Why do you need a license to get married?

During the ongoing debate about same sex marriage, in New Jersey and throughout the country, there have been those who have called for government to get out of the marriage business all together.

In New Jersey it is a crime to solemnize a marriage without a license.  Anyone who presides over a marriage ceremony for a couple who does not have a license is subject to a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.

Government did not always control marriage, according to Stephanie Coontz, an author who teaches history and and family studies and Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA.

In a November, 2007 OpEd piece published in the New York Times, Taking Marriage Private, Coontz said that for most of Western history, the government was not involved in marriage.  Rather than an ‘institution,” marriage was a private contract between families.  If parents approved on a marriage, it was valid.  Church or State had nothing to do with it.

For 16 centuries the Catholic Church deemed a couple to be married if they said they were.  Not until 1215 did the Church deem that a marriage ceremony had to take place in a church in order for a union to be “licit.”  Yet couples married illicitly had the same rights and obligations as those who went to the chapel.

Government didn’t get involved until the 16th century in Europe.  Coontz says the European laws were, in part, to protect parental control of marriages.

The American colonies required that marriages be registered, but in the mid-19th century state supreme courts ruled that public cohabitation was evidence of a valid marriage.  (Who knew that people cohabited publicly back then?)

In the late 19th century the United States began to nullify common-law marriages and control who could be married.

Marriage, and the laws governing it continued to evolve during the 20th century.  Interracial marriages were prohibited for whites, then they were allowed again.

As the entitlement culture emerged, marriage licenses became a determining factor in the distribution of benefits, inheritance, and health care.   Coontz said this made sense in the 1950’s because almost all adults were married.

But that is no longer the case.  When Coontz wrote her OpEd piece in 2007, she said that half of all adults ages 25-29 were unmarried and 40% of American children were born to unmarried parents.  Last week, The New York Times reported that as of 2009, 53% of births to American women under 30 were out of wedlock.

As out of wedlock births have become more common the stigma of “illegitimacy” has faded.  That’s one reason sited as a cause of the surge in births outside of marriage.  Another major reason sited by the mothers The Times interviewed is the government “safety net.”

The Times reporters Jason DeParle and Sabrina Tavernise spoke to dozens of people in Lorain, Ohio, a blue-collar town west of Cleveland where the decline of the married two-parent family has been especially steep, with 63 percent of births to women under 30 occurring outside of marriage. The young parents of Lorain saidtheir reliance on the government safety net encouraged them to stay single and that they didn’t trust their youthful peers to be reliable partners. Many said they would like to be married — just not right now, and not to each other.

It seems pretty clear that government regulating marriage hasn’t worked.  It also seems pretty clear that government entitlement programs have taken a massive toll on both the institution of marriage and the institution of family.

Posted: February 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Gay Marriage, Gender Equality, marriage, Same Sex Marriage | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments »

10 Comments on “Why do you need a license to get married?”

  1. James Hogan said at 12:48 pm on February 21st, 2012:

    Art, thanks for sharing this bit of history/back-story as I’ve long been one of “those who have called for government to get out of the marriage business all together”.

    BUT, what I didn’t realize is that it’s a crime (a monetary $500 crime) to preside over a marriage without a different license from the State… that seems equally disturbing to someone like me who really wants less government control, and more Freedom.

    It is certainly straying from the marriage topic, BUT in light of that $500 fine/requirement to get a license to preside over marriage — it reminds me that I recently learned (maybe I’m slow to the news) that in NJ, there is also some kind of license or certificate needed to be a librarian… as in a license to rent books (and Brookdale seems to have 20+ of these licensed/certified professionals). Is there a listing anywhere that you know of that shows all of the licenses/fees/etc that are required for some reason in NJ? I have to assume there is then an authority full of state employees with nice pay, benefits and perks to then administer each of those licenses too? And probably some more folks to enforce whatever regulations go with those licenses? With all of the talk we Republicans do about “less government regulations”, it seems a good place to start might be in eliminating, at least some of, the required license programs.

