“Get the Government Out of Marriage”?
You’ve heard that catchphrase. The headline works. It grabs your attention and sounds appealing. It is easy to remember. It is an easy phrase to use when you want to end debate. Too bad the phrase doesn’t work in the real world. Let’s first get some reason into the marriage debate.
The government has done a bad job with marriage. Divorce law and family law is a mess. You and I want the government out of marriage so we have more freedom to honor the commitment of marriage. We don’t want a government bureaucrat in our bedroom. At first examination, we don’t want the IRS in our bedroom anymore than we want the IRS in…say…in our doctor’s office. Let’s look at what a government-free marriage really means and why some people want it.
Today, getting the government out of marriage also gets the contract out of marriage. Businesses need contracts so people keep their word. So does marriage. A free society can’t survive without it. When we look back, we see that marriage pre-dates society. That may come as a shock to some young people, but the reception party after your marriage and the stunning bridal gown are recent inventions. Those modern artifacts are not the purpose of marriage. For thousands of years, marriage is how working societies connected fathers to mothers…and fathers to their children. Marrying couples together is essential to a free society. That is the essential public purpose of marriage. Everything else, from the flowers to co-insurance from your employer…everything else is a private purpose of marriage.
The public purpose of marriage is important. Intact functional families keep government small. We asked for more freedom, but we see that government grows whenever a marriage fails. Government grows to take care of abandoned children. Government grows to subsidize single parents. Government grows to enforce a divorce decree. Government grows for humanitarian reasons to clean up the broken promises, the broken homes and broken children from a failed marriage. Things get worse from there. Government continues to grow for political reasons…to turn these dependents into a permanently dependent and dependable voting bloc. Freedom shrinks when marriage fails.
Intact families teach children to govern themselves. That is essential for a free society. Marriage does that and no other institution comes close to matching its performance. Not government and social workers. Not midnight basketball and subsidized tutors. Government expands again when broken children from broken homes grow to be broken adults.
Some people are willing to break society as they seek affirmation for their “non-conventional marriage”. Any society that doesn’t support their sexual activities deserves to die…or so they say. I disagree. I think the people attacking marriage seek affirmation for themselves. My motivation is different. I want marriage so families thrive in freedom.
Should we ever get the government out of marriage? We could, but government won’t allow it. Instead, what politicians want to do is dictate the terms of marriage and sell “marriage” to their favorite political donors.
Look at the libertarian ideal of marriage without government. We could have contracts without government. The analogy isn’t perfect, but marriage, like a contract, is a promise to perform. We need someone to enforce that promise if one of the parties breaks their oath. That institution used to be the church. These days, politicians won’t let the church have the power to enforce marriage. Politicians won’t let the church grant a divorce or enforce a divorce decree. Politicians won’t let a private arbitrator do it either. Politicians want to keep that power for themselves.
How much power are we talking about? We have to let the church garnish your wages because you signed and broke a marriage contract. We have to let the church collect your tax refund and seize property if you renege on your promise. Can you see any politician returning that control to the people? I have not seen it. I’d like to.
Politicians poisoned marriage instead of letting it grow. Politicians gave us unilateral divorce. The divorce rate soared with one-sided divorce. If marriage is a contract, then the government said that either party could get out of the marriage contract any time they wanted and with no questions asked.
Before we get the government out of marriage, we have to understand that some people want life- long married love…and some don’t. Some people want to have sex and run away with the next man or woman they think offers them something better. These run around lovers are happy to leave their abandoned spouse and children in the care of the state. That is how government grows.
Disposable marriage isn’t fair to children. I’ve been there and seen that as a foster parent. Disposable marriage isn’t fair for the rest of society either.
There is more going on behind the scenes. Getting government out of marriage is a code phrase for letting politicians establish protected classes. These legally protected classes are based on sexual orientation and justified by “fairness”. Big government advocates love it. I don’t like it because government grows and freedom shrinks once we redefine marriage.
In the libertarian ideal, the utopia ends with the government out of marriage. That is not where liberty begins today. We have to radically downsize government first. We need to stand up the social institutions that support marriage before we get the government out of the marriage business.
Have at it. It is a worthy goal. Start with the family courts and tell me how it goes.
Thanks to Steve Pauwels for the inspiration.