Two themes have interacted in my mind lately. First, Joseph Smith appears to have had little respect for civil marriage per se, which he viewed as a corruption of “celestial marriage,” a divine original instituted in the Garden of Eden. His first monogamous marriages were performed without legal authority (he ultimately received authority as Justice of the Peace but did not wait for it), and his plural marriages were clearly performed in violation of existing civil statutes.
Second, our medical system exacts a substantial toll on older patients with chronic medical illness. Spouses are often required to “spend-down,” losing retirement savings and houses in the interest of providing expensive and long-term care to their partners. Some, threatened by exhausting poverty, will divorce their spouses in order to preserve their (generally not ostentatious) homes and often relatively meager nest eggs. They remain quite devoted to their spouses but are legally no longer connected.
The great tenderness of these ex-spouses brings up a wide variety of difficult ethical, legal, moral, and spiritual issues. Latter-day Saints have varied in their response to somewhat similar innovations, as in remarriage where divorce is impossible to obtain (parts of Catholic Latin America) or not generally performed (mid-century Maori culture), and, notoriously, temple sealings may not be canceled when civil divorces are granted.
Is this behavior moral? If your spouse gave permission, would you divorce under these conditions? What if your spouse were demented, as is often the case? Would you encourage your parents to do so? If temple marriage is what matters, would God see civil divorce to avoid needless poverty as desertion? Should spouses in this setting refrain from physical intimacy, or would the temple marriage cover it? Should they cohabit? Is the poverty that results from not divorcing a form of asceticism, a privation and trial destined to improve spirituality? Should your thinking on decisions like these affect your thinking on definitions of marriage and commitment more generally?
You scribes of the Blogdom, what are the legal issues involved here? (I have elected to defer ranting about our medical system, as I am interested in the moral and spiritual implications of this decision and don’t want to drown them in a discussion of healthcare financing, despite my strong feelings on the subject.)