Civil marriage is a contract that takes the form of a civil union, and is entered into by two independent adults who wish to become legally married. Civil unions are marriages that do not involve a wedding, and civil unions do not come with the same legal status as marriages which do come with wedding ceremony. Civil marriage is an alternative, and is recognized as legal in many areas today, even where it was once not. This legal status is often chosen for the same reason that most interracial marriages are chosen: It offers a couple the opportunity to be treated as a member of the same race or tribe without having to experience the stigma of being officially categorized as a member of a certain group, sometimes by birth. In this way, civil unions offer those who choose them a chance for true equality.
However, there are many questions that surround the relationship between civil unions and marriage. How is it different from a traditional wedding? What about the nature of family ties that result from such a union? Does the government recognize civil unions? If so, how does one go about getting a civil union?
Civil marriage and civil unions are not the same thing; however, they are often thought to be so by some. For example, some believe that family law would be better served through marriage laws, since families do best when they can be sure that their parents and children will always be living together. While this is true, civil unions are generally preferable over divorce, and may actually be more preferable than marriage if the two people involved are committed to each other.
There is no real legal difference between civil marriage and a traditional marriage. Neither is it considered a step towards a greater number of freedoms than could otherwise be achieved in a civil wedding. While it is true that a civil marriage may have fewer restrictions than a wedding ceremony, these restrictions still exist. If the marriage ends later on in life (as it inevitably will), the former spouses still must follow certain rules regarding property distribution and inheritance. This is the same as with traditional marriages.
However, there are differences in some of the finer details. Although both involve formal exchange of vows made under penalty of perjury, and although both involve the legal transfer of legal rights from one party to the other, and although both entail the duty of a responsible party to provide support for the other, the lines between the two types of commitment are somewhat vague. Since the only legal binding in civil marriage is a contract signed by both parties to the civil marriage, most courts have held that civil marriage is a much more appropriate concept than the traditional notion of a ceremony which officially binds both parties to the marriage.
In most states, civil marriage requires that the marriage be contracted and performed in the state where the couple reside, but this requirement varies widely from state to state. In some states, the only legal binding is that of a license which must be granted by the county in which the ceremony is performed. In other states, the marriage itself is the legal binding under which custody and visitation rights are determined. For example, in Washington D.C. which has the most liberal laws regarding civil marriage in the United States, the chief clerk performs the wedding only if the request is submitted in writing and if it is granted by the District’s Clerk.
There are other questions which arise with respect to the family and domestic environment when discussing the nature of civil marriage and the potential for two adults to become legally married without involving their parents. For example, many social scientists believe that many of the problems we face as a society today (especially with regards to family issues) result from the inability of the younger generations to provide the parental guidance necessary for young people to become self-reliant. While no child may be capable of providing parental guidance, older parents can do so as well as grandparents. Without this guidance, children are likely to turn to self-reliance and this in turn will lead to domestic violence. This, of course, is not limited to domestic violence against adults but to children who turn to self-reliance as adults and become abusers.
The bottom line is that a civil marriage does not automatically guarantee a family. There are too many factors involved in whether or not a family is created or not. Therefore, those who are in doubt should seek professional help. If you are one of those individuals who are having difficulty in your life regarding the nature of civil marriage and the institution of civil marriage, you may wish to consult with an elder care lawyer who specializes in this area of law.