An odd topic, if you knew me!

Here’s what got me started – it goes back to Northern Exposure! I was telling a coworker about the Worldwide Church of Truth and Beauty that Chris, my favorite NE character, was part of. Also known as the Universal Life Church. This ended up in a conversation about marriages, specificly the performance of them. And the legality of the performance.

First, I’m clearly not the only person who starts thinking about these things! I googled and the first thing that came up was a NY Times article, Great Wedding! But was it legal?, which you might need to sign in to read. The article does a good job of discussing the issue and some of the details, and I recommend reading it if you are curious!

The path my mind was following was slightly different. Marriage is a legal contract for sure, and often has spiritual/religious connotations as well. Though clearly atheists get married also, which makes marriage’s intersection with religion a “sometimes” not “always” occurrence. In various cultures there were accepted sort of interim marriages. The handfasting in Ireland and Scotland comes to mind, of course, but also in the Western United States, when it was being settled, and not every town had a minister and there was no government to speak of, people would very often live as if they were married, and would for all intents BE married, and the ceremony would be performed the next time the minister came through town.

Currently in this country there are common law marriages in, I believe, 12 states, which require that people live together as if they were married for a certain amount of time. Colorado and Montana also have something similar, but slightly different in an interesting (to me) way: putative marriage.

In Colorado, which is typical, “Any person who has cohabited with another person to whom he is not legally marriaged in the good faith belief that he was married to that person is a putative spouse until knowledge of the fact that he is not legally married terminates his status and prevents acquisition of further rights.” Section 14-2-111, Colorado Revised Statutes.

Putative spouse status is a remedial doctrine designed to protect the reasonable expectations of someone who acts on the belief that they are married, and generally entitled a putative spouse to the rights a legal spouse would have for the period from the putative marriage until discovery that the marriage was not legal. It is possible that a person could have both a legal spouse and someone is a putative spouse[clarify], in which case, courts are directed to do what seems appropriate in the circumstances.

Unlike a common law marriage, which is possible only when both spouses are legally eligible to marry, putative spouse status can be unilateral. For example, if a husband is married, but goes through a marriage ceremony without informing the woman with whom he goes through with the ceremony of that fact, the husband is not a putative spouse, because he knows that he has no right to marry. The wife however is a putative spouse because she in good faith believes that she is married, and has no knowledge that she is not legally married. See, e.g. Carndell v. Resley, 804 P.2d 272 (Colo. App. 1990) and Williams v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co., 670 P.2d 453 (Colo. App. 1983).

In the example above, the putative wife who believed she was married could seek the property division and alimony awards that a legal spouse could have, when the putative spouse discovers that she is not legally married, but the man she believed she was married to could not seek a property division of property in the putative wife’s name or alimony from her, because he knew that they weren’t married.

So, all those different definitions of what it takes to be legally married, sometimes needing no officiates at all. Sometimes needing a church official, other times certain government officials. And then there are the online ministries where you can purchase a minister’s license (or pope’s! It is a pretty good bargain.), which is where it starts to get a little more cloudy legally. There are four states that outright do not recognize someone as a minister if they became a minister only to perform a marriage ceremony (as states the wording in connecticut) or in other places if the minister has no congregation. Well, it isn’t that hard to get a congregation, I’m sure. I never left my friend, Adrian’s, congregation, so technically I’ve been a member of his ULC congregation for over 10 years!

Still, no matter how you look at it, not all places will recognize a ULC minister as legally able to officiate a wedding.

Captains, at least according to legend, are legally able to marry people at sea, right? Well, it is a little more complicated than that, but then, isn’t it always? The important thing is that sometimes, someplaces, it is legal! And apparently just about everywhere, all it takes to perform a marriage is to be a notary. This actually makes a lot of sense to me.

Okay, so in my general thought meanderings here, I’ve come up with three general types of people who can perform marriage ceremonies:

  • ministers
  • captains of boats (sometimes)
  • certain government officials

And this makes me think more about this institution of marriage, and why it matters who performs it.

Aside from obvious religious motivations, back in the olden days in England, it was the parish ministers or maybe curates who kept the record books for the region. Marriages were recorded in the local book, and that is what was used to prove legality or precedence or whatever needed to be proven. That goes back to when government was a loosely organized thing, where the “lord of the manor” was very often the magistrate for the region, purely by virtue of being born to the position, surely not by any training or talent. I’d bet it was because the rich lords were the ones most likely to be able to read and write the necessary records.

At least for weddings performed by the Church of England, you still need the “banns” read at three different services before the wedding. In two provinces of Canada the banns are also required to be read, and the banns, or posting public notice of the upcoming wedding, can take place of a wedding license.

In the Canadian province of Ontario, the publication of banns for three consecutive weeks remains a legal alternative to obtaining a marriage license. Two same-sex couples married this way at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto on January 14, 2001, since the province was not then issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples. The marriages were ruled valid in 2003. See Same-sex marriage in Ontario.

In the Canadian province of Québec, equivalent formalities are required for all marriages, although the statutes do not use the word “banns”. There is no requirement for a government-issued license, but a written notice must be posted at the place of the wedding for 20 days beforehand, and the officiant verifies the eligibility of the intended spouses.

Quite a tangent I’m on! It makes a lot of sense, historically, that it fell on ministers to perform the majority of weddings, and why the cross-function existed where they were able to legalize a union despite being in a religious position, rather than governmental, though a marriage is a legal contract. (Who performed their own marriages, I wonder?) Then again, when weddings were performed in those days, women were property, not individuals, and they had no rights of their own.

One of the functions the minister or curate of old would probably perform is checking, to the best of their ability, for the existence of prior and still valid marriages. Since people would go to their local churches to get married, it was also a verification that people were who they said they were.

This is all very interesting to me, but in the end, I think that since marriage is a legal contract, regardless of whether it is also a religious undertaking for the individuals involved, that them signing the contract is what should make it legal, not necessarily who is there to witness the signing. Yet it does makes sense to me that a notary has the official “power” to witness and perform a wedding ceremony, so I suppose what I really mean is that I think there should be the same requirement for anyone performing a wedding ceremony that is meant to be legally binding: they should be a notary, whether they are a minister or a ship’s captain, or your best friend who you’ve always wanted to be the one to do the ceremony for you.

A notary public is an officer who can administer oaths and statutory declarations, witness and authenticate documents and perform certain other acts depending on the jurisdiction.

So, what was the point of all that? Just something my mind got on that I turned into a long and boring post!

goats at ps