NOTE: This post has been updated to include information about when Michigan abolished common law marriages.
Republican Todd Courser took to the internet to defend “attacks” he’s facing over his package of legislation paving the way for “RFRA for Marriage” and making it harder for same-sex couples to get married. In a piece on his website titled “Breaking Courser Answers Critics of Marriage Bill!” [sic], a piece comically full of grammatical errors and misspelled words, he claims he does not want to “impose my beliefs on such religious leaders or use my power in government to push my beliefs on those who are gay, straight, atheist or have a different belief system than I do.” This statment comes after an opening paragraph that reads like a Sunday morning sermon:
There has been lots of hype, hateful comments and emails from the LGBT community and from those who want government to rule everything. For me, I believe people should be free to choose for themselves how they will live. I do not believe, like so many of my detractors, that the power of government should be used to impose a particular view of morality on anyone. It shouldn’t be used by the Christian community to do so; it shouldn’t be used by the secular progressives to do so and it shouldn’t be used by the gay and lesbian agenda to do so. As a believer in Christ as my Lord and Savior, I believe in God’s Holy word and I believe He gave me the right to choose Him and His plan or to reject Him and His plan for me and my life. In that spirit, I do not believe that government should make such fundamental decisions for people – as God gives us the freedom to accept Him or reject Him, our government should offer us no less freedom – government and those in government should not rule over us. Furthermore, no sin is greater than another, I like everyone, am a poor sinner saved by grace alone through the cleansing power of the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for me. I am not saved by my own power or might or by any other redeeming attribute in me but rather just by accepting and acknowledging who He is and what He did on the cross for me. I like everyone have to answer for my own sins. The answer can be either in facing God’s judgement or the answer can be at the foot of the cross.
All this from a guy who isn’t forcing his religion in your face or into our state’s laws.
Right. Got it.
The post essentially whines that people just don’t get his legislation. He says that his “attackers” are characterizing it as preventing same-sex couples from marrying which, so far as I have seen (and I do a LOT of reading on stuff like this), nobody is actually saying. Maybe it’s in the from “vial” email responses he says he’s getting “from the LGBT community and their supporters” (yes, he used the word “vial” instead of “vile”.) He responds to the non-existent attack with this:
These bills do not in any way prohibit gay, atheist or any other type of marriage – on the contrary under my proposed legislation, I assume there will be lots of clergy who will be willing to “marry” gay and atheist couples (I may personally disagree with them doing so but I am not at all wanting to impose my beliefs on such religious leaders or use my power in government to push my beliefs on those who are gay, straight, atheist or have a different belief system than I do personally – my foundation beliefs come from the bible but others do not share my respect for the scriptures and I completely understand that). These bills simply deal with the role of government in “officiating of weddings” and they are an effort to remove that role from the hands of government. If these bills are successful and become law then the “officiating of weddings” will then rest in the hands of the clergy and ministers. If the couple does not want to have a religious wedding then they are free to simply file an affidavit attesting that they are married. They can do this without ever having to have a ceremony.
Note that if you don’t subscribe to Todd Courser’s flavor of Christian belief, that means, to him, that you don’t have “respect for the scriptures. But he completely understands that so we’re cool. But, to get to the point, he is saying that if you don’t want to be married in a religious wedding by “a minister of the Gospel, cleric, or religious practitioner” as dictated by Courser’s bill, you can just sign and file an affidavit and, voila!, you’re married!
Here’s what the bill actually says (pertinent section in bold):
Sec. 1a. Beginning 90 days after the effective date of the amendatory act that added this section, a marriage that is not contracted by a formal ceremony according to section 1(2) may be acknowledged by filing an affidavit of common law marriage with the county clerk. The affidavit of common law marriage shall be signed by both parties, notarized, and must include all of the following:
(a) The place where each party resides.
(b) The full legal name and age of each party as they appear on or are calculable from a certified copy of the birth certificate, the current driver license or state personal identification card, the current passport or visa, or any other certificate, license, or document issued by or existing under the laws of any nation or of any state, or a political subdivision of any state, that is accepted as proof of identity and age.
(c) The full name by which each party will be known after the marriage, which shall become the full legal name of the party upon filing of the marriage certificate.
(d) That the parties are not disqualified from or incapable of entering into marriage.
Aha! Common law marriage. That’s practically as good as a real marriage, right?
Actually, no. Common law marriage hasn’t been acknowledged in Michigan since 1957. That means that the hundreds and hundreds of benefits that accrue to married people in Michigan – like the right to make medical decisions or adopt children together – would not be available to anyone not going through a church ceremony officiated by a minister of the Gospel, cleric, or religious practitioner. But, hey, you can say you’re married, though, so there’s that.
The intent of Courser’s package of bills – including his forthcoming “RFRA for Marriage” bill that he calls “The Pastors Protection Act” (See? it’s HIS brand of Christianity we’re talking about here) – is clear: to make it as difficult as possible for same-sex couples to be married. He waxes eloquently whenever he gets the chance about freedom and liberty for all. But his goal is to make the options for same-sex couples – and in this case athiests, too – as limited as he can get away with.
And, just to be clear, Todd Courser knows EXACTLY what he is doing with this. He is an attorney in Michigan so he knows the laws governing common law marriage in this state. All his faux hurt feelings and claims about not wanting to force his religion on anyone else aside, he’s a bigot who won’t be satisfied until our state is a theocracy shaped in his mental image of how a church-run state should look.
UPDATE: Here’s the part of the Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL 551.2) that abolished common law marriages, a section that remains unchanged with any of Courser’s bills (emphasis mine):
Revised Statutes of 1846 (EXCERPT)
Chapter 83. Of marriage and the solemnization thereof.
551.2 Marriage as civil contract; consent; license; solemnization.
So far as its validity in law is concerned, marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of parties capable in law of contracting is essential. Consent alone is not enough to effectuate a legal marriage on and after January 1, 1957. Consent shall be followed by obtaining a license as required by section 1 of Act No. 128 of the Public Acts of 1887, being section 551.101 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, or as provided for by section 1 of Act No. 180 of the Public Acts of 1897, being section 551.201 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, and solemnization as authorized by sections 7 to 18 of this chapter.
So, to summarize: No marriage license and solemnization, no marriage. And, if Courser’s legislation becomes law, only members of the clergy can issue marriage licenses and solemnize the marriage. Unless Courser intends to introduce legislation that would restore common law marriage in our state, something none of his current bills do, a common law marriage isn’t worth the affidavit paper it’s written on when it comes to being recognized by the state of Michigan.