Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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A Truly Radical Redefining of Marriage

In light of the controversy surrounding attempts to redefine marriage to include homosexual couples, one of the more radical solution would be to exclude the state from marriages altogether and remand the whole business of matrimony back to religious communities.

This is the state of affairs in Egypt, where civil ceremonies are invalid and marriage is the sole purview of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The civil authority, however, recently attempted to force the church to permit a divorce and remarriage, defying a constitutional court ruling holding marriage to be fully within religious jurisdiction. The conflict is yet unresolved, but exposes the likelihood that political-religious disputes would accompany such a scenario anywhere in the world.

Marriage is one of those delicate institutions which fall well within both the religious and secular spheres. A sacrament of the Church, it is also a foundation of society and law. Even if the state were merely to recognize religious unions, it would be necessary to regulate the requirements of such unions - i.e., recognized religious authorities, non-polygamist unions, consenting adults (no minors) and, again, homosexuality. If a solution is to be found, it is not entirely in this recourse.

Categories > Religion

Discussions - 5 Comments

Oh, I don't know. The legal end of it, the contract that is marriage, is the most easily breakable contract in western law. I do not even have to prove fault to break the legal contract that is my marriage. There is no way for me to legally bind my husband to me should he decide to leave me, nor the other way round. He might have certain financial obligations, assuming he makes more money than I do, but even the terms of those obligations are at the discretion of a judge.

The state is only really concerned if the union has produced still-dependent children. The support of those children might fall to the state and therefore it is concerned. If property can be amicably divided and there are no children involved, then the state is barely involved, except as rubber stamp. Legally, marriage does not offer much security.

That's America; Egypt and the Coptic Church -- that is something else. But I cannot believe that Egyptian marriage is under the sole purview of the Coptics. Mr. Paulette, you must have worded that badly.

Are you complaining about american marriage Kate?

Just to play the devils advocate isn't it possible that our high divorce rate is a good thing, while Egypt's 2% divorce rate is a bad thing?

It is also nowhere near the easiest contract to break. I would put cell phone contracts, cable contracts and rental agreements ahead of marriage by a long shot.

I mean you say that legally marriage doesn't offer much security, but couldn't you look at it from a different perspective?

I mean I can break my cell phone contract at will, by simply no longer paying the bill...eventually they will turn off the phone and send me a large bill for early termination of the contract.

But if you wanted more legal security for the cell phone contract, you would toss in jail time, or possibly even stoning for adultry with an Iphone.

That is ridiculous...any more legal security for a cell phone contract and I would never enter into the contract in the first place. That is legal security works both ways, you want to be able to breach without incuring cruel and unusual punishment.

I think in Egypt the Coptic Church governs the marriage if you are christian, there might be some catholics and other protestant denominations as well. If you are muslim there are various imams that govern marriage.

I am pretty sure that constitutionally Egypt's civil authorities can step in and force Mosques or churches to grant divorces. Somewhat recently they established a woman's right to a divorce, appart from the religious test of spousal abuse. So if they enforce it on Mosques which could be unpopular they must enforce it against the Coptics as well. They also rulled that a man cannot divorce a woman simply by saying "I divorce you" three times which is the procedure in the Koran.

In american law there already are religious marriages that are more binding. But in america not only is divorce from a spouse easier than it is in egypt but divorce from a religion is easier as well.

So what happens if say you were married under Islam but want to divorce the religion and no longer care much for what a particular Imam says is your moral obligation?

Immagine how politics would be different if voters could only with difficulty divorce a party? You turn 18 you go to register to vote and you have to remain democrat or republican for life unless you go thru a long process say on par with the difficulty of a divorce. After choosing a party your registration automatically allocates votes to all the candidates of that party up and down the ballot. Legal certainty, no worries about turnout, no real need to campaign except to target youth.

I mean technically after you vote until you vote again you can't really divorce or vote out the winner, and sometimes you are stuck with the other guy. But doesn't the variance in political mood between 2008 and 2010 indicate that contracts like marriage of the more binding sort are just un-american, perhaps egyptian?

Couldn't you even have a marriage that was say for a period of one year, automatically extended 18 years in the case of pregnancy... I could immagine a bunch of different variations.

You go to a lawyer specializing in familly law who draws up a specific contract. Marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman, polygamy, whatever the clients want and agree to. The lawyer takes the contract to the judge, who clarifies the meaning of the legal terms and conducts the procedure.

Churches, Mosques or other traditional religious organizations can conduct marriage under whatever ceremonies they please.

Kate is right on all counts. It's a very easy contract to break, and doing so may not even affect your credit rating! But God help you if you are the party that makes more money -- some States still have alimony on the books, and I've heard this is used as a lever to wrest huge concessions from the high-wage earner (even when there is no fault). For the lawyers, this is a money game.

Of course, all this is ripping the soul right out of our society, leading to instability and unhappiness. Everyone thinks they'll be happier with a divorce, but the research shows that few people actually ever benefit from it, either emotionally or physically.

The state of marriage law is this country has become a sad joke.

I do not think the weakness of the law is really at the heart of this. Rather, it is the weakness of intent by the parties in the marriage.

True, tougher divorce laws would make dissolving a marriage more difficult. And true, tougher divorce laws might make people think more carefully about getting married.

But at the very heart of things is, I believe, a very damaged notion of marriage, commitment, covenant and community. The term "love" now means "fulfilling my desire." It is common for marriages today to be built on faulty foundations. When the satisfaction of desire fades, so too does the marriage. Laws won't change that ... the issue runs far deeper.

(And I speak as someone who entered into a marriage in my younger days with just such a faulty set of expectations. And it ended in divorce. And it was painful. But thankfully I learned a few things. And now I am 18 years into a second marriage and my view of relationship is fundamentally different than it was before.)

Yes, I am primarily pointing to American marriage, but not solely to it.

People already think twice about getting married. For the last two semesters, a majority of my students who are legally single are "in a relationship" and cohabiting. Not only are they are not married to the person in the relationship, most of them who discuss the matter say they will only marry when they are ready to have children, which comes to seem virtuous when some say they will not.

When I hear that the Christian divorce rate is close to that of non-Christians, I think about those for whom "divorce" is legally about as simple as saying, "I divorce you" three times since they never legally married. The break-ups are, in fact, painful for just the sorts of reasons Don discusses and also since weakness of intent does not always translate into a weakness of emotional attachment.

Turning on that issue slightly, these young people are keeping the state out of their "relationships". Whether they would marry in religious terms or not if the state were not involved is another question and one a cannot answer. However, whatever role American churches have in marriage, they cannot compel the two parties in the union to remain together.

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