Should Government Get Out Of The Marriage Business? No.

Since the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on same sex marriage yesterday, I have seen a number of people make an argument that has been accumulating disciples during the last few years. A growing number argue that marriage should be left to religion, and that the government should “get out of the marriage business.”

While this view may sound reasonable and is a seductive sounding solution, I believe it is overly simplified, contrary to history and good government, and ultimately a pernicious proposal.

Marriage in nearly every society, throughout history has always been a contract between a man and a woman. The marriage contract establishes legally binding property and inheritance rights. Marriage also establishes paternity along with the legal rights parents have concerning their children as well as the responsibilities and obligations they as parents have toward their children and to each other.

If you have been to a court recently you will know that in addition to traffic violations, a immense number of what our courts deal with is involved in parental rights and responsibilities, inheritance rights, property rights—all of which are tied up in the marriage contract.

To say that government has no business in regulating and enforcing parental obligations toward their minor children, or spouses toward each other, or property rights between family members, is to advocate chaos.

Proponents of the “get government out of marriage” solution will counter that government can use civil unions to regulate these legal needs, and that marriage can then be relegated exclusively to religion. This suggestion sounds plausible, but it represents a semantic game that I find pernicious. What they propose amounts to taking everything that we mean when we say the word “marriage” and re-labeling it “civil-union.” The word “marriage” would then be applied to what we now call a “commitment ceremony” (a fuzzy-wuzzy, feel-good show of love and devotion that establishes no legal contract or obligation). And of course the marriage contracts which they now call “civil-unions” can be entered into by both homosexual couples as well as normal couples and the commitment ceremonies that they now call “marriages” can be performed for both homosexual as well as normal couples (provided that they can find a religion willing to perform them…which they undoubtedly can).

In other words, they are simply advocating gay marriage, but they have packaged it in a way that makes it appear more digestible.

In the case of the United States, marriage has an even more fundamental relationship to government. To understand that relationship, and why Homosexual Marriage is fundamentally different than the Civil Rights fight against the proscription of Inter-Racial Marriage, I recommend the following excellent article by Kay S. Hymowitz that was published in the city Journal in 2004:

Gay Marriage vs. American Marriage

”’The foundations of national morality must be laid in private families,’ John Adams wrote in his diary in 1778. Here Adams was voicing an up-to-the-minute theory of the republican family. Political thinkers imagined the American family as a factory specifically designed to turn out self-governing citizens—something quite different from what other kinds of families did. They believed that the affectionate ties between spouses led to civic responsibility: marriage based on individual choice would promote trust and equality that could then be projected into public life.”

“That the state has an interest in upholding the civil rights of individuals who want to marry doesn’t mean that that’s the only interest it has in the institution. The state also has a strong—even a life-and-death—interest in marriage as the environment in which the next generation of its citizens is raised.”

Go read the whole article before commenting.

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One Response to Should Government Get Out Of The Marriage Business? No.

  1. “In other words, they are simply advocating gay marriage, but they have packaged it in a way that makes it appear more digestible.”

    While I wouldn’t say I advocate what I would call the “scourched earth” marriage policy, I have considered it and find it defendable. I agree with what you’ve said, except that it doesn’t address this argument which I find the most compeling:

    Is it inevitable that gay marriage while eventually (and most likely sooner rather than later) will be allowed? We are losing this battle both in the courts and in the court of public opinion. So while I agree that marriage is the foundation of our society, isn’t the government non-recognition of any form of marriage better than government recognization of all forms of marriage?

    So, in response to what I quoted above, I’d say advocates of a scorched earth policy aren’t necessarily advocating gay marriage, but they are surrendering to it in light of what they would view as certain defeat, but trying to hold on to at least this small win: a person, personally, never needs to recognize the marriage of someone else as valid, even if they consider themselves married.

    By the way, I admit to only skimming the article you liked to. I agree with it, but it seems to be based on the assumption that gay marriage is morally wrong and bad for families. While I agree with that, and the founding fathers might have agreed with that, it seems irrelevant when deciding whether it is consitutional to ban gay marriage. Not everything that is immoral can be banned, consitutionally. Or can it? Perhaps you can help me make the connection that I missed between the moral and the legal aspects of this issue.

    I’ve posted my thoughts on this on my blog as well, if you’re interested. Or rather, I’ve posted some more questions.

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