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Posts tagged Marriage

Simple solutions to stupid problems, part 2: By The Power Vested In Me edition

Reporting from Las Vegas — In a city launched by shotgun weddings and quickie divorces, and which offers the chance to be wed by faux Liberaces, King Tuts and Grim Reapers, there remains at least one nuptial taboo: You can’t be married by an atheist.

Michael Jacobson, a 64-year-old retiree who calls himself a lifelong atheist, tried this year to get a license to perform weddings. Clark County rejected his application because he had no ties to a congregation, as state law requires.

So Jacobson and attorneys from two national secular groups — the American Humanist Assn. and the Center for Inquiry — are trying to change things. If they can’t persuade the state Legislature to rework the law, they plan to sue.

. . .

When Lipman and his wife moved to Florida this spring, Jacobson — a balding man with a thin, white mustache and a trace of his native Philadelphia in his voice — decided to become the local atheist celebrant.

But I’m not going to do it by saying I belong to a religious organization, he said. That’s a sham, because atheists are not religious.

Jacobson filled out an application to perform marriages, but sidestepped the questions on religion. County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre said she had little choice but to reject it.

As Nevada law requires, all of the county’s 2,500 or so licensed officiants are connected to a congregation — though some are as small as two people, Parraguirre said. (Judges and commissioners of civil marriages can also lead ceremonies.)

Some of the state’s regulations hark back to the 1960s, when ministers were dumping their flocks to become wealthy Marrying Sams, according to the book Las Vegas: An Unconventional History. One would-be officiant apparently hoped to marry enough people to finance his divorce.

Lawmakers, trying to ferret out the profit-hungry, said weddings must be among a minister’s incidental duties. Drive past the string of neon-lighted downtown chapels, and you’ll see that didn’t quite pan out.

Clark County issues nearly 100,000 marriage licenses a year and boasts dozens of places to exchange vows — atop Harley-Davidsons, in Renaissance costumes, aboard gondolas — 24 hours a day. The competition is so fierce that in recent years, employees at rival chapels have accused one another of slashing tires and shouting death threats. Someone is working at all of these chapels, said Parraguirre, whose office doesn’t have the resources to track down ministers flouting the law. In fact, she worries that if the criteria to become an officiant changes, her staff will be bombarded with people coming in and just doing it for a job.

. . .

Judges performing ceremonies, for example, don’t have to meet religious criteria, so it’s absurd to make anyone else do so, [Lynne Henderson, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas] said. Officials could regulate celebrants in other ways, such as making them get training.

— Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times (2008-12-14): Atheist may sue if law on Las Vegas officiants won’t change

Let’s suppose it’s true that County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre’s office just hasn’t got the resources to deal with all the applications that would bombard them if Nevada did away its mandates for state discrimination against religiously unconventional marriages. It seems to me there’s a simple solution: save County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre the work by abolishing the laws that require wedding officiants to get a license from the State in the first place. If there’s no licensure requirement, there will be no discrimination lawsuits, and also no applications to bombard poor County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre.

If your Elvis-impersonating streetside neon-chapel minister’s motives are really focused on making a living rather than on serving the Lord, who cares? Couples who want a religiously serious wedding will presumably go to a church or temple or mosque where they can get one.

If your Starfleet-uniformed Captain of the Starship of Love hasn’t had some State-sanctioned course of training (training in what?), who cares? Couples who want to vet their celebrants for training or competency will do so.

Even if you think that the State has some legitimate business using a licensing system to pick and choose which marriages it will or will not recognize (I don’t), what possible purpose can it serve to require not only the couple, but also the third party that they hire to officiate — whose only legal function is to witness the vows and attest that these folks mean what they say — to get specially vetted and licensed by the State? Really, seriously, bureaucratic rationality aside, who could possibly care, and why?

See also:

The Archives of Tomorrow

A few days ago, Roderick mentioned one of the sillier complaints that’s usually directed against Tom Tomorrow and his cartoon This Modern World: that he allegedly only satirizes the Right and never the Left. (By Left, the person making this criticism usually means corporate liberalism, or, really, just Democrats.) There’s plenty of blind spots or confusions that you could criticize Tom Tomorow for, but this one I don’t get. I don’t know exactly why a political cartoonist with very decided views is expected to adhere to the Fairness Doctrine in the topics that he chooses, but anyway, the complaint is just empirically false, and nobody who actually read more than two or three installments of the comic would think that it’s true. Just recently, there’s comics like Obama phenomena, but it’s especially clear if you spent any time reading the comic back during its glory days in the 1990s — since there was a Democratic president at the time, not surprisingly, Tomorrow spent more time writing about Democrats than he does now (and also, at times, the real Left — see, for example, Mumia or Chomsky). Roderick mentioned a particular comic:

But I seem to recall one This Modern World strip in which someone accidentally drops a lit match and then quickly steps on it to extinguish it ??- while the punditocracy immediately goes into overdrive, speculating on how, if the match hadn??t been snuffed out, it might have caused forest fires that would devastate whole cities; they conclude: I think this shows the need for more regulation. Anyone know of a link to that?

— Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2008-09-16): Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Took me a while, but I found it. The comic is Dan Rather (1992).

The work took a bit of digging, but it was good fun, since it gave me the opportunity to go back and remind myself of how weird and funny This Modern World used to be back in the 1990s. (Not that it’s bad now; but I appreciated the Bay Area absurdism of something like Citizens Beware or Car Alarm, and Tom Tomorrow has himself said that the comic has gotten less sharp during the Bush years than it was in the 1990s — because the targets for parody have become so damn obvious that there’s no real room for subtlety anymore.) Anyway, along the way I was also happy to be reminded of Terrorists (1995), the response to Bill Clinton’s omnibus anti-terrorism surveillance bill:

As well as Love (1990):

And In Perspective (1990):

You can catch up with more of the last decade through Tom Tomorrow’s online carton archive.

On people as possessions

Did you know that your marriage license is a property title to your spouse’s body and affections? Just ask Jake Knotts, conservative Republican and arbitrary legislator over the state of South Carolina:

COLUMBIA — Men and women who seduce married people could be sued by jilted spouses under a proposal that won initial approval from S.C. lawmakers Thursday.

You know, we protect our automobiles. We protect our homes. There’s laws to protect everything, and we just need laws to protect the family, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jake Knotts.

— Jim Davenport, Myrtle Beach Sun Times (2008-04-18): Bill aims at marriage interlopers

Here’s where the bill is at:

The S.C. bill says someone can recover unspecified damages if they prove wrongful conduct between their spouse and the defendant during their marriage and that the defendant caused them loss of affection or consortium of their spouse.

The bill was approved by a Senate subcommittee on the heels of a study this week that found divorce and out-of-wedlock births cost S.C. taxpayers $469 million each year and $112 billion overall for U.S. taxpayers. The study was done by groups that advocate more government action to bolster marriages.

The chairman of the subcommittee said failed marriages are damaging society and there should be repercussions for interlopers in marriages.

Whatever we can do to strengthen the bonds of matrimony, we ought to try, said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.

— Jim Davenport, Myrtle Beach Sun Times (2008-04-18): Bill aims at marriage interlopers

You might have thought that the best way to strengthen a marriage is to be kind and respectful to each other, to talk things out that need to be talked out, and generally to treat your spouse like a free and equal human being rather than as one of your precious possessions. You might also have thought that a husband or wife remains her own person after the wedding, and can do what she will, even if she makes choices that are foolish, hurtful or wrong, because her spouse has no enforceable claim on anything more than she freely gives of herself. But Knotts, Martin, and their colleagues think you ought to be able to call out the force of the State in order to punish interlopers, if you don’t want other people touching your things.

I’ve heard no word yet whether or not the South Carolina senators are considering an amendment to the criminal code for branding cheaters with a scarlet A.

Rad Geek’s Note. The study is The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: First-Ever Estimates for the Nation and for All Fifty States. The principal investigator is Benjamin Scafidi. The Marriage-Nationalization groups that sponsored it are the Institute for American Values, the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, the Georgia Family Council, and Families Northwest. I mention this because one of the ways that the press spreads bogus research and dumbs down the discourse is by presenting out-of-context factoids from uncited studies by anonymous experts or groups, without giving any of the information a reader would need to get started on following up on the claim. In these days it’s trivial to put a brief note in print and even more trivial to add a link to a story posted on the web. I’ll do it here if the Responsible News Professionals won’t do it themselves.

Republicans do it with class.

Here’s a choice sample from People‘s year-end interview with George and Laura Bush, in which George (who, unlike Mrs. Bush, is apparently so elevated in dignity that he must be referred to in print by a definite description rather than by his proper name) talks about his daughter Jenna’s recent engagement.

Q: Tell us about your future son-in-law, Henry Hager. Did he do right and ask for Jenna??s hand?

The President: He kind of sidled up to me and said, Can I come and see you? We were sitting outside the presidential cabin here, and he professed his love for Jenna and said, would I mind if he married her? And I said, Got a deal. [Laughter] And I??m of the school, once you make the sale, move on. But he had some other points he wanted [to make]. He wanted to talk about how he would be financially responsible.

