Prop 8: Getting Married in California? Easier Done Than Said


If you want to get married in California, there are certain rules you should be aware of. You're required to have a ceremony performed by a religious or civic official. And, ever since the passage of Prop 8 in 2008, you must be marrying someone of the opposite biological sex. Some of these rules are easier to side step than others, but the law is relatively clear.

It can be a less straightforward process to acquire affordable health care in the state. In 2011, California had the highest percentage of uninsured people in the country. One in four workers fell into this category.

As SCOTUS debates Prop 8 and DOMA behind closed doors, they're really preparing to decide which Americans are entitled to the right to marry, how we define a legitimate marriage, and what are "good" reasons to prevent or allow people to wed. It would serve us well to consider these questions publically as a society as well.

28-year-old Collin Andrews (names changed to protect the identities of the newlyweds) understands the intricacies of both California marriage law and health care well. It was the latter which was the motivating force in the mutual decision made with his girlfriend to get married at the end of 2012.

Though Andrews has his Ph.D. in computer science and does contract work for two tech startups, neither of these companies provides him with health care since he's not a full-time employee. The 28-year-old is an avid road biker and rock climber, so to go without it puts him at significant risk of debt or even homelessness were he to get injured. It also puts tax-payers at risk of picking up a hefty tab.

The lack of affordable health insurance is an issue that's relatively common. While health care reform was a great step towards providing U.S. citizens with universal coverage, the connection the law makes between employment and insurance is problematic. A lot of jobs don't provide health care, and many companies that do sidestep the issue by hiring contractors instead of full-time employees.

Andrews's now-wife, 29-year-old Ashley McCall, is a M.D. who is doing her residency at Stanford hospital. She gets great health care with her job, he explained, so the choice to get married was driven by practicality.

The couple is very much in love, but Andrews, whose mother is gay, was ideologically opposed to participating in an institution which disenfranchises his mom, many of his friends, and an entire segment of the general population. The access to health care that marriage would provide him, however, was a very persuasive factor. 

When Andrews and McCall, who did not change her last name, learned of the requirement to be married in a formal ceremony, the non-traditional couple jointly balked. A quick Internet search uncovered what Andrews describes as "a cottage industry" which has popped up in response to the ceremony requirement.

The ease of being ordained into a religious institution is not news to Andrews. He is an official minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which means he has legal power to marry other couples himself. The church has an official website, which explains that its followers practice Pastafarianism. The only dogma is a rejection of dogma, though there are some general guiding principles like "Don’t take yourself too seriously" and "Embrace contradictions."

There is a banner on the top of the website offering official Pastafarian minister ordination for $20. This acts as a kind of fundraiser for the church, Andrews explains, and the process was an amusing undertaking for him. "I could think of a lot less interesting things to do with $20," he mused.

So the couple, who diverge from the traditional American path in a number of ways, decided to take a non-traditional approach to their marriage ceremony as well. They forged the ceremony certificate — both the minister's signature as well as the witness's. They called Andrew’s cousin — who is an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church — and his best friend to request their permission to use their signatures. They paid the $50 fee at the Santa Clara Country Clerk Recorder's Office. And then they were married.

Andrews says that being married is not at all different from not being married, except for the critical access to health care. He is a firm believer that every couple should have the right to be married under the law, no matter what the reason they cite for doing so.

While health care may not be the most romantic reason to wed, it is an extremely practical one. The implications that it (or the lack of it) has on individual lives, societal costs, and our standing as a leading democracy are great. The same is true of marriage equality. We would do well to facilitate the systems, culture, and processes that support both.

"The truly ironic thing," Andrews explains, "is that I could legally marry anyone in this bar, assuming that they’re a man and a woman."