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Writer's Block: Church and State
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Today in 1893 U.S. President Benjamin Harrison declared full amnesty for Mormon polygamists. Is it the government's place to define which marriages are valid and which are not?


Absolutely not.

The government should put together a concept of civil union that is independent of any restrictions of gender, sexual orientation, number of participants, etc. This would be something that can be entered into by filling out the proper paperwork, etc., with no religious element required- or allowed.

Marriage could be defined by each and every religion/tradition in each their own way... but it would be entirely independent of civil union. It would have no legal force whatsoever. The government would not interfere in marriage, except to limit it to consenting, competent human adults.

EDIT: made that last sentence more restrictive. Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking.

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Civil union is a attempt to take a social convention which is pretty much purely religious[1] and make it acceptable to all by sucking all the religion out; that's just silly.

The gov't has no more business instituting a legal version of "marriage lite" than it does recognizing traditional religious bonds.[2]



To the extent that the gov't should have any involvement with anything marriage-like can be handled completely within the confines of contract law.

[1] Depending on whose version/interpretation of history you want to accept, there is a view that it was not alway a religious matter (but those supporting that view seem to be stretching to make a point). But their assertions about the origins of marriage law make it clear that from that point of view marriage is in fact "indentured servitude lite".

[2] Summerizes why I really don't care about gay-marriage, I want all legal recognition and laws pertaining to marriage declared null & void.

[3] "competent human adults"
HA! Can we please have a compentancy exam for adulthood?

There is a valid legal purpose to civil union, along the lines of (to quote stori_lundi) "emergency medical decisions, health care benefits, taxes, legal guardianship of children, citizenship/immigration, etc."

By "competent" I meant the legal/mental health definition, as in "competent to stand trial".

A good marriage contract would include reciprocal (limited?) power of attorney for medical matters, a defined protocol for child care in the event of the termination of the contract (by death or whatever).

I see no reason why taxes can't be handled individually, if only one partner works then the other ccould be (with proper documentation) claimed as a dependant...

The default contract boilerplate would probably be almost identical to what currently exists for marriage, but as a matter of contract, you could customize it to fit your actual needs/desires. Why insist on limiting yourself to a cookie cutter version decreed by the legislature (and subject to change at their whim?)


[I understood which definition of competent you were using - I just think there's a awful lot of people who don't actually qualify.]

Is marriage purely religious though? One could argue that it is biological. The want/need to stay with one partner or partners for life can be found all over the animal kingdom. Humans originally partnered for the purpose of procreation. The religion part came afterwards.

Marriage/civil partnership goes beyond just contract law. It also pertains to many more legal issues such as emergency medical decisions, health care benefits, taxes, legal guardianship of children, citizenship/immigration, etc. etc. Also if people are not religious, there needs to be a way to define a legal life partner outside of the church which is where the state comes in.

What I mean is to divorce (heh) the civil aspects of marriage from the religious ones. The former would be covered under civil union, the latter under marriage.

Well, if you're going to be sensible about it....

Disagree.

I believe that a forced marriage between, say, a 47 year old man and an unwilling 8 year old girl should not be valid. Sure you can argue that the subsequent statutory rape is already illegal, but I don't think the marriage itself should be legal even if it is chaste.

I believe that any marriage between consenting adults should be legal. Not consenting? Not adults? Not legal. My opinion.


I edited my post to take that into account.

Edited at 2009-01-05 08:45 pm (UTC)

(Deleted comment)

Re: Government's job

I agree with this. Marriage as a contract should follow contract law. And the current law needs to changed (or at least clarified to a non-discriminatory wording).

Although it still gets into a grey area as minors cannot legally sign contracts (just ask Gary Coleman). This means that by using a strict interpretation of contract law, minors could be married by having their parents sign. I am not a lawyer and may be wrong here.

(Deleted comment)

Re: Minors & contracts

It gets worse. I think we'd all agree that we don't want 7 year olds marrying. What about 17 year olds? Legally minors. Old enough to marry in some states. Tough call.

(Deleted comment)
An aside: I think old enough to serve in the military is old enough to drink and vote. Simultaneously, if you have to, but I don't recommend it.

I'm definitely in agreement with you there...

Re: Government's job

That's more or less what I mean- let government deal with contract law, and remove all aspects that are religiously dictated.

While I can see absolutely zero negative civil ramifications for allowing same-sex civil unions, I think the path gets a bit trickier when it comes to polygamy. Note, I'm not saying that I think the concept is wrong, only that it requires a more cautious consideration.

Marriage as a form of civil union in today's world implies several benefits like ability to receive health insurance, sometimes power of attorney, etc. It also carries with it several legal ramifications should that union become divorced (ie alimony). And there are a number of legal nightmares that could occur concerning child support, health insurance, benficiaries, etc, should that become a 3, or 4, or more part contract. And I'm not so much speaking about sensible people who would desire polygamy because they genuinely love more than one person. I'm more worried about those who would specifically try to game the system. Currently, the system's at least tolerably possible to protect from abusers simply because you can't marry more than one person at the same time. Remove that limit, and it could be like opening Pandora's Box.

Again, not saying I'm against the concept, but it would require a vast overhaul of marriage law... while same sex marriage, interestingly, would require virtually none.


Again, not saying I'm against the concept, but it would require a vast overhaul of marriage law... while same sex marriage, interestingly, would require virtually none.

One thing at a time, perhaps... I don't know...

It seems to me we've already got a lot of that with multiple divorces and remarriage. Even with just one divorce and remarriage, you can have contention over the financial aspects of marriage involving three people, and there's no absence of gaming the system even with just two. I don't disagree unique problems would occur in some cases, but I don't think there are many areas of law where "it could get messy" is sufficient grounds for disallowing something entirely.

I disagree with the part about leaving "marriage" to denote the purely religious element, because I feel that knuckling under to dishonest arguments is both offensive and counterproductive. Marriage predates modern organized religion, and it is an open question whether government legal codes or religious ceremonies were involved in it first. It is not in question that legal sanctioning of marriage for purposes of inheritance, etc. is millennia old, as are marriages with no religious component (the Romans, for example.)

So I object to surrendering the term "marriage" on that basis, and also because it is not likely to make the argument any less contentious. Those making arguments that changing marriage is somehow dictating to religion, or telling churches what they must do are making an inflammatory argument that is either deliberately false or ignorant. From what I've seen, there is little evidence that it is the real basis for their objections. Giving them "marriage" will gain nothing.

Other than that, I'm generally in agreement. I remember that even back in high school, when I read that the Mormons had to give up polygamy to by admitted to the union, I thought "but doesn't that violate separation of Church and State?" (I was a precocious child.)

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