MEISTER v. MOORE
96 U.S. 76 (1877)
Supreme Court of United States.
Mr. H.W. Weir for the plaintiff in error.
Mr. M.W. Acheson, contra.
The learned judge of the Circuit Court instructed the jury, that, if neither a minister nor a magistrate was present at the alleged marriage of William A. Mowry and the daughter of the Indian Pero, the marriage was invalid under the Michigan statute; and this instruction is now alleged to have been erroneous. It certainly withdrew from the consideration of the jury all evidence, if any there was, of informal marriage by contract per verba de præsenti. That such a contract constitutes a marriage at common law there can be no doubt, in view of the adjudications made in this country, from its earliest settlement to the present day. Marriage is everywhere regarded as a civil contract. Statutes in many of the States, it is true, regulate the mode of entering into the contract, but they do not confer the right. Hence they are not within the principle, that, where a statute creates a right and provides a remedy for
We will not undertake to cite those which hold a different doctrine, one in accord with the opinion we have cited from 1 Gray. Reference is made to them in Bishop, Mar. and Div. sect. 283 et seq.; in Reeve's Domestic Relations, 199, 200; in 2 Kent, Com. 90, 91; and in 2 Greenleaf on Evidence. The rule deduced by all these writers from the decided cases is thus stated by Mr. Greenleaf: —
"Though in most, if not all, the United States there are statutes regulating the celebration of marriage rites, and inflicting penalties on all who disobey the regulations, yet it is generally considered, that, in the absence of any positive statute declaring that all marriages
As before remarked, the statutes are held merely directory; because marriage is a thing of common right, because it is the policy of the State to encourage it, and because, as has sometimes been said, any other construction would compel holding illegitimate the offspring of many parents conscious of no violation of law.
The Michigan statute differs in no essential particular from those of other States which have generally been so construed. It does not declare marriages void which have not been entered into in the presence of a minister or a magistrate. It does not deny validity to marriages which are good at common law. The most that can be said of it is, that it contains implications of an intention that all marriages, except some particularly mentioned, should be celebrated in the manner prescribed. The sixth section declares how they may be solemnized. The seventh describes what shall be required of justices of the peace and ministers of the gospel before they solemnize any marriage. The eighth declares that in every case, that is, whenever any marriage shall be solemnized in the manner described in the act, there shall be at least two witnesses present beside the minister or magistrate. The ninth, tenth, eleventh, sixteenth, and seventeenth sections provide for certificates, registers, and exemplifications of records of marriages solemnized by magistrates and ministers. The twelfth and thirteenth impose penalties upon justices and ministers joining persons in marriage contrary to the provisions of the act, and upon persons joining others in marriage, knowing that they are not lawfully authorized so to do. The fourteenth and fifteenth sections are those upon which most reliance is placed in support of the charge of the Circuit Court. The former declares that no marriage solemnized before any person professing to be a justice of the peace or minister of the gospel shall be deemed or adjudged to be void on account of any want of jurisdiction or authority in such supposed minister or justice, provided the marriage be
The fifteenth section exempts people called Quakers, or Friends, from the operation of the act, as also Menonists. As to them the act gives no directions. From this, also, an inference is attempted to be drawn that lawful marriages of all other persons must be in the mode directed or allowed. We think the inference is not a necessary one. Both these sections, the fourteenth and the fifteenth, are to be found in the acts of other States, in which it has been decided that the statutes do not make invalid common-law marriages.
It is unnecessary, however, to pursue this line of thought. If there has been a construction given to the statute by the Supreme Court of Michigan, that construction must, in this case, be controlling with us. And we think the meaning and effect of the statute has been declared by that court in the case of Hutchins v. Kimmell (31 Mich. 126), a case decided on the 13th of January, 1875. There, it is true, the direct question was, whether a marriage had been effected in a foreign country. But, in considering it, the court found it necessary to declare what the law of the State was; and it was thus stated by Cooley, J.: "Had the supposed marriage taken place in this State, evidence that a ceremony was performed ostensibly in celebration of it, with the apparent consent and co-operation of the parties, would have been evidence of a marriage, even though it had fallen short of showing that the statutory regulations had been complied with, or had affirmatively shown that they were not. Whatever the form of ceremony, or even if all ceremony was dispensed with, if the parties agreed presently to take each other for husband and wife, and from that time lived together professedly in that relation, proof of these facts would be sufficient to constitute proof of a marriage binding upon the parties, and which would subject them and others to
It has been argued, however, that there was no evidence of any marriage good at common law, which could be submitted to the jury, and, therefore, that the error of the court could have done the plaintiff no harm. If all the evidence given or legally offered were before us, we might be of that opinion; but the record does not contain it all, and we are unable, therefore, to say the ruling of the court was immaterial. The case must, therefore, go back for a new trial. We do not consider the other questions presented. They may not arise on the second trial.
Judgment reversed, and new trial ordered.
NOTE. — In Meister v. Bissell, which embraced the same facts as did the preceding case, and which was argued at the same time and by the same counsel as was that case, MR. JUSTICE STRONG, in delivering the opinion of the court, remarked that the opinion given in that case controlled this.
Judgment reversed, and new trial ordered.
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