Sarah and Keri and I have all written about our marriages in the last three weeks, but February has four Tuesdays, so I get to have another go at marriage. I could tell you more about my secrets to a long marriage (patience and tolerance) but I won’t. You, dear readers, will have to figure that out on your own.
However, I want to talk more generally about marriage especially since laws against same-sex marriage are falling around the country (except apparently in Alabama, which has managed to be on the wrong side of history more than once.) This is all well and good, but suppose for a minute that we suddenly agreed that any marriage was none of the state’s (both individual states and the larger State) business.
If we think about a time when marriages, especially those among people who ran states (kingdoms etc), really were the state’s business because marriages meant alliances with allies, meant joining of properties or the acquisition of some sort of title. In those times, marriages among common folk mattered little and were registered (if registered at all) in the parish records, which is where we look today if we are doing historical research. These marriages were sanctioned by and performed by the church.
During the Protestant Reformation , regulation of marriage was passed to the state because Martin Luther considered marriage a secular thing and by the 17th Century, most states had laws about marriage. (Wikipedia,marriage).
I would like to suggest that it is time to loosen the bonds between marriage and the state. Is it really the government’s business with whom we cohabitate, with whom we have sex, even with whom we have children? Among conservative and libertarian circles there is lots of rhetoric around getting the government out of citizens’ lives. Abolishing all marriage laws would be one giant step in that direction.
I can already hear the objections! But what if regulation of marriage reverted to churches? lf churches made the rules about how old someone could be or what sex they could be? Churches would have the right to make whatever rules they wanted for people who chose to get married under their auspices. If a couple didn’t like those rules, they could find another church or spiritual body that had rules that they liked. Clearly Baptists and Unitarians could have different rules. Marriage would become a spiritual act that not everyone would have to participate in. Couples could also just decide to live together without marriage and it would be neither the state’s nor the church’s concern.
But what about children? The state does have the responsibility for protecting children, but we know that just because parents are married in the eyes of the state does not mean that they are adequate parents. Plenty of children are removed from homes where the parents are married. So it is not marriage that protects children. Having adults who care about them and treat them well creates healthy and happy children, not a marriage license. The state could still intervene if children were being harmed.
What about taxes? There would be no “married filing jointly” instructions. Each person would file his/her own taxes and pay them accordingly. Just because someone was married in the eyes of a church would not allow the government to garner wages of person whose spouse had not paid taxes.
What about health insurance? At some point, we will have health insurance that is not dependent on employers and each person will be covered by an individual plan. Health insurance could, for example, be assigned to someone at birth.
What about visitation in hospitals or the right to make medical decisions for an incapable spouse? Every adult should be able to create a document that designates the person or persons who would have those right. It is not the state’s business if one wants a sister or brother to be next of kin or if one wants the person with whom one has been living for years without a civil marriage certificate to be the person who makes medical decisions. This is simple to do.
Commitment to another person is a beautiful and wonderful thing, but I would contend that it is not the state’s business to regulate who can commit to whom. So, rather than working to allow same-sex marriage, might it make more sense to get the state regulation out of all marriages?