The Marriage Licence
A fellow traveller who knows and keeps the Seven Commandments put forward an interesting question. He brought up the question of the marriage licence and whether the government should be involved at all. It rolled around my mind for a while until this article came out. Let’s see what happens.
What is a marriage licence?
This would be a good place to start. Let’s take a look-see. A marriage licence is:
the document that is executed by the public authority that gives a couple the permission to marry. (http://thelawdictionary.org/marriage-license/)
That’s from an online law dictionary. So a marriage licence, just as the name suggests, is a licence a person gets to get married. It’s the group of people who call themselves government giving two people permission to get married.
That bit, I guess, is simple enough.
Seven Commandment lens
What is marriage according to the details of the Seven Commandments? I mean, there is a law against adultery which means that a man should have sex with the wife of another man. That would imply that there can be a wife, i.e., a woman is bound to a man. So, in the eyes of the Seven Commandments, what are the details of and requirements for this bond?
A helpful description is given in the book “The Divine Code” by Rabbi Moshe Weiner which says:
“There are two terms used for marriage regarding Gentiles: (a) a “woman who has had relations with a husband” … is a “fully married woman,” with whom adultery is a capital [crime]; and (b) a “betrothed woman” … with whom it is forbidden for another man to have relations … but it is not a capital [crime].” (pg 494, Part 5: The Prohibition of Forbidden Relations, Chapter 3, Topic 2)
The essence of a marriage for Gentiles is the specific agreement of a lasting intimate union between a man having and a woman, both having reached the age of adequate maturity, consummated with marital relations. That’s it!
In light of this, it matters little about the government or their dictates. There is no need to get their permission to get married. A licence is a something that gives a person permission to do something. There is nothing that gives the group of people called “government” the power to dictate to a man or woman if they can get married or not. There is no factual reason for such a man and woman to ask the government for permission to get married. Now there may be some legal and financial advantages or benefits to getting such recognition from this “ruling class,” but morally and factually, there is no such reason to do so. A man and woman of adequate maturity can make their own marital agreement and live as husband and wife without any governmental interference.
The “ruling” class and the community
There are reasons why following communal conventions are important, why it is important for the husband and wife to make their marriage public. By “public” I don’t mean “government/ruling class”, I mean “known to people in general” or at least recorded in such a way that there is evidence that such a marital agreement exists. For example, in cases of divorce or adultery, it is necessary to have evidence that there was a marriage to begin with, and public knowledge or public record is important to establish that. So for the sake of the community, it’s important to have evidence of a marital contract or agreement.
The people who are accepted by enough as “government” have given incentives for couples who want to be governmentally recognized as married, offering tax breaks or monetary benefits or other benefits. It’s up to whomever if they think such benefits are worth their time or the intrusiveness of such a government in their private business.
But then we come across the notion of “dina melchusa dina” again, the Jewish obligation that states that “the law of the State is law”. The question is this: if the accepted government demands of you that you must get their permission before you marry someone of your choice, must you do it? Are you obligated to acquiesce to their demands? If they make it law, must you bow to their coercion?
This subject matter is an ambiguous one. Some would say a Gentile is somehow obligated to follow the customs of their country (“dina melchusa dina“) because of one of the Seven Commandments called “Dinim” which can be understood as “Laws”. Some would say that simply because the term “dina melchusa dina” includes a term related to the word “Dinim” (which is the Hebrew name for one of the Seven Commandments), then following the law of one’s country is part of the basic and fundamental divine commandment. But then, those who think about this will know that this is obviously not the case. If a law is immoral or obligates someone to break any of the other six of the Seven Commandments, this would make the law of Dinim an outright contradiction to the others. It would be like having one basic fundamental Divine law saying “do not murder” and having another fundamental Divine law saying “obey the government that tells you to murder”. That would make no sense.
Therefore “dina melchusa dina” is not a fundamental part of the commandment of Dinim. And since “dina melchusa dina” is not a fundamental part of the Seven Commandments, a Gentile does not have a basic divine obligation to follow the laws of their land. And in light of this, a Gentile does not have any obligation whatsoever to beg for government permission to live as husband and wife. They may do so without government recognition. There are places where the government don’t give out marriage licences but rather a statement of marriage, that can be seen again as at least public evidence of marriage. One is free to get such a statement as it doesn’t seem like so much of an imposition. And this act could be beneficial, depending on how much hold doing such an act gives the government over your private life. But once again, one is free not to as well.
In the end, all one can do is one’s best, try to make the best decisions in this life for the well-being of oneself and one’s family and for the community in general. Knowing the core responsibilities of a person as well as what is optional, nothing else need be forced on a person, my opinion or anyone else’s. Fear God and keep his commandments. That’s the base line of it.
But when it comes to the marriage licence, it’s up to the person to decide how much government interference one wants in one’s life. I don’t believe that either way is a sin against God. We live in a time where many groups of people deemed as “government” wants their hand in as much as possible, to control as much as possible, many times passing beyond the bounds of “protection of ‘rights'” into phases of totalitarianism, even if it is based on good intentions. But then again, the road to hell is paved with such intentions.
But whether a Gentile has any obligation to have such a licence, I personally would say “no”. To make a statement that a person is married is one thing. To ask for permission to get married is something altogether.