I saw this bumper sticker, or one very similar to it, a few days ago:
This got me thinking about what exactly it would mean for EVERYONE to have equal marriage rights, and how we would get “there” from “here”. It has occurred to me in the past that the only reason states (or, more generally, “the state”) get involved in marriage (which ultimately is a contract, more on that later) is to collect revenue by charging fees from the licenses they issue. Why do I say that? Simple. Does the state test applicants for “fitness” for marriage (in general or specifically to each other)? Does the state conduct genetic testing to ensure any children of such a marriage will be free of genetic disorders? Does the state keep comprehensive records and share them with other states to prevent people from fraudulently committing bigamy/polygamy? The answer to all of these questions is no. The only thing they do is collect fees. You get nothing in return for your money.
So back to contracts. It is generally accepted that there are four things necessary to create a valid contract:
- An agreement between the parties demonstrating they both understand and agree to the essentials of the deal.
- Consideration (something of value exchanged by each of the parties, such as cash, goods or a promise to do something). In the case of marriage, this is represented by the wedding bands as well as the vows.
- An agreement to enter into the contract (typically evidenced by both parties signing a written contract, although oral contracts can be valid too in some situations).
- The legal competence of each party, meaning the parties are not minors and are of sound mind.
With this in mind, it becomes clear that two (or more; if we are truly talking about “marriage equality” then polyamorous relationships should not be discounted) parties could enter into a contract that would offer all of the qualities of a marriage without ever getting the state involved. If their particular religious denomination was further willing to endorse that legal contract as a “marriage”, be it gay, straight or polygamous, that has nothing to do with either the contract or the state. Further, dissolution of the marriage by the place of worship and cancellation of the contract would also be two separate issues.
Such a state of affairs would truly provide “marriage equality” and all that would remain would be to remove reference to marriage from federal programs such as Social Security.