    … driver’s license, dog license, cat license, librarians license, plumber’s license, doctor, electrician, Security Officer/SORA, ham/amateur radio license, boater’s license, hunter’s license/FID/carry permit licensing, I think you need a license to be an accountant, a bartender, sell beer or wine (Hi Mike!), sell firearms …. now I learn of a license to sell marriages…. :/ and I’ve probably barely scratched the surface of a long, long list of licenses that ONLY the state sells; talk about a Monopoly! What a mess. To go for the easy/usual hack line “Hey! It’s easier to list the things that the government is NOT involved in!” 🙁

  2. MLaffey said at 1:13 pm on February 21st, 2012:

    “For 16 centuries the Catholic Church deemed a couple to be married if they said they were. Not until 1215 did the Church deem that a marriage ceremony had to take place in a church in order for a union to be “licit.” “— Math is off here, the Catholic Church did not exist for 16 centuries prior to 1215. It could not have been more then 11 and that would assume you date the start of it at shortly after the birth of Christ.

    Saying the Government did not get involved until the 16th century ignores how, for most of history, religion was in effect a co- equal branch or at least an arm of government. This was true around the world and across most religions.
    Some states still recognize “common law” marriage. The state recognition still subjects you to the benefits and detriments of recognition of marriage. The key point is that they only recognize common law marriage between heterosexuals so whether you are required to get a license or not the relevant issue is still government recognition.

    Why have government recognition? I would say it was because government wanted stable families. As society became more complex more then community norms and religious strictures were required to encourage people to get married and stay married. They passed laws that made it difficult to just walk away from your family and passed other laws regarding “distribution of benefits, inheritance, and health care” that incentivized marriage.
    More recently government has backtracked on a lot of this making government recognition of marriage somewhat irrelevant. It can be argued it no longer accomplishes its goals. However being a firm believer in marriage and family I would rather see us bring back the above mentioned carrots and sticks rather then do way with governmental recognition of marriage.
    The so called “progressive “changes to the laws of marriage and divorce have been a disaster for society. The stability that most families had in the 50’s was a good thing for children and society and it is rapidly disappearing.
    The large number of out of wedlock births is also bad for society and bad for children because it usually means they are raised by only one parent. While children should never be stigmatized for being “illegitimate” Parents who have children out of wedlock should be stigmatized. At the risk of offending some people I would say that in most cases people who do that are being either irresponsible, selfish or both.

  3. Rick Ambrosia said at 1:23 pm on February 21st, 2012:

    Ahhh…just what we need now….more 16th century thinking. MLaffey and Rick Santorum…perfect together!

  4. just another said at 1:37 pm on February 21st, 2012:

    revenue source, and another thing for government to oversee/regulate/ horn in on, in our lives- what else is new?.. am sure the gay marriages will add a few bucks to the “bottomless” coffers, that are largely composed of our hard-earned cash….

  5. James Hogan said at 3:05 pm on February 21st, 2012:

    Mike, I had a (typical of me) lengthy reply with some tough questions, a few statistics/info I’d be regurgitating from reading and was about to click Submit Comment… but I had the below realization in that moment and scrapped it all for this instead….

    Not a single one of our part-time legislators is going to vote to give up their full time benefits. Not a single head of a single state agency is going to give up a single dime of their pay and not a single public worker is going to give up any of their “WE DESERVE THESE!” benefits…. then Double Dippin’ Jim Sage should be here any second to remind us of the corruption/expense at (somehow he became) my friend’s (the Sheriff) department, and we need to pay for that, and then “It’s true” will paste the same tired garbage about Menendez and Kyrillos being perfect together (and how illegal immigration, and whatnot make my taxes higher) just before a RulloBot tells us that Joe Rullo wears Superman Underpants (not how Rullo is going to solve any problems, just about his underpants) and it’ll be topped off with a “Go Anna!” telling us how Anna Little’s [great] singing voice is the only way to save our nation from The Establishment. Jen Beck will get some (dis)honorable mention and I’ll probably be attacked on a personal level for opposing it all.

