Thursday, September 23, 2004

Britney Takes a Vow

Britney Spears attracts much well-deserved criticism, but I agree with her on this one. Some people are claiming that Britney is not really married, despite Sunday night’s surprise ceremony in a private home in Studio City (where I live!), because she and her intended haven’t filed a marriage license yet. Britney’s response?
“I know we're not completely legal until we file the license, which we’ll do next week,” the 22-year-old pop star said. “But in a real sense, a spiritual sense, we're married.”
And she’s right. Marriage does not depend for its existence on the recognition of the state. Marriage is, at its fundament, an ethical commitment between two (or more if you swing that way) individuals. If the parties choose, they may wish to make a legal commitment as well, but the acts are in principle distinguishable. To say that Britney and her beau are unmarried simply because they haven’t filed a license with the state is to confuse the promise with the enforcement mechanism.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree. I don't know any history on marriage, but I remember a guy saying that we don't need the government to approve of our marriage..."I just took her to the bedroom and made her my wife." Sometimes, it is as simple as that. I think the concern with Britney Spears is that people don't believe she is for real. They think it'll be another 15 hour marriage.

KipEsquire said...

I have to dissent. The statement may well be true in a normative sense, but it is historically inaccurate in the positive sense, at least as a majority view in the U.S.

We once had a ubiquitous system comparable to what Glen describes -- it was called "common law marriage." However, almost every state has abolished the concept. It's difficult to argue, in the face of deliberate state action, that common law marriage does exist as an "ethical commitment" when it explicitly does not exist in any other sense.

Marriage is a legal status that confers powerful rights (and responsibilties). One cannot say simultaneously that it's a legal concept and that it isn't.

Maybe it's just a question of needing a more robust lexicon: "We're not legally married...we're [fill in the blank]."

Anonymous said...

I'd prefer to say Britney and Mr. Britney aren't "licensed."

Chris Hibbert said...

Nolo Press says that 16 states recognize common law marriage. (California isn't included.)

In those states, you are married if you:

* live together for a significant period of time
* act as a married couple, and
* intend to be married.

Glen Whitman said...

I wasn't really talking about common law marriage. Even if California still recognized common law marriage, Britney and Kevin would have to stay together for several years (I think 7 years was the standard) before they were deemed married under common law -- and what are the odds of that happening? My point was a more philosophical one: that marriage does not require any legal sanction at all.