(an email my son sent to us)
WHY do people need the state’s permission to marry? For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. Agreement to the match, not the approval of the church (as an institution, i.e. catholic church, the pope, etc.) or state, was what confirmed its validity.
For 16 centuries, the church also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows (even out alone by the haystack), the church accepted that they were validly married.
In 1215, the catholic church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illicitly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.
Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions within aristocratic families between young adults whose parents opposed their match.
The American colonies officially required marriages to be registered, but until the mid-19th century, state supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage, as in "why would they be living together if they weren't married." By the later part of that century, however, the United States began to nullify common-law marriages and exert more control over who was allowed to marry.
By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce. Of course some of the more racist and discriminatory laws have been reversed today.
Governments want to regulate procreation and inheritance, as a way for the people in power to assert their superiority.
Then, governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information.
In the 1950s, using the marriage license as a shorthand way to distribute benefits and legal privileges made some sense because almost all adults were married. Cohabitation and single parenthood by choice were very rare.
Today, however, possession of a marriage license tells us little about people’s interpersonal responsibilities. Half of all Americans aged 25 to 29 are unmarried, and many of them already have incurred obligations as partners, parents or both. Almost 40 percent of America’s children are born to unmarried parents. Meanwhile, many legally married people are in remarriages where their obligations are spread among several households. Obviously people should be getting married, but do they really have to get married the way the government defines it? And how many of these statistics would line up better with a positive future if we changed the definition of marriage from the modern "license" to the "old school" union.
Of course this doesn't factor in worst-case situations like, some dude "marries" 8 women and it's valid because his local "church" approves. But we rather regulate it through the government and have a more stable system, albeit based on regulation, control, money, etc. Or would we rather regulate it based on principles of love, devotion, and righteousness.
Jesus didn't seem to have a whole lot of "political" opinions, but based on the way He told off the pharisees for oppressing people and making everything about money and control instead of God and actual people's feelings and emotions; I can't help but think that Jesus would be opposed to institutionalization.
Institutionalism tends towards reducing openness to self-evaluation. In institutionalism, "self-evaluation" comes down to the leadership judging the ordinary members, but not the institutional leadership themselves being subject to judgment. Yet the Bible teaches, "Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1). God tells the ordinary Christian to be skeptical about all teachings and to compare them to what the Bible says. Paul commended the Bereans who exercised skepticism towards his own teachings. "These (the Bereans) were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." (Acts 17:11). It's less honorable to gullibly accept whatever is taught, even if such teachings happen to be correct. Even Jesus said, "If I don’t do the works of my Father, don’t believe me." (John 10:37). He doesn't want gullible followers. Those He describes in the parable of the sower, "And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended." (Mark 4:16-17).
Adam and Eve were married weren't they? Did God put a Senate house and an Executive branch in the garden? Seems to me like marriage is pretty clearly illustrated in the same place God tells us His perfect vision, the basis of creation, our purpose, and even the meaning of life as we know it -- in Genesis; and in Genesis, what is our foundational depiction of marriage?
Only three components: God, Adam and Eve.
And ultimately that is what it boils down to.