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July 9, 2015 -- Some are surprised to learn that George and Martha Washington had no marriage license.

Marriage was a religious affair when Martha Dandridge Custis, age 27, and George Washington, age nearly 27, exchanged vows on January 6, 1759, at White House plantation.

Throughout most of Western history marriage consisted of a private contract between two individuals (or their families). A man and woman entered a binding, verbal contract upon speaking their vows; hence the tradition of witnesses.

The widespread concept of governments issuing marriage licenses is relatively new, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. Traditionally licenses were issued by religious institutions, not the government, if they were issued at all.

Israel maintains that tradition.

Marriages in Israel are performed under the jurisdiction of religious (or 'confessional') communities. Those communities include Muslims, Jews, Druze, and Christians.

The concept of religious courts functioning independent of civil courts dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Shariah law is, perhaps, the best known example.

None of the government-recognized communities allows gay marriages.

Israel's government effectively bans gay marriages by refusing recognition of religious courts that approve them.

Polygyny, a form of polygamy in which men may have multiple wives, is allowed by the nation's Bedouin community.

So how do atheists get married in Israel? Apparently, they can't outside one of the recognized religious communities.

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