Sunday, August 15, 2010

Marriage in Minnesota is awfully "thin"

Neither K nor I are believers of any creed of any major religion, so we weren't married in a religious ceremony. We were married by a judge. In preparation for the ceremony, the judge provided us with the text of her typical marriage spiel for us to revise/edit as we wished. If we'd wanted to write it from scratch, she would have been happy to use our text.

The task made me wonder what EXACTLY were the vows that the state required. The state licenses marriage; the state uses the concept of marriage in a panoply of laws. Surely, I thought, the state must have minimum requirements for the promises exchanged in wedding vows in order for the marriage to be recognized by the state. What terms must be included in the marriage contract? No doubt, I thought, you'd have to express a life-long term to the contract ("until death") and probably a promise of fidelity ("forsaking all others").

But no. The State of Minnesota (and I suspect lots of other states) has almost no restrictions on or requirements for the promises that betrotheds must make in order to be legally married. You need not commit for life; you need not commit to fidelity. Besides a few technicalities (age, not already married, not related, not coerced), the only requisite vow is proscribed as follows:

No particular form is required to solemnize a marriage, except: the parties shall declare in the presence of a person authorized to solemnize marriages and two attending witnesses that they take each other as husband and wife; or the marriage shall be solemnized in a manner provided by section 517.18 [which deals with various religious authorities].
The only sentences in a Minnesota wedding ceremony that matter to the State are "I take you to be my husband/wife."

Minnesota's marriage statute (Chapter 517) is here.

That's an awfully "thin" definition of marriage, if I may abscond with Douthat's thin/thick lingo.

On a related note, I was surprised when we got our marriage license that there was no information provided by the State about the legal consequences of marriage. It seems to me that there should be a pamphlet or a required course in which the State identifies the legal consequences that flow from marriage. Minnesota does offer a discount on the license fee if you take a class that covers the soft topics of communication and conflict resolution. (Ugh. Well-intended, but even for this liberal, it strikes me as not an appropriate function for a governmental entity.) But there is no education about the hard aspects of property rights and the like. Who owns assets/debts you bring into marriage? Who owns what's earned during marriage? What does it take to dissolve a marriage? What happens to property on dissolution? What are one's obligations on tax liabilities incurred by earnings of spouse? That kind of information the state ought to provide to prospective wedders. (Weddees?)

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