“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I am probably "late to the party" on this one, however, in recent weeks I have met two couples who have made me aware of a problem and a solution.

I have known Christian couples over the years, couples who were persons with intellectual disabilities who, probably after counseling from case workers and family members, decided to live together as married, although they were an unmarried couple. The state "punishes" people who receive government benefits by reducing their social security payments, among other changes in potential benefits should they marry. However, the state generally doesn't care if two people live together and doesn't care what their relationship is while they are living together. The key issue, I think, is how marriage is defined by the state agencies who control benefits. Well in the case of these two couples, both of them were married in a church, were married before God, however, they did NOT get a state marriage license, and therefore as far as the state is concerned are not married. Their marriage had no effect on their benefits because they were not married as far as the state is concerned. The couple has wedding pictures up in their home, talk about each other as husband and wife, had a ceremony in a church and so on and so on. However, they never received a state marriage license so they are not married as far as the state is concerned.

There are up sides and down sides of this arrangement. Philosophically, I don't care if the government recognizes my marriage as such. I am more concerned that I did what was required regarding marriage, in a church, before God. My marriage license from the State of California means very little to me (I don't think I could produce it if my life depended upon it) even though I have been married 30 years. I don't think that if a marriage license had not been required of me by California it would have mattered to me either. The church wedding was what mattered.

The downsides relate to the things that domestic partnerships protect. Actually, it might be beneficial for Christians to be married in a church and then file for domestic partnerships (just thinking out loud, I really have very little knowledge in this area). I wonder how a domestic partnership arrangement would affect the benefits that persons with disabilities receive from the government? I would not be surprised if those in a domestic partnership have the potential "negative" results of a state marriage diminished.

As marriage grows to be even more convoluted in our society, perhaps the church, perhaps Christians should take a new look at the value of being married before the state, following state regulations. Let the state say that marriage can be between a tree and a fish if they want to, as long as truly Christian churches hold to what marriage actually is (which I recognize is problematic as some "Christian" denominations are morally adrift in terms of representing the teachings of the Bible). If truly Christian churches held the line on marriage, such that a ceremony in a Christian church were the desired standard, then a Christian marriage would mean something. But I suspect the next thing would be for the state to force Christian churches (or Jewish Synagogues, or Muslim Mosques for that matter) to marry people the state said were eligible but that is a different discussion.

Social justice calls us as Christians to make decisions about the things we support or don't support that our government does. If a state marriage license takes two people who are living in poverty, and pushes them deeper into poverty, then perhaps we should not support a state marriage license, even though we absolutely support the importance of a church sanctioned marriage before God. If the state doesn't care whether or not a couple participates in a ceremony together before they live together, or whether they live together as husband and wife, then perhaps in order to benefit those in poverty, we as Christians should not care whether or not a married couple gets a state sanctioned marriage license.



RegencyKnitter said...

I read this article, and wondered about the same issues you brought up here:


Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the state and how they govern marriages, and benefits. There are family's that make enough money to support there handicapped child. Then the other side is where there are families struggling to make it. If we as a state are going to help people with disabilities then we need to make sure it "benefits" them instead of hurting them by getting married. There are to many loopholes in our system, and to many people cheating the system.

Mark said...

Interesting ideas, and a good question to explore. How would people living in poverty be affected if they were married in the Church, but not by the state, and is there a point (of income, I suppose) at which such an arrangement might no longer be beneficial for a couple?

I read the article Abigal linked and though it was sweet, and Kim and Noah show great wisdom (don't go to bed angry and compromise)there are two things I wonder about. First,they are married (not clear if it is in a legal, churched, or in what sense) but married none the less. Still, they live seperately, spending the nights together. There could be family issues affecting this, could be SSI or other benefits reasons for such an arrangement; it just seems curious to me, why can't they live together 24/7, like other married couples do? I wish the article offered more clarity.

Secondly, The author refers to this married couple as "clearly attracted to each other." I don't think anyone refers to Kris and me, or you and Kathi, or any other couple I know, married or not, in that way. It feels,patronising in some way; "Aren't they cute?" But not much more than that, "I mean really?!.

I hope I'm finding an issue where one doesn't exist, but I don't think I am. It is important for our society to find ways to validate, to make authentic the way persons with disabilities participate in community with their fellows, establish friendships, fall in love, marry, and live life unencumbered by restrictions that have no relevance to their value as individuals.

RachelD said...

This is my issue...
(Sorry a bit off topic)
1. I believe that adults with disabilities have the right to get married.
2. I have a problem with people pushing individuals to get married or have a relationship when they haven't expressed the desire.

What are our guidlines to say-- "NO"-- When caregivers are pushing. It ticks me off when we speak for others who can't speak for themselves on this matter. Advocacy is one thing...But the probablem is when we "use" individuals to make a statement.

