LANSING, Mich. (June 23, 2015) – Last week, a bill was filed in the Michigan state House that would end would end mandatory government licensing of marriages in the state, effectively nullifying in practice both major sides of the contentious national debate over government-sanctioned marriage.
Introduced by Rep. Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) and Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell), House Bill 4733 (HB4733) would take the institution of marriage out of the hands of government and return it to the church ,with “common law marriage” being an alternative option for couples married in non-religious settings.
HB4733 would require “all parties intending to be married [to] obtain a marriage certificate signed by their clergy in order to be married.” The clergy would then “present the signed marriage certificate to the county clerk after the marriage is solemnized.” Marriage licenses would no longer be required, but restrictions would still apply as “persons wishing to be married must obtain a marriage certificate signed by clergy” under the bill.
For marriages that are not conducted as apart of an official religious ceremony, HB4733 would allow couples to file an “affidavit of common law marriage.” These affidavits would be signed, notarized and contain the following information for a lawful marriage to occur:
(A) The place where each party resides.
(B) The full legal name and age of each party as they appear on or are calculable from a certified copy of the birth certificate, the current driver license or state personal identification card, the current passport or visa, or any other certificate, license, or document issued by or existing under the laws of any nation or of any state, or a political subdivision of any state, that is accepted as proof of identity and age.
(C) The full name by which each party will be known after the marriage, which shall become the full legal name of the party upon filing of the marriage certificate.
(D) That the parties are not disqualified from or incapable of entering into marriage.
“The Federal government is a government of limited power. Its role is supposed to be limited to those powers enumerated in the Federal Constitution, “Rep. Courser said in a public statement about his marriage legislation. “The states however are governments of general power and could properly regulate marriage and have done so in many instances over many years. If there is a role of government to play in marriage, it is at the State level not at the Federal level.”
If passed into law, HB4733 would accomplish two things.
First, it would effectively render the edicts of federal judges that have overturned state laws defining marriage.
“The founding generation never envisioned unelected judges issuing ex cathedra pronouncements regarding the definition of social institutions like marriage and the Constitution delegates the federal judiciary no authority to meddle in the issue,” said TJ Martinell of the Tenth Amendment Center. “Marriage is a realm clearly left to the states and the people.”
Martinell also suggested it would have a positive effect on a state level if passed.
“This bill would get the state government out of defining marriage entirely as well, ending the squabble between factions that seek to harness the power of the state, thereby taking the burden off government officials who may be torn between what is legally required of them and their religious convictions.”
The intent or motives behind this bill are a moot point. By removing the state from the equation, no one can force another to accept their marriage, nor can they force another to reject that person’s own beliefs regarding an institution older than government.
“Licenses are used as a way to stop people from doing things,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center. “My personal relationship should not be subject to government permission.”
HB4733 would render void the edicts of federal judges that have overturned state laws defining marriage.
As a 2007 New York Times op/ed points out, for centuries marriage was a private affair.
“For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity. For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.
In fact, the use of state marriage licenses for many years was a way of preventing people from entering into interracial marriages. Later, the NYT story recounts, the licenses became necessary in order to subsidize the welfare state.
“The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information.”
Something that is rarely considered by those seeking to control the state’s definition of marriage is that a marriage license means a citizen requires the permission of their government before they can get married. A person cannot drive a vehicle, aside from limited circumstances, without a license. A person cannot practice law without a license, nor can they engage in medical care.
Put another way, marriage is not a right, or a religious institution, but a privilege the state grants us if we meet the conditions put upon us.
Consider this: In the same way a driver can lose their license if they break certain traffic laws, a man or woman, theoretically, could one day find their marriage license revoked for breaking certain “marriage” rules, whether it pertains to child rearing, or their religious and political convictions.
Christopher Wesley, an associated scholar at the Mises Institute, wrote that “marriage is most endangered when it rests in the coercive hands of the State.”
HB4733 must pass through the House Committee On Government Operations before it can receive a full vote on the House floor.
TJ Martinell contributed to this report.