LLOYD GRAY: A mixed message on marriage

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi has long been a state of contradictions. Our people have always been, on the whole, as kind and gracious as anybody anywhere, and blacks and whites have lived lives more closely interwoven here than any place in America, yet our history is replete with racial violence and discrimination.
We are at the top of the poverty and illiteracy charts, yet we’ve produced an extraordinary number of world-class writers.
We’ve received more federal largesse per capita than any other state, yet the federal government is often viewed by Mississippians as an almost alien force.
We are the buckle of the Bible Belt, yet a couple of decades ago we went whole hog into the casino business and became one of the top gambling destinations nationwide.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that while outsiders like to fit Mississippi neatly into this box or that – we’ve heard a few prominent examples lately – we are truly a complex and often contradictory culture.
Which brings us to a very recent example: The Mississippi Legislature in its just completed session eliminated the three-day waiting period to receive a marriage license in this state. Along with that, it did away with the required blood test.
It was done in the name of tourism – the dollars we can get from people coming to our antebellum attractions to get married, but of course it affects everybody else who might decide on a whim to tie the knot and want to do it right now.
Most of the legislators who supported this change would probably say they uphold the sanctity of marriage, that traditional marriage and the family are the foundations of civilization and that anything that undermines the institution should be shunned.
In this instance, at least, their actions send a decidedly contradictory message.
What we have here is marriage as a commodity, reduced to its positive impact on a fairly narrow sector of the economy without regard to the seriousness and deliberation with which people enter into it, and by extension, the likelihood that it will last.
There’s a phrase in the traditional religious marriage rite that speaks of marriage as something “not to be entered into lightly.” The Legislature has given Mississippians the green light to do just that.
If marriage is indeed the fundamental social institution – beyond its religious meaning for many – and is in peril for a variety of reasons, is it good public policy to do away with an incentive for people to ponder the decision to marry for a mere three days?
We give a lot of lip service to marriage in Mississippi, but our divorce rate is high and these days only 45 percent of our births are to married couples, lowest in the nation. We’ve got some work to do in aligning what we profess with what we actually practice.
The Legislature apparently didn’t think through the message that this change in the law sends, not to mention its potential to enable people to make stupid mistakes. If we believe in the sanctity of marriage, our laws ought to reflect it.
LLOYD GRAY is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.