Antoinette and I have decided to pursue a self-uniting marriage license. Basically, it allows a couple to get married without an officiant. I guess instead of ‘getting married’ it allows the couple to ‘marry themselves.’ It’s only available in Pennsylvania and Colorado, and at least in Pennsylvania it often goes by the title ‘Quaker marriage,’ because Quakers don’t have a clergy. The whole thing really appeals to me. Association with Quakers is always good, as is jettisoning the authority of an officiant. There will be no authoritative speech acts, no “I now pronounce you…,” just an egalitarian exchange of vows before a community of friends and family who we hope will hold us to it.
Of course, even this has been marred by the recent controversy over marriage in this country. The state remains the coercive authority here, and the bureaucratic irritant associated with Quaker marriages is that many counties have enforced an informal religious test. If you’re not a Quaker, or at least a member of some other religous group like the Baha’i, the argument goes, you ought not to be able to engage in this special legal exception made for Quakers. Secularists like us don’t count; after all, if you’re really rejecting the divine unification of partners in the religious ceremony, the state’s Justices of the Peace can do the job for you. The state stands in loco dios.
In September of 2007, a Pennsylvania couple sued in Allegheny for the right to a self-uniting marriage licence. They were represented by the ACLU (summary and briefs here,) and a Federal judge found that religious tests are unconstitutional and granted a temporary restraining order that allowed the couple to marry. Antoinette’s legal training makes her unduly suspicious of legal controversy; she’s worried somebody will challenge our marriage in twenty years to deny health care coverage or somethinng. She’s not wrong to worry, either. In another case, a marriage solemnized by a friend of the couple, ordained on the internet by the Universal Life Church, was annulled. That’s scary stuff.
Thankfully, the law supporting Quaker marriages goes back to 1681, so there’s no legal terminological wiggle-room like in the phrase “priests or rabbis of any regularly established church or congregation.” But this niggling uncertainty makes me feel all the more outraged on behalf of the gays and lesbians living in the forty-nine states where they have no right to marry at all.