Marriage has a rocky history, beginning with times when it was arranged for practical reasons and women were treated as property.
Surprisingly, both the state and churches were mostly uninvolved with marriage until the ninth century. Prior to this, there were a few ad hoc codes determining at what age one could marry, what religions could marry, and how class separations and marriage interacted. Recorded ceremonies were recommended to the upper class, primarily to settle issues of inheritance.
Over time, however, churches became involved with blessing marriages, and eventually asserted authority as legitimizers of the institution. Attempts were made to restore a civil marriage standard in the 19th century, but failed due to the advantage of position religion had attained in the area.
Marriage licenses are a fairly new invention, created in the mid-nineteenth century as a tool the state could use to enforce social proscriptions on interracial marriages. By the early twentieth century they were nearly universally required as enforcement tools for the state’s increasing regulation of inheritance, parental authority, taxes and other matters. Churches were subsumed into the new regulatory scheme — required to themselves obtain licenses both as establishments and for their officiants, in order to perform wedding ceremonies and act as agents of the state in enforcing those licenses.
Government’s involvement with marriage licensing seems counterproductive, considering licenses must be bought, which rake in revenue, but then are counterbalanced by tax exemptions and the costs of administering divorces and child custody as legal matters within the state’s purview.
A license is defined as “the permission by competent authority to do an act which without such permission, would be illegal.” By obtaining a marriage license, a couple is begging for permission of the state to marry, which places both love and the church under the authority of government. While the state often condemns polygamists, it requires couples to marry a de facto third spouse — the government itself.
While ridding couples of the need for a state-sponsored marriage and privatizing marriage may be the most principled answer, the current exclusion of same sex couples from the existing institution sadly only strengthens the argument to continue that institute. Instead of striking at the root of the issue, same-sex couples are forced, by practical matters such as hospital visitation and mutual ownership of property, to beg for the same status as straight couples.
Separation of government and marriage in its entirety is the only real, lasting solution. Government should not be the third wheel in marriage and matters of the family. It’s time for individuals to terminate this illegitimate state imposition once and for all by refusing any and all government documentation of marriage.