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Marriage and the State:  Not Exactly a Love Story

Posted on Nov 26, 2007
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Amid the fracas over who can marry whom, professor and author Stephanie Coontz poses a provocative question in Monday’s New York Times that leads to some interesting history and shifts the focus of the debate:  “Why do people—gay or straight—need the state’s permission to marry?”

The New York Times:

Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.

The American colonies officially required marriages to be registered, but until the mid-19th century, state supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. By the later part of that century, however, the United States began to nullify common-law marriages and exert more control over who was allowed to marry.

By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce.

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By DivaJean, November 27, 2007 at 12:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Of course no one needs the state’s permission to marry (!) but you do need the states permission of some sort to have it recognized for the legal ramifications involved.

This is where the double speak gets involved. Opposition to gays and lesbians getting married can then insist we are just being too focused on the money and tax breaks, and that we are a successful enough (WTF!?) minority not deserving of said breaks. If we focus on the spiritual, humanist aspect of having someone to be there thru sickness and health, etc, we are undermining “tradition.”

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By Outraged, November 27, 2007 at 9:09 am Link to this comment

Apparently this happened last month, I didn’t notice it at the time.  It’s insane.

The full article: 

“President Bush has appointed a fundamentalist Christian, Dr. Susan Orr, who has been a lifelong critic of family planning and contraception, to head the federal program that provides birth control and family planning services to the nation’s poor.

Orr currently sits on the board of directors of the non-profit organization called Teen Choice that promotes teen abstinence.  Teen Choice demonizes contraception by equating birth control with legal abortion. 

Orr has been criticized for speaking out publicly against contraception and family planning.  In 2000 Orr fought against a Washington, DC city council bill that would have required employer’s insurance companies to pay for contraception.  At that time Orr said the city council bill was “not about health care, it’s about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death.”  Orr will oversee the federal government’s $238 million yearly budget for family planning service assisting more than 5 million poor Americans.”

This nutcase (Dr. Susan Orr) is against “contraception and family planning”.

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By purplewolf, November 26, 2007 at 9:18 pm Link to this comment

I’m just wondering when this government/church soon to be state of America,that claims it wants less interference in the lives of THE PEOPLE,will come in and decide who you will marry and when and how many brats,I mean progeny the two of them produce for the war machine.After all they try to control everything other aspect of our lives as it is now.

All the bible claimed to say was to love one
another.Yet if it is not done in what some feel is acceptable to them,then all those who do not fit their narrow view should be eliminated by any means available.

Instead of parents arranging the marriages of their children in some countries of the world when they are very young,this government will start to take that over also.After all look at their “No child left behind” program.

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By troublesum, November 26, 2007 at 9:16 pm Link to this comment

It’s called parental government and it’s been around a long time but there have always been rebellious children.  The American public seems to have suddenly reached the age of adolescence psychologically; adolescence being the age when children start questioning their parent’s athority.

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By nils cognizant, November 26, 2007 at 8:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rae proclaimed, “They might shoot me… but they’ll NEVER CHANGE MY VIEWS.”

I expect that shooting you would change your outlook.

What are those twelve States that won’t allow drunks to marry?

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By waxman, November 26, 2007 at 7:47 pm Link to this comment


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By Mighk, November 26, 2007 at 7:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The State does not really determine who may or may not marry.  It determines which marriages will benefit from certain legal protections and economic policies.  If your marriage is between two adults of opposite gender and is officially recorded by the state, then you get the benefits.  Heteros who have “common-law” marriages also don’t get the benefits; though of course they could if they wished to.

What I find hysterical is that the churches and conservatives say hetero marriages are “for the children.”  Oh really?  Then why are churches so glad to sanction marriages between senior citizens?

If two senior citizens can make a bond and have it respected and rewarded by the government, why not two people of the same gender? (Rhetorical question; I know why…)

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By thomas billis, November 26, 2007 at 6:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How this debate can continue into the 21st century is beyond me.If you are willing to commit to another person that should be that.It all has to do with controlling people’s behavior whether it is the Church or the Government.The fact that people buy into these mindless rituals is beyond me.When there are children laws should be enacted to protect them and for dissolution of the relationship.The government and or the church getting involved in the beginning of the relationship is beyond stupidity.If the Catholic hierachy lived in a perfect world you would be able to marry altar boys.

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By RAE, November 26, 2007 at 6:43 pm Link to this comment

The “state,” of course, has no “right” whatsoever to interfere with the free choices of free individuals. Just because they declare they do have the right doesn’t make it so. That said, the “state” has the big guns, lots of them, and they can either literally or figuratively “blow away” anyone who defies them. So that’s the reality.

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to outwit the “state.” Live with whom you like, as you like, and use your brains to ensure that those simpletons, those meddling bureaucrats, never get enough evidence to enfore their stupid, self-serving laws on you and your family.

It’s my firm and fundamental philosophy that the “state” works for ME and reports to ME, not the other way around. They might shoot me… but they’ll NEVER CHANGE MY VIEWS.

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