Why Privatizing Marriage is Not the Solution

As the political battles over the definition of marriage have continued over the last few years, I have seen an increasing number of Latter-day Saints who seem to think that Marriage Privatization, often described as “Getting the Government out of the Marriage Business”, is both a good solution and consistent with the LDS Church’s Proclamation on the Family and its desire to preserve traditional marriage.

Privatizing marriage is the idea that the government should only recognize civil unions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples and that marriage would refer only to private religious ceremonies.

But they are wrong. Marriage privatization is not a solution, it is surrender.

It is doubtful that the government can ever conceivably get out of the marriage business, regardless of what we call it.

Marriage exists because of sex and procreation. In other words it is not just a construct, but is a refection of biological realities. When God instituted marriage between Adam and Eve, it was explicitly in terms of lawful procreation (“multiply and replenish”). A child is the literal manifestation of the physical union of woman and man. They are literally one flesh embodied in the child. Women have a natural right to claim support and protection from the man with whom they have become one through a child. Children, who are born helpless, have a natural right to the care and support of their parents until they are mature enough to support themselves.

Because of biological constraints imposed by sexual reproduction, throughout history it has always been easier to correctly identify the mother of a child than to identify the father. Because it is the proper role of government to protect the natural rights of the people, government will always have an interest in protecting the rights of women to support from the father of their children, and in protecting the rights of children to the support of their parents.

A great deal of law arises out of the government’s responsibility to protect these natural rights and to enforce natural responsibilities. Until the advent of DNA testing, there was no easy way to prove paternity, and since so much of inheritance property rights and other law involve issues of paternity, it was natural for government to give preference to exclusive sexual relationships created by contract to establish legal maternity and paternity for children. Children born outside the contract were considered “illegitimate” because there was no easy way to prove who the father was.

So Civil Marriage arose out of a biological, natural, and legal necessity. As long as government must be involved in the issues of paternity (inheritance; child support; abandonment; adoption; dividing assets between divorcees; protecting parental rights related to education, discipline, and health) government will have an interest in marriage.

Additionally, because the fulfillment of natural parental responsibilities has a direct influence on the civilization of children, when the government fails to support the natural rights of children to claim support, care, and proper civilization by parents, the children become less civilized, more dependent on government, and more of a legal burden on society as a whole.

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 and to deny these natural rights.

There is simply no way for the government to get out of marriage.

So, when most people advocate for marriage privatization, what they are really advocating is a semantic game that lets the gay marriage movement win while appeasing those who are concerned about marriage with a superficial language change. They take what we currently call “marriage” and re-label it a “civil union” and take what we currently call a “commitment ceremony” (which has no legal meaning) and re-label it “marriage”. And since same-sex couples can easily find someone who will be willing to perform a commitment ceremony (now labeled “marriage”), they get to claim both the extra-legal “marriage” label and the legal construct formerly known as “marriage” now labeled a “civil union”.

Marriage privatization is simply a case of calling surrender “victory” to make the losers feel better.

As the image included at the top says, “The simplest solutions are often the cleverest. They are also usually wrong.”

I hope that LDS proponents of marriage privatization will reconsider. It is impossible to construe surrender, even when it is labeled “victory”, as the kind of defense of traditional marriage that the Prophets and Apostles of the LDS church advocate.

[See: What Is Marriage? (PDF) by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, & Ryan T. Anderson for a more extensive academic argument for government recognition of traditional marriage]

UPDATE January 15 2012

After I wrote this post some excellent articles on the same subject were posted at The Public Discourse that are well worth your additional consideration:

Privatizing Marriage Is Impossible

Privatizing Marriage Will Expand the Role of the State

Privatizing Marriage Is Unjust to Children

In general, the articles posted at The Public Discourse on the topic of marriage are excellent: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/category/marriage/

Also, since I posted, Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, & Ryan T. Anderson, whose article I linked to above, have expanded their essay into a book called “What is Marriage? Man & Woman: A Defense” and it is excellent. Highly recommended regardless of what marriage policy you support.

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8 Responses to Why Privatizing Marriage is Not the Solution

  1. So Civil Marriage arose out of a biological, natural, and legal necessity. As long as government must be involved in the issues of paternity (inheritance; child support; abandonment; adoption; dividing assets between divorcees; protecting parental rights related to education, discipline, and health) government will have an interest in marriage.

    This is simply not true. Especially in our day and age, parental obligations can and are enforced without marriage even being in the picture. A man who has a child with a woman to whom he isn’t married can, and often is, required by law to provide for and contribute to the child’s well-being. Enforcing parental obligations (especially in our day and age in which parental status is easily determined) does not require government to license marriage. This is a completely fallacious argument.

    The historical case you make is inaccurate. Civil marriage was invented as a means to prevent and obviate unwanted marriages from happening (interracial, for example). Prior to the advent of civil marriage, families could and were maintained in the absence of government licensing of marriage.

    I feel like making marriage a civil issue is when those who oppose the family won the semantic game. By placing the definition of marriage, and the boundaries of marriage, within the power of government, they ensured that someday they could change the institution and enforce those changes on others. It’s only because of the existence of civil marriage that we’re even in danger. If marriage wasn’t licensed by government, we wouldn’t be legally threatened by shifting cultural tides. We would still be morally threatened, but just not legally threatened.

  2. Jeff, you are ignoring the concept of common-law marriage. Civil marriage wasn’t invented, it arose naturally as it became necessary for the law to recognize common law marriages.

    Yes, marriage was meant to regulate unwanted procreation. Your citation of inter-racial marriage unfairly leaves out incestuous marriage. Government can properly regulate marriage to prevent and obviate sibling, parent-child, or cousin marriage, based on natural law.

    Regulation of inter-racial marriage was an illegitimate use of that power, but the power itself is legitimate.

  3. Excellent, logical argument.

  4. I agree that society should stay involved in marriage, including through government involvement. I agree with many of your reasons.

    It will be interesting to see what happens when the biological motivations for defending marriage, in the way you are defining it, disappear because of technology. It’s bound to happen in the future that a DNA test alone won’t prove parentage because people will be able to make embryos in the lab from stolen cells. Homosexual couples will be able to have children without male and female partners. That’s almost a reality. A number of these want the legal obligations, as well as the legal rights, that will help them best care for their children. I’m not sure we won’t find we’ve made some mistakes in our understanding of God’s feelings on the marriage issue–a bit like we did with Blacks and the Priesthood. I don’t pretend to know what God will reveal to us when we are ready to accept it, but it’s pretty clear to me that we have only a rudimentary concept of how eternal families function.

    From another perspective, while I still see promiscuity, pre- and extra-marital sex, pervasive objectification of women, sex and pornography industries, and sexual abuse as major moral ills, I find myself unable to lump homosexuality in with these. I’ve had too many moral, family oriented, homosexual friends and learned too much about the causes of homosexuality to be scared that homosexuals are going to bring about the moral collapse of society or destruction of the family.

  5. Thank you for your thoughtful, well organized post as well as the attached PDF. I have been wrestling with how to best articulate to non-member friends, secular concepts that logically support traditional marriage over same sex marriage and civil unions. You have done it. Your article once again demonstrates that God’s plan is logical, in our best interest and consistent with science.

  6. Becca @ My Soul Delighteth

    What a great post. Very clearly written and explained. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. Privatizing marriage is a bad idea for both sides of debate: it’s a shell game that fails to make the real decision: http://t.co/j3A6Qi8hIo

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