Anonymous said...

I feel it is ridiculous that the government would lower anyone's income or benefits based on the fact that they are now married through the state. It isn't like their expenses go down once they have a certificate. That piece of paper does nothing for their income. If anything, they have more expenses now.
Second, there is the position that the state has put these couples in morally. Yes, they may have a ceremony in a church, in front of God, but it is not legal. That raises the question of "sex before marriage", etc. That couple may feel that they are married in the eyes of God, but in reality they are not. Now, does that mean they are sinning, I don't know. And maybe this is another topic but it was the first question that came to my mind when I read this article. Bottom line is, the state is playing God by determining whether or not two people are deserving of the same benefits with just a piece of paper. Its a shame.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you on this subject, I feel the same about whether or not your legal marriage license means anything. To me, the commitment to your spouse, and sharing that with your friends, family, and God, is what’s important. And I’ve never understood why a piece of paper should be able to show this commitment. You’ve talked about this marriage between the disabled, and how it affects their benefits, before in class, and it’s something that always interests me. It really does make me question our state and government, their supposed to be looking out for our best interests, but really I feel like that the people who really deserve benefits get pushed deeper into poverty. Why punish people because they want to be together, it makes no sense, and their commitment doesn’t change their disability. Why would the state grant them money, which they believe the disabled person is qualified for, and then be able to change their mind based on a piece of paper. I have a wonder though, if a disabled person gets married (not legally), and change their last names to have the same, would this change their benefits. Because they are able to live together, they just can’t legally be married. And does the common law marriage thing (not sure what you called it exactly) affect their benefits too. Because, I know after you have lived together for so long it is considered a common law marriage, and legally if you were to separate you have rights. So I wonder if this could affect a disabled couple living together. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

I am paying the price for our governments decision to further oppress the poor and the disabled. I am in love with a man I cannot marry as I will loose my much needed health benefits if we legally marry due to income restrictions imposed by the state and federal governments. He is a very moral God fearing man, which I respect about him.He feels if we live together not being legally married, we would be in sin. He does not feel that God would honor a commitment ceremony even though there are extenuating circumstances. Furthermore, the pastor of our church is of the same opinion. It is breaking my heart and causing me much turmoil as I am being denied my constitutional and human right to marry someone I love because I was born with birth defects and I am poor as a result of it. I don't see how that is legally equitable and I don't see how this reflects separation of church and state. The government is in effect telling me who I can or cannot marry by imposing financial duress and hardship upon me if I choose to marry. I don't even want to go to church anymore as I feel that the church is also oppressing me by not recognizing my need to be loved, to love another, and to be able to live as a married person with someone I love because of my health issues/poverty that resulted from something I had no control over. I didn't cause this to happen to me. There is zero compassion, zero understanding, and zero grace in most churches regarding this issue. Only judgement, condemnation, and more rules/burdens/social demands heaped upon me. If I were wealthier, it wouldn't be an issue with the government or the church. I would be free to enjoy the rights and priviledges of being legally married and therefore, recieve the affirmation/blessing of my faith community. So, my legal and spiritual priviledges are being bought by how much money I have.
Do I think God would understand my circumstances if I were to have a commitment ceremony rather than to be legally married by having a piece of paper, yes. There are a couple of examples in the bible where legal/religiouslaws were broken and God did not condemn them for doing so as they had to break them to eat or survive. He is against the oppression of the poor by governments and the church as a whole. The church is to advocate for social justice and change. We hear a lot about the sanctity and the societal/moral benefits of legal marriage but the church is doing NOTHING to protect the sanctity of marriage in regard to this issue.

Anonymous said...

We don't need love and a legal marriage to physically survive. We won't physically die without it. However, even God recognized that Adam had a need for love and companionship and even sex (he saw this need before Adam even made it known to him). Some people were not meant to be alone and some people are psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually harmed by not having a human partner.
I think it is also important to note that this is going to become a more impacting issue on a much bigger scale when baby boomers start to retire in mass droves due to a poor economy causing retirement investments to be lost, forced early retirements, lack of retirement income plans being offered by employers, and extremely high healthcare costs. The same income reduction rules apply to two people living on social security retirement income. Most people are not going to have extra income to supplement their financial needs at that stage of their life. They too will be forced to "live in sin" without the blessing of their faith community for financial reasons or be forced to living in inhumane povery so they can legally marry so as to recieve the blessing of their church.
As you can see, this is a serious issue that has many ramifications and will be effecting a huge number of people in 10-15 years. It isn't just about the disabled. It is about all of us or will effect someone we know and love. It is about losing an an inalienable right granted to all citizens without reference to financial status, creed, health status, and so on.
Most states no longer have legally recognized comman law marriages.
Sorry this is so long but I needed to be heard.