When a government wants to make it clear that they have power over something you want to do, the usual strategy for communicating that governmental control will be a mandate for a license. A license requirement is a simple declaration that "If you want to (fill in the blank) you must first qualify and pay for a license, after which the government will grant you permission to do it."
So, if you want to put a vehicle on the road, you have to slap a license on it. If you want to operate that vehicle, you have to get a different license.
If you want to put a boat on the water, you also have to have a license unless your watercraft is merely muscle-powered. But you don't have to have a license to operate the boat. However, if you dangle a hook and a line off the boat, you have to have a license for that.
And the government insists you obtain their permission through licensing to cut hair, perform surgery, do nails, or carry a gun in your pocket. You have to have a license to make a living as an ethestician, which I guess is good thing. Not only that, you have to license your dogs even if they're Labrador Retrievers. The government's rationale for all these obligatory licenses (and scores of others) is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens.
But the oldest government-issued license of them all is the marriage license.
The first marriage licenses appeared about 1,000 years ago. They were a bit rare and were only issued to couples who needed a minor statutory variance because they couldn't meet the normal requirements for matrimony.
Up until about 400 years ago un-licensed cohabitation was universally considered sufficient proof of marriage (and still is in some places). But about 150 years ago requiring a license to marry became a standard bureaucratic imposition on relationships.
You see, a marriage license has little to do with the health, safety, and welfare of citizens. Rather, a marriage license enforces a government's prohibitions on who can marry whom. For example, 75 years ago over 75 percent of the states used marriage licenses to keep white people from marrying outside of their race. These days the typical marriage license prevents polygamy, controls minors who want to wed, and restricts marriage to liaisons between men and women.
However, here in Utah, the marriage license is also used to communicate some unique religious dogma.
I happen to have a marriage license in my possession which I will deliver today for recording at the Davis County Clerk's office. It's a religious document. Across the top is the salutation: "To Any Person Legally Authorized to Solemnize Marriage, Greeting. You Are Hereby Authorized to Join in Holy Matrimony." Yup, that's pretty religious.
But wait, there's more!
The date of the marriage is "...in the year of our Lord ...".
The couple was joined in the "...Holy Bonds of Matrimony...".
The nature of the ceremony was "...according to the rites...".
But here's the good part. It was a marriage "...for all time."
Every once in a while an alert bride or groom will notice that final "for all time" phrase above their signatures on their wedding license and ask me what it means. And I'll explain that the government wants them to know that their wedding was an inferior ceremony compared to the rites performed in the dozen or so Mormon temples in Utah.
Thereafter will usually follow a brief discourse on how the phrase "'til death do you part" used in some wedding ceremonies is mistakenly believed by Mormons to be a bill of divorce so that the couple isn't married in heaven. By the way, all that phrase really means is that if either spouse dies, they can remarry. Mormons happen to believe that too.
After the couple gets past the "You've got to be kidding!" reaction I'll then explain how the wording on their marriage license is really intended to chastise Mormons who aren't worthy of a temple ceremony.
This insinuation of Mormon dogma into a government document is probably inappropriate. While it has irritated the brides and grooms I've served, it has also provided me with yet another opportunity to illustrate how the business of government in Utah is also Mormon business.