The third in a series. This installment is also known as "it doesn't count if you move."
Remember playing Hide ‘n’ Seek when you were a kid? The whole idea was to hide from “It” then make a run for home base when the coast was clear. Once "home," you were safe. Well, some folks take the same approach to marriage with reasoning that goes something like this – if I can’t get married in my home state, but can somewhere else, I’ll cross state lines to have the shindig and get the certificate, then high-tail it back home.
It’s a good strategy and it worked for years. Across the Great Pond, Gretna Green was just a sleepy village in Scotland until England passed a law stating that those under 21 couldn’t marry without parental consent. Scotland let lovebirds as young as 16 get hitched, so Gretna Green (which was conveniently located just over the English border) became the “go to” wedding locale for teen sweethearts. Read the history here – it wasn’t easy, but the weddings were recognized as valid, since they were valid where they were performed.
In the United States, it’s different. While your driver’s license is recognized as giving you the right to operate a motor vehicle when you cross state lines, your marriage may not be as portable. We’ll use the example of first cousins getting married. (In all states, second cousins can marry, so let’s just ride right past that.) North Carolina allows those marriages, although NC prohibits double first cousins from marrying. (The statutory language is a bit confusing, so just think of it this way – two sisters marry two brothers. Those couples have children. Those children cannot marry in NC which, genetically speaking, just may be for the best. Then again, we also have a law on the books validating marriage between former slaves, so any number of wacky things are considered to be possible in North Carolina.)
Anyway, back to cousin marriage. A number of states say, “No way, no how.” Such states include Ohio and Nevada (with Las Vegas in its borders, I’ll admit to a certain level of surprise). A number of states say, “Don’t do it here, but if you come back here married to your cousin, well, that’s okay by us.” Such states include West Virginia and Louisiana. Look here for an entertaining comparison of state laws.
Interestingly, divorces are viewed entirely differently. So – Legal Lesson Three: If you get a legal divorce wherever, it’s going to be recognized in another state either under something called the Full Faith & Credit Clause or through a legal principle known as“comity” (which is a legal way of saying “courtesy.” We want them to respect our public acts and records, so we respect theirs). Interesting to note that this applies to the dissolution of a marriage, but not the establishment of a marriage, since both involve state action – let’s be clear here, you’re not married when the preacher says so; you’re married when that state-issued piece of paper is signed and filed at the Clerk of Court. The rest is lovely, but not legally required, nor legally binding. The paper is non-negotiable.
Back to the topic at hand. Full Faith & Credit (and comity, for that matter) doesn’t apply if the marriage “offends the public policies” of another state, which is why a marriage between two committed gay folks done legally in Massachusetts or wherever has no legal effect here in North Carolina under the current law. Amendment One, with its ham-hocked language about marriage being the ONLY valid domestic union, makes it worse. You’ve done everything right and move here to enjoy our mountains and beaches, invest millions in our hard-working manufacturing force, and pay the second-lowest business taxes in the country – well, your marriage has no legal protection here. And with that missing sentence that won’t be on the ballot, the validity of any contracts you may have drawn up (such as a pre-nuptial agreement) are in question.
I dislike second-class citizenship and ultimately, that’s what Amendment One is about. I get that gay marriage makes many people uncomfortable, which is why the next post will deal with Leviticus, Romans, and - believe it or not - Lemon.