Personal Touch: Why does the state grant marriage licenses without any evidence of proficiency?
Why does the state grant marriage licenses without any evidence of proficiency?
Before you are granted a driving license, you are required to prove to the state issuing the license that you know how to drive. This is good common sense as a car can be a destructive machine when not operated correctly. If you don’t know what you are doing, you can hurt yourself and others.
Does anyone doubt that a failed marriage can be destructive to human beings, families and society? To assume proficiency before granting a marriage license is to take a huge chance on the lives of many people, especially the children that are born into such a contract.
What is the purpose of a marriage license? Is it a mere formality? Is it a romantic fantasy permitted by the state, without requirements, just so it can raise revenue by charging a fee for the license?
I believe that in most states, there are only two requirements for a marriage license. One is that both parties are of the legal age for marriage. The other requirement is that there be only one partner at a time. Polygamy is illegal in this country, although multiple marriages are permitted as long as a divorce occurs in between those marriages.
Are these two requirements really enough to grant a license? Why, in this country, do we permit a condition to exist where the majority of marriages end in divorce?
As a licensed marriage and family therapist who deals exclusively with marital and family issues, I would propose society require more evidence of proficiency before granting a license to marry. I would like to see mandatory premarital counseling, and educational courses about marriage and family given by the church, the educational institutions and the psychotherapy profession. I know many ministers and pastors who will not perform marriages without such thoughtful preparation. They take their roles as ministers seriously, and as with other sacraments of the church, require study before solemnizing a marriage in their churches.
I believe this is responsible action on behalf of the church. But it is not the church that grants the license. It is the state. So surely it is the state that is ultimately responsible for ensuring that a potential couple is competent before granting a marriage license. If we as a society are ever going to take seriously the downward spiral of family life in this country, we must eventually require educational evidence that two people are ready to receive a license to marry before the license is granted.
Is marriage a serious institution? When Britney Spears got married in Las Vegas several years ago and divorced the following day, it made a mockery of the entire institution of marriage. Such weddings, entered into impulsively in a moment of fun, should no more be allowed than giving children a license to drive “just for fun.”
Eventually the states are going to have to take the granting of marriage licenses more seriously than they currently do. This will happen when we as a society become disgusted with the current state of divorces and the human catastrophe that results. Surely some educational requirements before the license to marry is granted would go a long way towards putting this right.
Stephen Martin is a marriage and family therapist with an office in Moss Beach, Calif. He has served as president of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the largest association of marriage therapists in the world. You can read more of Martin’s work at www.healmarriage.com. He can be reached at 650-726-1212, or by e-mail at email@example.com.