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Less and less people are looking for a god to bless their unions. Why is the state so keen to do it?

We live in an increasingly secular world. Without religious authority or context, it would seem that marriage has become little more than a legal binding of two people in holy mutual obligation. However, culturally speaking, marriage is the vows of two consenting adults which have announced their intention to remain bonded to each other for the remainder of their lives. Marriage shouldn’t require a legal document to say that.

So, what should the state’s role be in this bond? 

Based on its track record, as little as possible, beyond protecting individuals from nonconsensual arrangements. 

Too bad that it insists otherwise. 

Marriage licenses are the 'fun' documents that give us the privilege to have our vows to our loved ones recognized and approved by the Hobbesian Leviathan.

They’ve been around since the middle ages, preventing “illegal marriages” and sealing business deals with a kiss. However, they were also a nice tool for religious, and later secular, authorities to remind us common ilk as to who’s in charge of validating our unions. 

The tradition of marriage licenses followed settlers to the new world and managed to make its way to us.

In 1924, one of the aspects of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act made interracial marriage illegal until it was ruled unconstitutional by the supreme court in Loving V. Virginia. Until 2015, same-sex marriage was also illegal in most states. In both cases, the government refused to recognize the marriage of individuals. Albeit, these marriages were culturally disapproved of in the past.

However, does this mean these marriages didn’t place ceremonially and in practice? Consider again marriage being simply the vows, implied or spoken, between two consenting adults. If they set about the project of marriage, are they not effectively married by their word alone regardless the recognition of the state?

This is not to say that having a legally recognized and recorded marriage is not a boon due to tax incentives, but rather to deny that marriage is a matter beyond that of legal recognition. 

If we were to define our marriages by the recognition of the state, it would suggest that our most intimate bonds are state dependent for validity.