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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Ind. Law - "Marriage licenses reflect changing attitudes toward matrimony"

Reporting today in the Louisville Courier Journal, Harold J. Adams writes:

Just as wedding photographs tell a lot about the time period in which the couple were wed, so also do marriage licenses tell a story about views on race, religion, mental health and more.

Take the four Indiana marriage licenses from the family of New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan. The license completed by his parents William Gahan and the former Joyce Stromire in 1946 asked for “the full christian and surname” of each party.

The question left no room for the possibility that the bride or groom’s faith might be other than Christian. * * *

[B]y the time Gahan’s sister, the former Linda Gahan, married Steven Bonifer in 1973 the reference to “christian and surname” was gone, replaced with a request for the first, middle and last name of each party.

Race and ethnicity are two other marriage license questions that have changed in the past 66 years. The second question on the 1946 Indiana marriage license asked the “color” of each person. * * *

Miscegenation laws across most of the country at the time generally made it illegal for whites to marry non-whites. Kentucky marriage licenses of 1946 did not document the race of brides and grooms, but a glance at the marriage index volumes at the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office shows marriages of racial minorities segregated into separate volumes each year into the 1960s. * * *

With mixed races legal, the Indiana form that recorded the 1973 Gahan-Bonifer nuptials asked for “color or race” and offered check boxes for white, negro and other. And by the time the mayor himself married the former Susanne Keeler in 1987 there was nothing at all about race or ethnicity on their marriage license.

But Gahan’s daughter Abigail Gahan, set to marry Christopher Gardner in February 2013, will face a marriage license that offers six different race choices along with the option to choose “unknown.” On ethnicity they will be asked whether they are or are not Hispanic or Latino along with the choice of unknown.

A similar progression of societal attitudes on mental health can also be traced through marriage licenses.

The mayor’s parents were each asked whether they were “an imbecile, feeble-minded, idiotic or insane” or under guardianship “as a person of unsound mind.” His daughter and future son-in-law will get a pass on mental health questions, which are absent from the present form.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 1, 2013 03:37 PM
Posted to Indiana Law