Press release from the Libertarian Party of Michigan:
The marriage laws of Michigan have been litigated and amended for over a century, most recently regarding same sex marriage. In 2015 a US Supreme Court decision held that Michigan marriage laws violate the Constitutional rights of same sex partners. Michigan law has not been changed to reflect that decision though, and the role of the state in issuing marriage licenses has not been addressed at all.
Pastor Neil Carrick has sued the Michigan Attorney General and Governor to overturn laws that can be used to fine and jail those who perform a marriage without a license from the state.
Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL) section 551.14 states that if an officiate “knowingly joins any persons in marriage contrary to the provisions of this chapter, he or she shall forfeit for each offense a sum not exceeding $500.00”. Section 551.106 states they “shall be punished by a fine of 100 dollars, or in default of payment thereof, by imprisonment in the county jail for a term of 90 days”.
These laws are the focus of the lawsuit. If a couple merely wants a private ceremony and does not want to receive the state “benefits” of a licensed marriage contract, why should the official performing a private ceremony be punished for it? These are the questions the state of Michigan is being asked to answer, with briefs addressing the issue due on January 8.
In order to understand marriage laws we must first understand why they were originally enacted. In the United States the laws primarily came about in order to establish inheritance property rights, or to prohibit inter-racial marriages and certain religious acts like polygamy.
The laws of marriage vary from state to state, but most require a license for marriage as a civil contract.
Libertarians strongly oppose licensure in general and in particular for civil contracts. The national party platform states “Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships”. The platform of the Libertarian Party of Michigan also addresses the issue; “marriage licenses are contracts between individuals and should be left to the individuals, their attorneys and religious officials, without the need to pay the state for a stamp of approval”.
US Supreme Court cases support that position. “No state shall convert a liberty into a license, and charge a fee therefore.” (Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 1943). And: “If the State converts a right (liberty) into a privilege, the citizen can ignore the license and fee and engage in the right (liberty) with impunity.” (Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, Alabama, 373 U.S. 262, 1963).
Michigan began regulating marriages with the Revised Statutes of 1846 (marriage laws are now found in MCL chapter 551). The statutes have been amended numerous times since then, and some have been repealed, like the antenuptial physical exam which was repealed in 1972. In 1996, section 551.1 was amended to state that “A marriage contracted between individuals of the same sex is invalid in this state”. This should be removed to reflect the recent Supreme Court Ruling.
The Libertarian Party of Michigan strongly supports Pastor Neil Carrick in his suit. No state should require a license for a civil contract between individuals, nor should it punish those performing private religious ceremonies that cause no harm to others. Michigan’s legislature needs to bring state marriage laws into compliance with the constitution.