In the United States of America, it is impossible to find out if someone is married.
Donna Layne Roberts, whose ex-husband, William Barber, was married at least 12 times, has drafted an online petition to Congress asking for a national database of marriages and divorces. Sandra Phipps, the seventh wife of bigamist Ed Hicks, supports the marriage database petition, and was interviewed in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper last week about her views.
There are people, however, who think a marriage database is a dumb idea. One of them is Kerry Dougherty, a columnist for the Virginian-Pilot. In an article called A good match can come from real talking, she wrote, “There’s a simple way to avoid marrying a bigamist. Get to know your betrothed before sprinting to the altar.”
Some people who posted comments about the database were even more vicious. “Come on, people! Caveat emptor! Take responsibility for the bad decision, and move on,” wrote Brett C. of Portsmouth. “These people who are conned by the bigamists have no one to blame but themselves,” wrote Debbie O. of Virginia Beach.
Bigamists are sociopaths
None of those commentators appear to understand the problem.
In my opinion, most bigamists are sociopaths. I believe that except for mistakes— a few people who think their divorce is finalized when it’s not—in this culture, only a sociopath marries more than one person at once.
Sociopaths have no conscience and feel no emotional connections to other people. This is what enables them to profess their love and devotion to multiple people at the same time. In reality, they have no love or devotion at all. They just mouth the words in order to convince their targets to give them what they want—usually money, sex and a free place to live.
So how do they do it? First of all, sociopaths are experts at sizing up a person’s vulnerabilities. Secondly, they are professional manipulators.
Sociopaths are fluent liars. They sidestep questions and always have a plausible answer when discrepancies are noticed. They create authentic-looking documentation. They imply that other people vouch for them, and actually convince other people to cover for them. They keep people apart so it’s impossible to compare notes.
As a result, it is extremely difficult to spot the deception of a sociopath.
Both Donna Layne Roberts and Sandra Phipps knew their betrotheds for more than two years before marrying them. Donna did a background check. That’s hardly “sprinting to the altar.”
More than bigamy
Bigamy is usually just one aspect of a sociopath’s wrongdoing. These people are predators who engage in a wide range of destructive behavior. If you find a bigamist, you’ll probably also find someone who commits fraud, embezzles money, reneges on child support, doesn’t pay taxes, steals from employers, deals drugs or abuses women—any number of nasty things.
Yet as long as the sociopaths don’t commit murder (although there are plenty who do), this country’s legal and financial systems are woefully inadequate in dealing with them. Most fraud offenses are not prosecuted. And for other offenses, sociopaths frequently talk their way out of trouble.
What is the problem? Our legal and financial systems are based on people following the rules. Sociopaths don’t follow the rules.
A marriage database would at least give people who have been targeted by sociopaths a chance to discover the bigamy. Knowing the true character of the predator, they could avoid the trauma that always follows.
Free and clear
So what’s the problem with a marriage database? It’s difficult to think of this as a privacy issue. In many states a marriage license is already public record. So is a divorce. And since a marriage is a legal contract and a divorce is a legal settlement, in the states where these are not public record, they should be.
The point of a marriage database is to make the public records searchable.
You can’t buy a piece of property without getting a title search to make sure you own the property free and clear. It seems to me that getting married is at least as important as buying property. Why can’t we be sure that our spouse is coming to us free and clear?