Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Reynolds, “How Marriage Became One of the Sacraments”

In February, Cambridge University Press will release “How Marriage Became One of the Sacraments: The Sacramental Theology of Marriage from its Medieval Origins to the Council of Trent” by Philiip Reynolds (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:

Among the contributions of the medieval church to western culture was the idea that marriage was one of the seven sacraments, which defined the role of married folk in the church. Although it had ancient roots, this new way of regarding marriage raised many problems, to which scholastic theologians applied all their ingenuity. By the late Middle Ages, the doctrine was fully established in Christian thought and practice but not yet as dogma. In the sixteenth century, with the entire Catholic teaching on marriage and celibacy and its associated law and jurisdiction under attack by the Protestant reformers, the Council of Trent defined the doctrine as a dogma of faith for the first time but made major changes to it. Rather than focusing on a particular aspect of intellectual and institutional developments, this book examines them in depth and in detail from their ancient precedents to the Council of Trent

The Polygamy (aka “Religious Cohabitation”) Decision

Just a few words about the decision a few days ago in Brown v. Buhman, in which a federal district court judge in the District of Utah struck down a portion of Utah’s bigamy statute.

The Utah statute provides that:

A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.

At its core, this statute, like all bigamy statutes, criminalizes knowing efforts by a married person to enter into another state-licensed, state-sanctioned, marriage.  Such marriages are both criminally punishable and void.  (This might seem like a paradox, but it’s not.  Many illegal contracts are both punishable and void).  But in the light of Utah’s distinct history with polygamy, both the language of the statute and its interpretation by courts go a step further than most other states:  They also seek to punish persons who “purport to marry” even by entering into purely “private” or religious marriages. without trying to get a license, and without demanding any legal benefits or rights from the state.  On the other hand, the Utah courts have also held that the statute only covers relationships that hold themselves out to be “marriages” of one sort or another.  Thus, despite the “cohabitation” language, the statute does not cover simple adultery, even when the adulterers live together.  Nor does it cover someone like Hugh Hefner, who often lived with several women in one household, but was never married (or held himself out to be married) to more than one at a time.

The district court upheld what I’m calling the core application of the statute.  It really had no choice given Reynolds v. United Statesthe famous 1879 United States Supreme Court decision that denied Mormon polygamists religion-based exemptions from territorial bigamy laws.  But the district court struck down the extended application of the statute.  It held that (1) the state had no legitimate interest trying to regulate purely “religious cohabitation” and (2) that the law unconstitutionally discriminated between such “religious cohabitation” (in which the parties held themselves out to be in some sense “married”) and other extra-marital or multiple-partner arrangements.

I don’t want to discuss the opinion at length here.  I don’t want to discuss whether the district court played fast and loose with the precedents.  Nor do I want to discuss whether there should be a constitutional right to religiously-based polygamy.  

But I do think one point deserves emphasis:  This opinion is yet another instance of a serious and damaging failure, which I’ve discussed in other contexts here, here, and here, to appreciate the distinctively interwoven, intertwined, character of marriage in the United States.  Marriage as we know it carries a complex combination of governmental, religious, cultural, sociological, psychological, and maybe even “natural” meanings.  And those meanings have never been, and probably cannot be, kept hermetically sealed off from each other. Continue reading

Nichols on Religion and Marriage

Joel A. Nichols (University of St. Thomas School of Law) has posted Religion, Marriage, and Pluralism. The abstract follows.

In November 2010, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed the first “anti-sharia statute” as an amendment to their state constitution. Although federal courts have held the Oklahoma amendment unconstitutional, several other states continue to move toward various bans on sharia law. Such statutes would have the greatest impact in family law.

This article describes tensions faced by members of both minority Muslim and majority Christian religious communities, who view family issues as controlled both by their religious community and by the demands of the civil state. The article outlines four possible future paths for the intersection of religion and the civil state regarding marriage and divorce. Within these four alternatives, it is clear that even if states purport to disallow sharia (or any other religious beliefs) such a pronouncement will not eliminate adherence to sharia among faithful Muslims. It would mean, at most, that sharia would not be enforced by civil courts. At least for some observant Muslims, the effect will be the same as in the United Kingdom or Ontario: Islamic religious arbitrations will continue to exist outside the protection of the civillaw.
Continue reading

MacFarlane on Islamic Divorce

From Oxford University Press, a new book by Julie MacFarlane (Windsor Law – University of Windsor), Islamic Divorce in North America: A Shari’a Path in a Secular Society (forthcoming April 2012). The publisher’s description follows. 

Policy-makers and the public are increasingly attentive to the role oshari’a in the everyday lives of Western Muslims, with negative associations and public fears growing among their non-Muslim neighbors in the United States and Canada. The most common way North American Muslims relate to shari’a is in their observance of Muslim marriage and divorce rituals; recourse to traditional Islamic marriage and, to a lesser extent, divorce is widespread. Julie Macfarlane has conducted hundreds of interviews with Muslim couples, as well as with religious and community leaders and family conflict professionals. Her book describes how Muslim marriage and divorce processes are used in North America, and what they mean to those who embrace them as a part of their religious and cultural identity. The picture that emerges is of an idiosyncratic private ordering system that reflects a wide range of attitudes towards contemporary family values and changes in gender roles. Some women describe pervasive assumptions about restrictions on their role in the family system, as well as pressure to accept these values and to stay married. Others of both genders describe the gradual modernization of Islamic family traditions – and the subsequent emergence of a Western shari’a–but a continuing commitment to the rituals of Muslim marriage and divorce in their private lives. Readers will be challenged to consider how the secular state should respond in order to find a balance between state commitment to universal norms and formal equality, and the protection of religious freedom expressed in private religious and cultural practices.

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