What Marriage Is...
For any heterosexual couple reading this who is already married, think back to the day your spouse asked you to share his or her life. How special your wedding day was! Friends and family gathered around ensuring all was perfect -- and for the most part, it was. However, rice and cake aside, did you have any realistic idea what marriage meant? Did you know the legal rights you, as husband and wife, would gain? Or how your family would be protected?
- Ultimately, civil marriage is a basic civil right as well as a private and public commitment of love and support by adult couples.
- Civil marriage involves the obtaining and signing of a civil marriage license, which is issued by local government - the couple is entering into a civil contract.
- In personal terms, marriage is usually a celebration of love and commitment.
- It means others can recognize the commitment the couple has made to one another.
- The choice of whether or not to marry is a personal decision, made by two adults.
Civil marriage also provides a gateway to over 1,000 federal protections, responsibilities and benefits as well as many more provided by your state. It lets a spouse make decisions about the medical care of a partner who is disabled. It enables the couple to organize their financial affairs as a single unit for economic, tax and insurance purposes.
Marriage Is Not:
- Marriage is not about procreation. Millions of couples choose not to or are unable to have children.
- Marriage is not an institution chosen by every couple.
- Marriage is not a religious institution, but a civil one. Although churches and synagogues do perform religious ceremonies, the government distinguishes the religious from the civil by requiring the signing of a marriage certificate, if that is what the couple chooses to do.
- Marriage is not the same as a civil union, and vice versa. GLAD's fact sheet: Civil Marriage v. Civil Unions, What’s the difference?
Religious and Civil Marriage: The Difference
In the U.S., a marriage is only legal with the obtaining and signing of a marriage license. That is why many couples can go to a judge or any other public officiant and need not go to a church, synagogue or mosque. However, our government has made the process simpler by allowing priests, ministers, rabbis and other religious folk, to perform a couple's desire for a religious ceremony AND act as an officiant. This convenience does not mean that a purely religious ceremony would be legal. Each religious cleric must sign the license before witnesses and the couple. In Europe, couples MUST go before a public official to marry. A religious ceremony is 'secondary' and only needed if the couple wishes to have that type of ceremony.
Moreover, religious bodies retain the right to decide for themselves whether to perform or recognize any marriage. No court decision or legislative enactment can change the basic tenets of religious faith. For example, some religions will not marry someone who has already been divorced, although the person is free to marry civilly.