There is much misinformation surrounding HB 2173, and this op-ed serves to correct the record. To be clear, HB 2173 does not eliminate, dissolve, or invalidate any marriage in the state of Missouri. It does not ban marriage for anyone who can currently marry under Missouri law, nor does it redefine marriage or expand it to include polygamous, bigamous, or incestuous unions, or marriage for minors. It changes none of these statutory prohibitions, while at the same time treating every couple equally under the law. Furthermore, HB 2173 does not alter state or federal benefits. As set forth in this bill, a “Domestic Union” is the full, legal equivalent of marriage.
Here’s what this bill does do:
1) It eliminates the requirement to obtain permission from the state of Missouri in the form of a marriage license,
2) It eliminates the legal requirement to have a ceremony performed by a judge or minister, and,
3) It changes the term marriage to a “Contract of Domestic Union,” putting it on par with the rest of chapter 451 which states that marriage, as defined by current Missouri law, is considered a “civil contract.” Let’s discuss these one at a time.
Marriage licensure was originally utilized for the purpose of denying the rights of interracial couples who desired to marry. As such, the marriage licensure process has a shaded past rooted in racism and inequality before the law. History clearly exhibits that governments have at times used their control of the institution of marriage as a means to manipulate and control.
Missouri did not always require a marriage license to wed. In fact, it didn’t require a license until 1881, during a period of angst in the state over the implications of the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because the Fourteenth Amendment granted equal rights to African Americans, many feared that the state’s interracial marriage ban would be found unconstitutional. How else would a state control who marries? By requiring a license. A license can be either revoked or denied. And indeed, it was denied for interracial couples for nearly 80 years after the first marriage licenses were issued.
HB 2173 relegates the state to merely recording that a marriage/domestic union took place, instead of permitting one. One way to view it is like this: If you don’t need permission or a license for your Second Amendment rights, you certainly don’t need it for rights as natural as a marital union with your spouse.
Removing the government’s mandate to have a judge or minister solemnize a marriage will ensure the government cannot control the religious ceremony or oversee a Church Sacrament. A ceremony can still be performed for a couple, of course, but it would not be a legal requirement.
Many Americans believe the institution of marriage to be a sacrament of their church or religious institution. Some believe it to be sacred and holy. Some believe the institution isn’t religious at all, but merely a ‘’civil contract,’’ as our law sets forth in 451.010. “Marriage” means different things to different people. The state is only concerned about the legal standpoint. In the eyes of the state, it’s a contract, and is currently defined as such. This legislation merely describes it in its legal definition.
As marriage predates civil government, I believe that we will be on the right side of history to reduce the role the state plays in regards to the private — and to many, sacred —institution.
I am not proposing we sever the state’s connection to marriage, only its control over it. I propose getting the government out of the marriage business. I propose HB 2173.
State Rep. Adam Schnelting is a Republican who represents HD 104.