— People Magazine (2007-12-31): We’ve grown stronger

(Via Jessica Valenti @ The Nation Blog 2008-01-03: The Daddy State? No Thanks.)

“What kind of victory is that?” Jane Rule on Government-approved Gay Marriage

Jane Rule, a feminist before the Second Wave and a pioneer lesbian novelist before Stonewall, died last month at the age of 76. She was born an American but moved to Canada with her lover Helen Sonthoff, where they would live for the rest of their lives, in order to escape the persecution of the McCarthy era. In her novels, she was known for her nuanced and sympathetic portraits of lesbian characters’ lives–one of the first novelists to write books about lesbians in which her characters lived through ordinary human problems, were not punished for their sexuality, and were not treated as psychological freaks. Her essays, columns, and correspondence were notable for her generosity, patience, and also vigorously independent thought. Although she wrote passionately and movingly about her own life-long love affair with Helen, she was sharply critical of the gay rights movement’s efforts to win State recognition for gay and lesbian marriages. Here is what she wrote for the Spring 2001 issue of BC Bookworld; while I’d urge a radical people-power solution to problems of welfare, based on mutual aid between workers rather than State redistribution, the rest of the essay is almost entirely right-on. The solution is not to lodge same-sex relationships firmly under the eyes and the bootheels of the marital State; it is to free everything that’s valuable in both straight and gay love, intimacy, and commitment from the State’s stifling embrace.

The Heterosexual Cage of Coupledom

Over thirty years ago, when homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalized, Trudeau said that the government had no business in the bedrooms of the nation.

Until a few months ago that privacy was respected.

Now the government has passed a law including gay and lesbian couples as common-law partners with the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual common-law partners. Any of us who have lived together in a sexual relationship for over two years must declare ourselves on our income tax forms, or we are breaking the law.

With one stroke of the pen all gay and lesbian couples in Canada have been either outed if they declare or recriminalized if they do not. Our bedroom doors have come off their legal hinges.

Why then is there such support for this new law among gay people? Svend Robinson spoke in favor of it the House. EGALE, the national organization for gays and lesbians, encouraged its passing.

It is celebrated by all of them as a step along the road to total social acceptance, to a day when those of us who wish to can be legally married, our relationships just as respectable as those of heterosexuals.

But common-law partnerships were never about respectability. They were forced on couples as a way of protecting women and children from men who, by refusing to marry, were trying to avoid responsibility, free to move on when they felt like it without legal burdens of alimony and child support, without claims on their property or pensions.

There are some gay and lesbian couples raising children who, because they are not allowed to marry, may find a common-law partnership useful for benefits in tax relief, health benefits, pensions, if they can afford to expose themselves to the homophobia still rampant in this country. The law may also protect those who are financially dependent on their partners from being cast aside without financial aid.

But the law, far from conferring respectability, simply forces financial responsibility on those perceived to be irresponsible without it. What about those poor who are unable to work because they are single parents or ill or disabled?

The single mother on welfare has long had her privacy invaded by social workers looking for live-in men who should be expected to support her and another man??s children. Now single mothers must beware of live-in women as well. The ill and disabled will also be forced to live alone or sacrifice their benefits if their partners have work.

Over the years when we have been left to live lawless, a great many of us have learned to take responsibility for ourselves and each other, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, not bound by the marriage service or model but on singularities and groupings of our own invention.

To be forced back into the heterosexual cage of coupledom is not a step forward but a step back into state-imposed definitions of relationship. With all that we have learned, we should be helping our heterosexual brothers and sisters out of their state-defined prisons, not volunteering to join them there.

We should all accept responsibility for those who must be dependent, children, the old, the ill and the disabled, by assuring that our tax dollars are spent for their care. We should not have any part in supporting laws which promote unequal relationships between adults, unnecessary dependencies, false positions of power.

No responsible citizen should allow the state to privatize the welfare of those in need, to make them victims to the abilities and whims of their legal keepers. Human rights are the core responsibility of the government.

The regulation of adult human relationships is not.

To trade the freedom we have had to invent our own lives for state-imposed coupledom does not make us any more respectable in the eyes of those who enjoy passing judgment. We become instead children clambering for rule, for consequences to be imposed on us instead of self-respecting, self-defining adults.

Those of us who want to legalize our relationships for the protection of our children, for our own security, for whatever reason, should have the right to do so but not at the expense of imposing that condition on all the rest if us.

What we have now is neither the right to marry nor the right to remain private and independent in our relationships.

What kind of victory is that?

— Jane Rule, BC Bookworld (Spring 2001): The Heterosexual Cage of Coupledom

Via Women’s Space / The Margins 2007-12-02.

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