But much of the officially sanctioned marrying currently done in the United States is done on religious premises by religious personnel.
Given all this, it seems odd to suggest that in marrying people the state affirmatively expresses its approval or confers dignity.
There is indeed something odd about the mixture of casualness and solemnity with which the state behaves as a marrying agent.
Unlike private actors, however, the state doesn’t have complete freedom to decide who may and may not marry.
The state’s involvement raises fundamental issues about equality of political and civic standing.
In the United States, however, as in most modern nations, government holds those keys.
Even if people have been married by their church or religious group, they are not married in the sense that really counts for social and political purposes unless they have been granted a marriage license by the state.
Although some religions urge premarital counseling and refuse to marry people who seem ill-prepared for marriage, the state does not turn such people away.
The most casual whim may become a marriage with no impediment but for the time it takes to get a license.
Nor do people even have to lead a sexual lifestyle of the type the majority prefers in order to get married.
Pedophiles, sadists, masochists, sodomites, transsexuals—all can get married by the state, so long as they marry someone of the opposite sex.