciate your taking the time to answer the question. -rc

  113. Several commenters have indicated that any two consenting adults should be able to declare themselves married without the state having to sanction it, and I’m fine with that. But why should a marriage be limited to two people? If the participants’ gender doesn’t matter (which idea I applaud), then why is the number of marriage partners important, if all of them are happy with the arrangement?

  114. In the US (not knowing other country’s laws) ONLY the State has the authority to marry a couple. A minister MUST have a marry/bury license from the State in order to legally marry folks. The State issues the license to proxies – ministers and Justices of the Peace. Boat Captains are a weird exception, because they are granted under Maritime Law, which still flows from the State.

    A marriage is a legal contract revolving around property and specific obligations and responsibilities. The latter include making medical decisions.

    Thus, all the talk about “Church” vs “Civil” marriage misses the point. Given the divorce rate is about even for “Christians” vs “non-Christians” (50%) the place/cost of the ceremony is really irrelevant. The reason folks want to marry doesn’t matter, because the mechanism is *exactly* the same.

    Gay marriage is consistent with this. Technically, ALL marriages are Civil Unions, because the State issues the license. All the squawking by various religious leaders and organizations are so much noise. In my experience, gay couples raise well-adjusted children at the same rate or better than hetero couples.

    (As a monogamous, married (20 years) Christian, I see NO reason gays should not marry. It is a matter of being a Citizen, not straight or gay. I don’t even care about the number of spouses – as long as they are consenting adults. For those “traditionalists”: look up the number of wives and concubines King David had – It’s Good To Be The King. However, my experience and observations lead me to the conclusion most men could not handle multiple wives – not just the sex, but the politics. If the wives argue, the man cannot win. If the wives get along, the man cannot win.)

    Also – on the divorce side, both parties should be treated as temporarily insane. Divorce lawyers should be thrown in jail for contempt if they try to strip the other side. If there is real abuse, it should be treated as a criminal matter. If you *really* wanted to reduce divorce rates, make it *hard* to get married and easy to divorce. Put the couple in really stressful conditions. If they work well together, the marriage will last. If they don’t, better to not marry. (BTW – my wife and I did this basic thing. It worked. She was also a Marine before I met her.)

  115. @Marc, Chicago: The term bastard (Mamzer, in Hebrew) in Judaism (and therefore Israeli law) is applied to a child born to a married woman and a man who is not her husband.

    The problem in Israel is that Orthodox Judaism is the only state sanctioned form of Judaism. As a result, the Rabbinate (which is actually mostly controlled by the Ultra Orthodox, who don’t accept its authority, but I digress) can require people to be religious to be able to get married. Time and again, when a law is suggested to allow civil marriage, it’s shot down even though the majority of the population is in favor.

    My suggestion would be that the religious wedding be adjacent to the legal marriage, but not mutual requirements, so people who want one but not the other have that option, and those who want both also have that option.

  116. We were married in 1972, and are still happily together. My boss from where I worked my way through college paid $10 for a Universal Life Minister license, and he married us on skis in Lake Tahoe.

    The church has no valid reason to be involved in a legal union such as this. He paid his $10 to make everything “legal,” but that was just an excuse to start a week-long party celebration.

    Life has been an adventure together. We moved to Ecuador upon retiring in 2013, and are now exploring Portugal for 3 months. Superstition (aka “religion”) has never been part of our lives, and should definitely not have any legal standing ANYWHERE in the world — too many wars, both historic and current, have been waged in the name of Gawd.

    Not sure if we will ever survive long enough to get past such superstitions, but I expect we are now old enough to say it won’t be in our lifetimes… 🙁

  117. I have always maintained that divorces should cost $10.00 and marriage licenses $10,000. But maybe that is too cynical…

  118. Commertors suggested several way two people could establish a marriage, and suggested that could be any two consenting adults with no gender requirement. And yet no one has suggested that marriage could involve a number of people other than two. What is different, other than tradidtion, about three, four, or more people establishing a marriage?

    Of course, divorce may have to be handled differently because there is a large body of settled law that tells us how property and custody (the primary things people disagree about during divorce) will be distributed when two people are divorcing, but surely, we could establish rules for larger groups.

    Maybe the discussion could be expanded.

    Actually, scattered in the comments are several mentions of the idea (including Doug in B.C.) But indeed most are talking about two people in a marriage. -rc

  119. I read a story once, where “shares” of a “company” (the wedding/marriage) were divided between multiple individuals. Adding or subtracting individuals was a matter of buying into or selling out of the marriage. And yes, it was set up as a company.

    This way, the “company” could continue as long as there were people interested in it. In the story, it started with three people and got as high as eight; it also continued after the deaths of two of the original participants.

    It’s a pay site with adult content; I’ll not link to it here.

    • Michael,

      You may be thinking of the “line marriage” described in Robert Heinlein’s “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”.

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