Three days ago the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed H.B. 1125, a bill that would change the process by which the state recognizes marriages. In the bill’s present form, individuals who desire to be married in the state of Oklahoma could either obtain a certificate from a religious leader, or sign an affidavit requesting a common law marriage.
Atheists, skeptics, free-thinkers, and liberal first amendment apologists are understandably uncomfortable with the concept of religious leaders acting as gate keepers for the state. Yet as long as Oklahoma scrupulously places common law marriages on par with religious unions, a practical distinction between the two modes of marriage will not exist.
Nevertheless, one key question remains: how would other states treat Oklahoma’s common law marriages? Opponents of the legislation argue common law marriages would not be recognized in other states. It would not be surprising if this difficulty materialized. Business licenses are routinely invalid beyond a state’s borders; states regularly refuse to recognize gun permits issued elsewhere; and occasionally a state will refuse to honor an out-of-state driver’s license (e.g. young out-of-state teens cannot drive in New York). If the bill in question becomes law, the burden would be on other states to keep up with the times. Unfortunately, inconvenience is not the only flaw associated with H.B. 1125.
If the bill is enacted it its present form, the bill’s narrow wording will incite a constitutional challenge. But if H.B. 1125 is amended, and a common law affidavit is required for all couples (i.e. religious leaders have no official role in the process), the bill will be difficult to challenge in court. In addition to its regrettable wording, the bill fails to embrace real marriage reform; lawmakers should eliminate the state government from the marriage equation. Oklahoma should offer citizens an opportunity to register a significant other with the government.
Today many intimate relationships are unrecognized because the government controls marriage licensing. A modern relationship-based registration program would put individuals in charge by allowing each couple to define their relationship with a simple government form. Individuals could invest a special person with a specific array of legal rights – financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney, inheritance, custody of children, etc. Naturally the state’s tax laws would need to be adjusted. For example, marital status would cease to have any relationship to a person’s state taxes. However, enhanced tax deductions for an expanded list of eligible dependents would offer families across the economic spectrum much needed income tax relief.
Oklahoma’s outdated government-oriented marriage framework should be replaced by a relationship-based system. Oklahomans from all walks of life would benefit. Hopefully state legislators will make the most of their opportunity to address the thorny issue of marriage equality by advancing reforms that prioritize individual liberty.