Discussion: the Ceremony - Legal Rules

The short answer to questions about the relationship between religious marriage ceremonies and the legal status of marriage is this: for eligible participants, participation in a marriage ceremony conducted in accord with the rules and customs of the religious order is both legally-sufficient and necessary to transform the marital status of the marriage-eligible participants.

Although Maryland marriage statutes contain directive requirements (e.g., the requirements related to the marriage license and the recording of the marriage certificate), and although violation of those directives may result in criminal misdemeanor fines (for the participants and, perhaps, for members of the Meeting), these violations do not invalidate an otherwise valid marriage.

As I have already noted, however, a legally-valid marriage can arise in Maryland only if both participants in the marriage ceremony are legally-eligible as a matter of secular law; and, clearly, same sex participants are not legally-eligible to be married.

In contrast to the licensing and recordation requirements of Maryland law, moreover, the mutual, attested affirmations of the marriage ceremony (whether religious or civil) are required in Maryland (no common law marriages arise in this state). In short, the legal rule is: no ceremony, no marriage, evenif the couple is eligible and licensed to be married.

Discussion: The Importance of Obtaining Legal Advice prior to the Marriage Ceremony

Although the criteria for legal marriage are simple and straight-forward, the legal implications of marital status so achieved are serious, complicated, arcane, and socially controversial. The legal implications of marriage - I also should note - are evolving and, therefore, somewhat uncertain. Persons contemplating marriage are well-advised to seek competent legal advice.

The caveat to first seek legal advice applies more than equally to same sex couples who wish to enter into "committed", "permanent" relationships. Some of the legal underpinnings of marriage are available to long-term, same sex relationships. Nevertheless, the legal disabilities confronted by same sex couples, as such, are profound.

Click here to return to the Table of Contents.