Thursday, January 10, 2019

NY Quaker Marriage Provision Cannot Be Limited To Quakers

In N.B. v. F.W., (NY County Sup Ct, Jan. 4, 2019), a New York state trial court rejected a husband's argument in a divorce proceeding that no valid marriage existed between the parties. The couple, who lived in New York throughout their 13-year purported marriage, had obtained a "self-uniting" marriage license from Pennsylvania and had a wedding ceremony in France at which the couple solemnized their own marriage in the presence of two witnesses and guests. The wife argued, among other things, that the marriage was valid under New York Domestic Relations Law Sec. 12 which recognizes self-uniting ceremonies among Friends or Quakers if solemnized in the manner practiced by their societies. In response, the husband argued that neither party to the marriage was a member of the Friends or Quakers.  The court responded:
The court's ability to hold the marriage as valid or invalid may not, however, depend on the parties' religious affiliation to members of the Friends or Quakers, or on the parties' level of religious observance. To hold otherwise would violate the First Amendment....
The court cannot deny a benefit or right to a person for not following any particular religious practice. To do so would violate the Establishment Clause. Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 596 (1992). Husband's argument would prefer religiously observant Quakers over individuals such as the parties here (or vice-versa, since Husband is seeking to "free" himself from a finding of a valid marriage that would have attached to him if he were religiously observant, under his argument).