Perils of Avoiding Civil Law

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 21, 2007 — 3 Comments

The Wilmington News-Journal reports on a tragedy often feared by those who choose a different religious path than their parents. In 2006, Jeanea Irvin and Timothy A. Boyer were married in the Islamic tradition. Irvin had converted to Islam eight years ago, and when she died her wishes were to be buried in the Islamic tradition. But because she never obtained a civil marriage alongside the religious one, or left a living will, her Christian parents took control of the body and are burying her in the Christian tradition.

“Irvin’s husband, Timothy A. Boyer, asked the court Thursday night to stop the funeral, stating he wanted her to be buried according to the Islamic faith. The request was contrary to the wishes of Irvin’s family, who wanted to give her a Christian burial. Friday morning, Chancery Court Vice Chancellor John W. Noble denied Boyer’s request, because he was not legally married to Irvin, Noble ruled. The couple did not obtain a government-issued license but were married in a religious ceremony April 23, 2006. According to Boyer’s petition, Irvin’s father, James Washington, refused to recognize his daughter’s marriage to Boyer because it was not a legal union.”

One wonders how many modern Pagans this has happened to because they didn’t seek a civil marriage alongside a handfasting, or expressed their burial preferences in a will. Even if you are legally married, avoiding advance directives and wills can lead to serious problems if your family holds different ethical or religious views. One look at the Terri Schiavo controversy is proof enough for that.

In our secular society, no religious law or tradition supersedes civil or criminal law, which is why Pagans can’t perform legal gay marriages (outside Massachusetts), or claim burial rights over a fellow co-religionist/adherent. Until such time as a worthwhile compromise is made between religious and civil conceptions of marriage, life decisions, and death, we should all take the proper legal precautions. File an advanced directive stating your ethical, medical, and religious preferences, file a last will and testament naming an executor and explaining your post-death preferences, and finally, give Power of Attorney to a trusted spouse or loved one who will honor your wishes should you become unable to advocate for yourself.

If you wish to die as you lived, take steps now to avoid being dishonored by post-mortem religious ceremonies not of your choosing, and spare your family and loved ones a legal struggle over your perceived wishes.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Hecate

    If you wish to die as you lived, take steps now to avoid being dishonored by post-mortem religious ceremonies not of your choosing, and spare your family and loved ones a legal struggle over your perceived wishes.What Jason said.I’ll add that I’m a lawyer and my will was written by a DC lawyer at a major, white shoe law firm. I emailed him all the details after he was recommended to me by a friend, and only met him for the signing. He accepted, w/o a blink, my directions concerning disposition of my body, my possessions, my memorial service, etc. Most good lawyers will. Any I left a lot to Derrick Jensen, asked to have the Charge of the Goddess read at my memorial, asked to have Pagan songs sung over my body, etc. I think some Pagans hold back out of fear of being ridiculed. Any good lawyer will respect your wishes.

  • Anonymous

    If you wish to die as you lived, take steps now to avoid being dishonored by post-mortem religious ceremonies not of your choosing, and spare your family and loved ones a legal struggle over your perceived wishes.You should talk with Anna Korn about what happened when Gwydion Pendderwen died…and why he didn’t get the funeral he wanted, either.

  • Beth Owl’s Daughter

    This is such an important issue. In fact, our local Reclaiming circle made it the focus of our Samhain rites last year. We shared with each other our wishes, emergency contact info, and wrote down for our BoS what we wanted our group’s role to be in the case of our deaths.It wasn’t easy, but it made for a very deep and loving Samhain. I highly recommend it. Blessings, – Beth Owl’s Daughter