December 20, 2007

The Oddest Exception Yet

by PG

While reading marriage statutes, I noticed that several states make an explicit provision for people of the Quaker and Bahai faiths that ensures marriages performed in their assemblies will still be recognized as marriage ceremonies despite the lack of a traditional officiant (e.g. a minister). This seemed like a reasonable way to accommodate religions that are organized non-hierarchically; there's nothing magical about a minister.

I was startled by this section of Rhode Island law, however: " 15-1-4 Marriages of kindred allowed by Jewish religion. The provisions of 15-1-1 15-1-3 [forbidding incest] shall not extend to, or in any way affect, any marriage which shall be solemnized among the Jewish people, within the degrees of affinity or consanguinity allowed by their religion."

This goes beyond a simple accommodation to prevent people for being punished for having a different organizational structure in their religion than the majority. It gives an actual exception to the otherwise generally-applicable law against incest only to Jews. I'm also puzzled regarding which of the state-forbidden marriages is permited within Judaism; Rhode Island allows first cousin marriage for everyone. Does anyone have a guess as to why this legal exception is given, and given only to Jews?

UPDATE: Trying to find an explanation, I ran across an excellent website that collects U.S. law provisions that relate to Jews. None of the other statutes seemed to be making an exception to generally-applicable law, but this law also seemed a little odd: "Massachusetts: obscene literature control commission: a commission of seven people, appointed by the governor, should contain one representative of the Jewish faith; MASS. GEN. LAWS. ANN. ch. 6, 101 (West 1996)." I suppose if there is a critical mass of Jews in Massachusetts, it makes sense to ensure their representation on such a body, but I would have written the law so it wouldn't have to be changed if there's a major population shift. Suppose there's a massive influx of Muslims, or atheists, such that their views also ought to be represented. A more flexible law would be something like, "obscene literature control commission: a commission of seven people, appointed by the governor, should contain one representative of each of the four largest faith groups as determined by the last Census." (Ideally there wouldn't be such a commission in the first place, but apparently they have to uphold ye olde Banned In Boston tradition.)

Some states also adhere strongly to the whole "Judeo-Christian" thing by saying that only "ministers of the Gospel" or Jewish rabbis can administer a marriage ceremony. What do all the Muslims, Hindus et al. in South Carolina do? Get married by a justice of the peace? This seems wretchedly discriminatory.

December 20, 2007 03:37 PM | TrackBack

I wrote a post on this back in May that you might find a little useful.

Posted by: David Schraub at December 28, 2007 04:11 AM
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