I had already been thinking a lot about marriage, and what it does and doesn’t mean legally, so the news, ferried to my unwitting eyes today by the magic of mutual Facebook friends, that my ex-husband got married in an “impromptu” wedding this last weekend sort of fit right into that mix.
The thing is, I’m obviously not a huge fan about how he behaves (or at least did behave) in a marriage, but I still support his right to get married. I support his right, as a man just shy of 41, to marry a girl in her early 20s. I support his right, as a deputy prosecutor, to marry the daughter of the county Sheriff. I don’t have to think it’s a great idea to support that right. I can even cringe at the thought that in this marriage, he may be insinuating himself into a position of greater political power over a town he has already not had a great record with, and still totally support his underlying right to marriage.
I support people’s rights to hypocritically get divorced and remarried as many times as Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich. I support the right of murders, thieves, and those suffering from suicidal tendencies to enter into legal wedlock. I have to, if I believe in personal liberty and the US Constitution. And you know what? All of these people can get married. Convicted pedophiles can get married in the United States. Sociopaths can get married in the United States. Pathological liars can get married in the United States. You can marry your ex-wife’s daughter, your father’s ex-wife, your foster sister, and so on and so on. People of different races and cultures may marry one another. People of different faiths may marry one another. Really, any two consenting adults that are not legally married already can get married, as long as they’re not of the same gender or too closely related — and even that depends on which state you’re talking about.
This is because in the United States, marriage is not a sacrament. It is about as close as you can get to a fundamental right, a contract of sorts between two people, with legal ramifications. The United States is not a Christian nation, and I would argue based on the very first words of the Bill of Rights that it was never intended to be. The Founding Fathers were attempting to shape a nation unlike those that the American immigrants had so recently come out of: ones in which, in the name of Christianity, Puritans, Anabaptists, Catholics, Jews, those suspected of witchcraft and so on were slaughtered for heresy — sometimes in religious wars, sometimes in the public square. In the centuries and decades just previous to the founding of the United States, the drawbacks of forcing citizens into one religious mold would have been quite apparent. Hence, I sincerely doubt it is accidental that these first words run “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This was meant to be a safeguard against anyone who came to power and wanted to enshrine the tenets of any particular religion (or religious sect) into law, be that Mormonism, Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism; be that Catholic, Baptist, or Neo-Puritan.
But, because of the second clause of the Bill of Rights, people of all of these religious persuasions are free to worship as they please. They are free to perform, or not perform, religious marriage ceremonies that are considered sacramental by their congregants. They are free to limit these ceremonies to non-divorcees, or virgins, or white people. Many churches require pastoral counseling before they will marry you. Some require a statement of faith. They can require that. That’s their right.
And although these two clauses have created a certain amount of tension over the decades — after all, they cover freedom from, and freedom of, religion, which are vastly different in focus — they are both necessary for a nation that adheres to personal liberty. And if that is not the nation you want, then you’re looking in the wrong place.
9 thoughts on “In the interest of American marriage”
Best thing you have ever written. And by best, I mean it is timely, well-written, and enlivens several points I have tried to made and failed.
As long as Americans persist in defining personal liberty as license then everything you said is correct.
Did you read the story about the woman who married a dolphin (it’s a couple years old)? Her right, of course. And this nonsense about limiting wives to one at a time; it’s so 19th century. Polygamists have rights, people! And 18 is an arbitrary number imposed by the State upon lovers to keep them apart. I have a right to marry my 14 year old student if our love is genuine and mutual. What about my cousin? Isn’t that my right? So there’s a little shared DNA! Biology, as we know, is not destiny.
Cousins can marry each other in many states. As for marrying someone who is still a child… you can’t legally have relations with a child, which, obviously, is anyone below 18 in this country. A child can’t legally provide consent to marriage. Neither can an animal, really, so the comparison seems ridiculous. I have mixed feelings about polygamy. On the one hand, I think it would be great (and it would certainly be Biblical) if polygamists were required to be legally responsible for all their wives (as opposed to having them classified as single mothers), but it’s got to be really complicated on the divorce end of things…
Whether they can or can’t legally is not the question here. Who says a 16 year old girl can’t consent to marriage when a thousand infantile men who happen to be 20 can do it? It doesn’t matter if the animal can’t (they don’t know better) if the person can. That most certain IS a matter of personal liberty. Is it marriage? Nope.
Biblical? By old testament standards perhaps where God tolerated the practice at best though it was always outside his design. The fact that polygamy is illegal at all is undoubtedly a result of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, and it’s time for it to go. People have the right to marry as many people at a time as they want, assuming all parties are happy with the arrangement.
Teens (below 18) can actually marry in some cases in the US, you know. It’s just harder to prove they’re consenting… and you don’t want anyone coerced into marriage. http://marriage.about.com/cs/teenmarriage/a/teenus.htm
Good on them. I’m not sure why anyone can’t marry, by these standards. In fact…what IS the standard? By the logic put forth here, it will be pretty hard to come up with one that falls outside the standard of ‘personal liberty.’ And as long as one believes the fallacy that marriage and sexuality are not in the public interest, that’s exactly how it should be.
This is excellent. I’ve thought this for quite a while, but I particularly appreciate the clarity and brevity of how you expressed it here.
You are a smart, logical, fact-based woman. I am officially a big fan! Thanks for this post!