Reese: Marry Who You Want When You Want


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By Isaac Reese, Opinion Writer


The government has long been heavily involved in the martial affairs of everyday citizens. The Supreme Court has declared certain marriage regulations unconstitutional in Loving v Virginia (1967) and Obergefell v Hodges (2015) when state governments sought to regulate which consenting adults could marry based on their racial identity, gender identity and sexual orientation. In all but eight states and Washington D.C., a couple wishing to marry is required by law to have a third party officiate the ceremony. Utah could join these states in allowing for self-solemnization. Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost is sponsoring H.B. 112 in the 2021 legislative session that would enable self-solemnization, meaning all that would be needed to perform a legal wedding are two consenting adults, two witnesses, and signed and dated paperwork. There are reasons that the government needs to know when people marry, but there is no reason to make this major life event more complicated with bureaucratic red tape and requirements.

The bill would add that “individuals entering into the marriage” would be allowed to solemnize their relationship. This is what marriage is at its core—two people deciding that they want to be united as partners. Why should a third party have to be present for two adults to make that choice? The agreement of the couple with two witnesses, usually close friends or family, is all that is needed to prove that this choice. As Dailey-Provost said to me, this will help couples “utilize personal agency” when making the choice to marry.

In a recent Salt Lake Tribune opinion piece, BYU Professors Hal Boyd and Alan Hawkins argue against self-solemnizing marriages. They broadly argue that community and ecclesiastical leaders are needed at weddings to strengthen marriages. They rely heavily on a 2014 study that found a correlation between the number of guests one couple invites usually means a longer-lasting marriage. In a statement regarding this op-ed, Dailey-Provost said, “There are many factors that are shown to strengthen or weaken a marriage unit. For example, couples who spend more money on their wedding are more likely to get divorced. Despite this, we do not limit how much people can spend on a wedding or force them to maintain a certain fiscal budget in order to get married.” Many opponents of self-solemnization also worry that couples will be more likely to split up. For one thing, Utahns already have the lowest divorce rate in the nation, but on top of that, as Dailey-Provost noted, “there is no evidence that self-solemnizing marriages lead to greater divorce.”

Boyd and Hawkins further argue that having large and public weddings means that the couple has more involvement in their community. They continue of this point stating “that couples with bigger (and cheaper) weddings are more likely to experience what researchers call ‘the community effect’ — the impact of supportive friends and family that help a married couple get through the inevitable peaks and vales of married life.” But there is nothing in this bill that would prohibit couples who choose to self-solemnize from having large-scale weddings with significant community presence. Self-unifying marriages are not mutually exclusive with socially isolated couples. This bill does not take away anyone’s ability to have a large, religious wedding, it just allows for those who do not want to have a traditional ceremony to have a different route.

In my interview with Dailey-Provost, she echoed a similar message which she later reiterated over email. “Although the importance of strong familial and community support of a marriage cannot be understated, self-solemnizing marriages are not a threat to strong community support of a marriage. Many couples who have strong familial support and are deeply involved in their communities still want a more intimate wedding ceremony for a variety of reasons. Self-solemnizing marriage ceremonies do not mean that a couple has to be alone or without others present when they get married,” she said.

Utah is a conservative state. When Gov. Spencer Cox came to power earlier this year, he wanted to “cut red tape where it makes sense” and H.B. 112 does just that. Why mandate that someone needs to find and possibly pay someone to say a couple of needed words at an intimate life event meant for a couples’ closest circle? Under this bill, couples could have a say in who marries them and whether they want to have a third party there at all. The legislature should cut the red tape and pass this bill. State government need not complicate the process of marriage or have an extra involvement in the private lives of its citizens. All they need is a signed marriage certificate.


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