Monday, December 06, 2010

I wonder how many people know what marriage means in the law or in their religion?

According to (citing Lamda Legal), there are 1,400 legal rights conferred by marriage in the United States. There are also duties attached to marital status. Some of those legal rights and duties are federal. For example, married couples have rights to inherit social security and other government pension benefits from each other that unmarried people do not enjoy.

The Bill of Rights reserves to the states powers that are not explicitly provided by the Constitution to the federal government. Consequently states have legislated legal rights and duties to be conferred by marriage, These rights and duties are not necessarily the same from state to state. Thus different states provide different formulas for inheritance by family members. The members of a married couple that moves from the state in which they were married to another state may change the rights and duties attached to their marital status. So too does moving to another country change the rights and duties attached to marital status.

I wonder how many people could accurately enumerate the rights conferred by marriage by the federal government and by the state in which they live. I suspect very few, excepting perhaps lawyers specialized in marriage law.

In the United States, those empowered to officiate at a religious marriage ceremony may also be considered legally to be conducting a civil ceremony. It is not, however, the case that all religious marriage ceremonies necessarily confer civil marriage status. Marital status may also be conferred by common law without a specific ceremony. I wonder how many of those religious leaders are fully versed in civil marriage law and thus able to council the people they are marrying on the legal rights and duties they are incurring in a marriage ceremony that is recognized as a civil marriage? How many of them do in fact brief the couple to be married on these legal duties and responsibilities?

There are many religions in the United States, and clearly marriage has different meanings within different religious traditions. I suspect that few Americans fully understand the religious meaning of marriage within their own religions. For the many Americans who are married in a church other than their own, I suspect there is very little knowledge of the full meaning of the ceremony in which they participate.

If I suspect, few people understand well either the legal or the religious aspects of the marriage contract, then how good can the public debate on marriage possibly be?

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