To church marry, to civil marry

Tom Suozzi’s op-ed column “Why I Now Support Gay Marriage” a while back (NYT, 6/13/09) made me think some more about 2-p b-f verbs (two-part back-formed verbs), and in particular the possible 2-p b-f verbs to church marry and to civil marry.

Here’s the route from the first to the second. Suozzi’s piece was about same-sex marriage. He was taking back his earlier opposition to civil marriage for same-sex couples, now arguing that offering civil unions, domestic partnerships, and similar statuses constitute an indefensible “separate but equal” arrangement. 

(Background: Suozzi, now the Nassau County, New York, executive, opposed Eliot Spitzer for governor of the state in 2006. Now the State Legislature has been considering a same-sex civil marriage bill supported by Governor Paterson — which won’t even be voted on in this session, thanks to the spectacular dysfunction of the state senate.)

Along the way, he supported a proviso that would free churches from any obligation to conduct religious marriages for same-sex couples (as in the laws of Connecticut and Vermont).

There are some things here I don’t understand: in the United States, churches have long had the ability to deny a church wedding to any couple that  doesn’t satisfy their criteria (because they are of mixed religions, for instance). But I suppose that even if state law merely reinforces current practice, there’s no reason to object. Saying it twice is pointless but not objectionable.

What makes this topic so complex arises in part from the fact that in the United States, two sets of people are empowered to grant the status of civil marriage (that is, marriage in the eyes of the law): various civil authorities (in particular, justices of the peace and clerks of court) and clergy. So a “church marriage” is also a civil marriage, but civil marriages can be contracted without the benefit of clergy (many of my friends have been married this way).

A further complication is that a great many people view church marriages (and only church marriage) as real marriage; this is probably the source of the idea that permitting civil marriage for same-sex couples might oblige churches to perform them. And even people who don’t see things this way might want a church wedding for the public celebratory event it provides. (One path taken by some people I know is to do the civil marriage at the court house and then to have a public affirmation of union and a party at an event labeled as a wedding reception.)

But back to the verbs. In an earlier posting, I noted that 2-p b-f verbs have two primary sources: N + N compounds (especially “synthetic compounds” like housekeeping and housekeeper) and modifier + N combinations in which the modifier is non-predicating and the N is an abstract noun based on a verb (as in gay marriage). There’s a lot more to this story, of course.

Part of the larger story is that the first N of N + N compounds functions like a modifier of the second N (this is especially clear in such compounds that aren’t synthetic compounds), and that makes these compounds a lot like Adj + N combinations, especially when these have a non-predicating Adj (as in indigenous nudity). So there’s a kind of scale from N + N compounds where the first N is straightforwardly nominal in reference (orphan asylum ‘asylum for orphans’), though Adj + N combinations where the Adj is nominal in reference (electrical engineer), to routine predicating Adj + N combinations (huge dog).

That brings me to church marriage and civil marriage. Church marriage is clearly N + N, and subsective (a church marriage is a marriage), but the semantic relationship between the two elements takes some working out (beyond ‘marriage having something to do with church(es)’). Civil marriage is clearly Adj +N, and subsective (a civil marriage is a marriage), but the semantic relationship between the two elements takes a lot of working out (requiring, to start with, figuring out that civil is an allusion to civil law).

The way is then open for back-formation, given that the noun marriage is derivationally related to the verb marry: to church marry ‘to marry in church, to have a religious wedding ceremony’ and to civil marry ‘in marry in a civil ceremony’. And so it has come to be:

So this must not be the David & Mary who had a child in Gaspe in 1820…….blows holes right thru’ my ‘story’ doesn’t it?…….unless they had married before a JP prior to clergy arriving in Gaspe c. 1819…..but if that were the case they could have church married at the time of their daughter’s baptism… (link)

If the person is under going conversion and during the conversion process they meet that is a different story but they have to wait and should not civil marry. (link)

A LDS man who gets a civil divorce doesn’t have to unseal himself from his previous wife to civil marry and be sealed to a new wife. (link)

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