    So in essence, we can argue till we’re blue in the face about what a limited government should or shouldn’t do. About what benefit society as a whole would gain from marriage as you define it or not having two classes of people, single and married, as I would see it. But at this point, our state, our nation can’t afford to do what’s right because we have greedy people, Rs, Ds and Is alike, elected, appointed and hired to public positions. And without the revenue from all of the license fees I’ve noted (and all of the others that I don’t know about/didn’t list), right or wrong, we can’t afford to get rid of the government regulations because our government would have no way to keep the scheme that is public employment/state pensions/benefits going.

    Until all of those folks agree to start being more prudent spenders or less demanding in their pay/benefits, I don’t think we have a choice but to continue regulating private affairs (for a fee), and for that matter, I don’t think we have a choice but to tap into the wallets of homosexuals and start collecting fees from them. In some strange way, I’m almost glad that homosexuals are arguing to be able to give away more of their money, in fees, to the government — maybe the government, the people we’ve elected, will be able to keep spending level and with the added revenue from homosexual marriage licenses, maybe, just maybe, I’ll have to pay a little less in taxes this year. How’s that for wishful thinking, and a positive outlook? 🙂

  6. Justified Right said at 6:19 pm on February 21st, 2012:

    Excellent post, Art.

  7. MLaffey said at 7:54 am on February 22nd, 2012:

    That is very funny! Thanks for starting my day with a laugh.

  8. No Easy Answer... said at 1:21 pm on February 22nd, 2012:

    “While children should never be stigmatized for being ‘illegitimate’ Parents who have children out of wedlock should be stigmatized. At the risk of offending some people I would say that in most cases people who do that are being either irresponsible, selfish or both.”

    MLaffey, you’ve oversimplified a very complex matter. Some issues can’t be defined by black & white thinking. Too many greys exist. For instance, in the case of teen pregnancy (to which a terrible stigma is already attached) a young person is more likely to secretly abort a child at a Planned Parenthood in order to avoid ostracism than carry that child to term. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think abortion is something you’d support, so why propagate a way of thinking that would in fact lead more people to it?

    A fine line must be walked here. Making people wear a bright red “A” hung from around their necks is NOT the answer. There are NO easy answers.

  9. I Can Not Believe That I Liked What I Heard said at 6:47 pm on March 27th, 2013:

    From Sotomayor, but she made an excellent point…

    “Mr. Olson, the bottom line that you’re being asked — and it is one that I’m interested in the answer: If you say that marriage is a fundamental right, what state restrictions could ever exist?”

    For the low information voters, what this means is that if this restriction is unconstitutional, what OTHER restrictions are unconstitutional? This is a slippery slope that opens the door to allowing polygamy, three men marrying, two woman and one man marrying, who knows what!

    Now, I am going to quote Rush, which will send the resident libs in a tail spin and cause their heads to explode but he is right on:

    “For example, marriage, you look it up in the dictionary. It’s a union of a man and a woman. But, all of a sudden, it isn’t going to be. It’s going to be a union and a man and a man, a woman and a woman, or — that’s her point — where are the restrictions.

    If marriage no longer means what it means, what state restrictions with respect to the number of people?

    This is the liberal justice asking this question: “What state restrictions with respect to the number of people that could get married, the incest laws, the mother and child, assuming that they are the age — I can accept that the state has probably an overbearing interest on protecting a child until they’re of age to marry, but what’s left?”

    She’s basically asking the advocates, “Where do you stop here?” The argument that many people on the right have made, “Well, okay, what’s to stop somebody from marrying their dog?”

    Hey, all Rush did was explain what a LIBERAL judge was saying.

  10. SlickRick said at 7:13 pm on March 27th, 2013:

    Hey Rick,

    Don’t you have a little debt to settle with ELEC?