Faith and Practice (Baltimore Yearly Meeting, 1988) declares that "Members or non-members may marry under the care of a Monthly Meeting, if applicable law permits. The couple should be aware that the loving concern of the Meeting continues beyond the wedding itself." (F&P, 62). For a couple permitted by law to marry, the procedure includes:
1. Consideration of the questions set forth in Appendix F.1 (F&P, 77) prior to application to the Monthly Meeting for marriage under its care.
2. The written application, signed by both, requesting the Meeting's oversight of the marriage (F&P, 62).
3. Creation of a clearness committee by the Overseers (Pastoral Care Committee) to meet with the couple and inquire into their clearness for marriage in accordance with the committee's duties set forth in Appendix F.2 (F&P, 79).
4. The report of the clearness committee to the Pastoral Care Committee, which brings a recommendation to the Monthly Meeting for Business (F&P, 62).
5. If the Monthly Meeting approves the marriage, the appointment of a special committee of oversight to arrange and oversee the wedding. "Those appointed also accept personal responsibility for representing the Meeting's continuing concern for the marriage and, as far as possible, remaining in touch with the couple following the wedding." (F&P, 62, 80-84).
The care of the Meeting, it seems, includes the process by which the couple finally determines to marry, includes the Meeting's approval of the marriage and the ceremony itself, and continues throughout the married life of the couple.
As this short review of the law of marriage has revealed, Maryland law delegates to the Meeting the authority to transform the marital status of persons eligible to marry. The civil law reserves to our legislative authorities the determination of who is eligible to marry. By custom and statute, that civil determination limits legally valid marriage to a relationship between a man and a woman. There are technical licensing and recording requirements which the parties and the Meeting are legally obligated to follow, but it is the marriage ceremony which is the fundamental, legally enabling act by which persons may attain marital status under the law.
The rules and customs of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, as set forth in Faith and Practice, are legally sufficient to assure compliance with Maryland law. Faith and Practice accepts the reservation of civil authority to determine eligibility for marriage by its declaration: " Members or non-members may marry under the care of a Monthly Meeting, if applicable law permits...."
Although Annapolis Monthly Meeting may marry any persons legally eligible to enter marital status, the Meeting is not required to marry anyone. On a situation by situation basis, the Meeting, acting at a Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business, must achieve unity that the Meeting is called to take the requested marriage "under the care of the Meeting". In those situations where the Meeting does find unity in "approving" a requested marriage, the Meeting is entering into two commitments, one legal and the other spiritual in nature. The legal commitment is to oversee the ceremony by which the celebrants will achieve the legal status of marriage. The spiritual commitment is to offer the Meeting's "continuing concern" for the marriage in the future.
This spiritual commitment of the Meeting to a marriage is requested by the marrying couple and accepted by the Meeting. The commitment includes mutual obligations on the part of the couple and the Meeting; but these "obligations" are not a legally binding contract. Rather, they seem to constitute a form of spiritual bond between the couple and the Meeting. As I have contrasted the two different levels of the Meeting's commitment:
When the Religious Society of Friends takes a marriage "under the care of the meeting", the Meeting is helping to establish the legal foundation for the marriage. The Meeting is also operating in the spiritual context of a higher and quite different system - a system of ideas and personal relationships which seeks to solve (not merely to resolve) the problems of life through loving acknowledgment of that of God in every person.
The Meeting is now considering how better to fulfill its spiritual role in marriages under our care.
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