Oklahoma may be getting out of the marriage business (Updated)

Timothy Kincaid

March 10th, 2015

Governments love control. That’s a given.

So while many people – right, left, or center – have exclaimed, “the government get out of the marriage business, anyway!”, I’ve mostly ignored those cries as impractical. But by a vote of 67 to 24, the Oklahoma House of Representatives has voted to do just that.

HB 1125 removes all references to issuing marriage licenses and instead allows a provision by which the officiant of a marriage files a certificate after the fact informing the state that a legal marriage has occurred (and those who don’t wish for an officiant can file a common-law marriage affidavit). In this way, such county clerks or other public employees as don’t wish to issue licenses that offend their faith won’t have to issue any licenses at all.

Currently the marriage certificate is the final step in the process. And that would remain the same. Except that the certificate, once recorded and certified, is returned to the couple as their legal proof of marriage.

It’s not completely clear why receiving and documenting the certificate is less offensive to a clerk than issuing a license, but perhaps it’s a matter of filing the record of an event rather than issuing a license which is a form of permission.

Or, though unlikely, perhaps this whole fight has caused the Republicans in Oklahoma to ponder on some of the supposed small-government positions that they like to spout and ask themselves why it is that a couple should have to ask the state for permission to marry in the first place.

Interestingly, the law omits any ‘male-female’ requirements and the certificate has signature spaces for “first spouse” and “second spouse”. It does continue restrictions on under-age marriage.

The bill now goes to the state Senate and, if passed, would go into effect November 1, 2015.

UPDATED: This bill appears to have been sent off to a committee to die in March.

Joseph Singer

March 10th, 2015

It’s called cut off your nose despite your face. Republicans are just hateful cows.


March 10th, 2015

I wish I could give them credit for doing what many have pointed out–that civil marriage and religious marriage are essentially unrelated. The problem is they are doing this out of animus and I suspect that its ultimate goal is to cause such a ruckus among right wing Okies that it’s heard in Washington. I have a hard time believing that Gov. Failing will sign this…

Frankly, getting civilly married should be nothing more than filling out a form and having someone say, “Have a Nice Day.”

Paul Douglas

March 11th, 2015

Republicans nowadays tend to be largely how Joseph describes them.


March 11th, 2015

I fail to see how this would get the government out of marriage. Unless republicans in OK are also going to remove the issuing of any benefits towards married couple the government is still very much in fact in marriage.


March 11th, 2015

I agree with Lord_Byron; this doesn’t look remotely like getting out of the marriage business, no matter how much these politicians would like it to look like as much. However, OK can’t drop marriage altogether, given the plethora of Federal benefits that rely on OK’s registering of marriages. So, as Timothy said, getting out totally would be impractical, and would not be accepted by the voters.

Mark Oliver

March 11th, 2015

Marriage is a civil contract, and we wouldn’t want government to be entirely out of marriage any more than we would want government to abandon support other contracts. But if HB 1125 gets government out of the business of giving (or not) _permission_ to consenting adults to marry, it seems to me that it solves a huge problem. ‘Been saying this ever since Proposition h8te came along.


March 11th, 2015

I agree with Lord Byron and Daniel — Oklahoma’s not “getting out of the marriage business” at all — it’s just changing the procedures.


March 11th, 2015

Of course, Mark Oliver, if I am not mistaken, OK legislators are still planning to change the rules about who can officiate weddings as well, limiting it strictly to ordained ministers. I doubt that law would survive a constitutional challenge, but coupled with this bill, it would seem OK is moving towards recognizing only certain religiously-sanctioned arrangements as marriage. Government is getting out of the marriage business, abandoning it to the religious zealots that would keep it all to themselves.

Timothy Kincaid

March 11th, 2015


Not in this bill! In fact, it goes so far as to set up a provision for common law marriage.

I think that some confusion may be the result of very bad reporting in Raw Story by an author who seems not to have read the bill and apparently believes that it excludes gays and atheists.

And let’s remember that a) there are MANY pastors/rabbis ready to marry us, b) that you can become an ordained minister online, and c) any effort to only recognize religious marriages or only some types of religious marriages would be a blatant violation of the constitution that would be thrown out in federal court in about 5 minutes.


March 11th, 2015

Thanks for the clarification, Timothy. I never thought such an effort would be successful at excluding LGBT people, but a requirement for ordination would put off people who want no religious affiliation in their marriage, but, as you say, it could not survive a constitutional challenge. However, given the recent craziness we have seen from various Republican-led, state-level legislatures, I would not be at all surprised if a state like OK were trying to pass such a law. It is getting harder and harder to tell satire from reality from misunderstanding from fear-mongering.

Eric Payne

March 11th, 2015

If the state no longer issues marriage licenses, how would private industry be affected?

For instance, with no more “marriages,” would insurers be able to deny unmarried persons, who marry after November, spousal benefits? Would all employees have to switch to “domestic partner: benefits? Would same-sex couples be further excluded?

Timothy Kincaid

March 11th, 2015


Marriages will continue, they just won’t be licensed. Your certified certificate will be your proof of marriage.

Richard Rush

March 11th, 2015

I’m getting the impression that OK politicians are trying to dupe people into believing OK is boldly asserting their imagined state’s rights regarding marriage. But all they seem to be really doing is tinkering with minor procedural matters that actually are within the purview of state’s rights.


March 11th, 2015

Timothy, I would just like to point out that just because a law or rule is blatantly unconstitutional does not mean that states are not dumb enough to pass them. The OK state government passed a law specifically to build a monument to the 10 commandments on state capital grounds. A sane person would understand that it would violate the establishment clause, but OK legislatures saw nothing wrong with it. Of course it comes from a place of christian privilege where they can’t understand why someone would be upset about the state government building a monument to 1/2 specific religions.


March 15th, 2015

I tend to agree with others here that this is mostly a procedural change.

Does this affect divorce procedures? If not, it is another indication that this is nothing but a procedural change.

enough already

March 15th, 2015

I am not as sanguine about this as some. For one thing, ‘civil marriage’ is explicitly rejected in many states.
It’s clearly an attack on gays and any other interpretation misses the mark.

We’re going to see a lot of this sort of hatred in the coming years. Until the Supreme Court rules that we have protected class status, it won’t stop.

Of course, had my party had the courage to do what’s right when we held both house and senate, this would never have happened. ENDA should have been passed.

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