As a moderate Libertarian I find the government’s role in marriage to be a big problem. It is social engineering of the most egregious kind. Sadly, the social engineering is largely promoted by Republicans who claim they hate this sort of thing. Marriage is supposedly “good” for society and thus the government feels the need to pass laws that promote it. With these laws in place it becomes financially, socially, and legally worthwhile to be married rather than to be single.
These legalities are one of the main reasons homosexuals desire the status of marriage in the first place. If the government got out of the marriage business things would improve on a number of fronts. First I’d like to list the ways that people are encouraged to get married rather than stay single.
What are the benefits of being married? Plenty. This article goes into many of them but I’ll try to summarize.
Military spouses get employment benefits, per diem moving expenses, immigration benefits, and property tax relief.
All spouses get increased government benefits from a variety of sources including Medicaid and tax relief from a variety of items including income tax. Spouses get bankruptcy filing benefits, rights to a deceased spouse’s social security, a $100,000 one time payment for spouse killed in line of duty.
Spouses gain rights over children that non-spouses do not have, they get access to hospitals for visiting rights and important medical decisions, alimony, domestic violence intervention, wrongful death claims, adoption benefits, funeral and bereavement leave. I could go on and on here but I think I’ve made my point. The government and the law make it highly beneficial to be married rather than to just shack up.
Another problem is that a marriage isn’t considered legal unless proper protocols are established and certain groups of people are prevented from marrying. I’m not just talking about homosexuals here. Relatives face severe restrictions. Just as an example it is a criminal offense for first cousins to marry in Texas while it is perfectly legal right next door in New Mexico. In England you can’t marry your mother-in-law until your spouse is dead. And of course there are restrictions on the age of an individual who can marry.
I think it would be best if most or all of these laws benefiting a spouse were repealed and if marriage could simply return to a contract between individuals, as it was for most of history, without needing government or clergy approval. Once the majority of benefits for getting married are repealed I think we would see an increase in marriage of people who were more certain of the institution and a decrease in divorce, domestic abuse, and other issues. With such tangible benefits to getting married there is a huge impetus to get married even if the parties are uncertain if this is the best course of action.
Once the government gets out of promoting marriage then it seems to me that people who otherwise would get married when they are unready for such a committment would not get married. Of course, the argument goes that people who don’t marry but live together in essentially a married state without the license are more likely to split. There has always been strong social stigma against a divorced woman dating to ancient times as I discussed yesterday but the emancipation of women through birth control, education, and equal opportunity has really changed the dynamic. I don’t want my discussion to go too far astray here so I’ll come to a quick conclusion.
If government stops trying to promote marriage and if we can grant the same legal benefits to people who engage in some sort of simple marriage contract then I think the institution of marriage will flourish rather than head down its current path where approximately 40% to 60% of new marriages end in divorce. I’m not saying marriage rates will go up, they were around 80% of the population in the 1960’s compared to 45% now but I am suggesting that if we stop trying to socially engineer marriage that the only people who will get married are those who really want it. That has to be good for children, families, spouses, and basically, everyone.
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
while in principle I agree with many of the sentiments you express here I would question whether taking away the government sanctioned benefits from marriage would really have the impact you describe. In Australia (where I am writing from) there has been a program over many years to give all the rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples to de-facto couples. Legally there is now very little difference between a couple who is married and a couple who live together as de-facto partners. there is some differences between how heterosexual couples and homosexual couples are treated (the big one being the ability to get married if they so choose) but these are being removed as well. However divorce rates have not plummeted and neither have domestic violence etc.
I couldn’t find 2012 statistics in my quick search but what I did find indicate a lowering of divorce rates in Australia.
This decline is attributed to other factors besides the ones I mentioned including an older population getting married later but that would be the result of the policies I suggested. Do you have more up to date figure? I didn’t check domestic violence numbers but there will be multiple causes of any drop or rise in that as well so it’s not easy to come to sure conclusions in either case. Still, I stand by the idea that government should not be promoting or discouraging marriage, it’s just not government’s job.
Thanks for the comment and go Australia!
“Marriage is supposedly “good” for society and thus the government feels the need to pass laws that promote it” -why do you think it originated?
That’s a really interesting question, sobpol. I covered it a little in my History of Marriage blog on Monday. One of the main gists as is follows from the Wiki Marriage article: “In almost all societies, access to women is institutionalized in some way so as to moderate the intensity of this competition.” The competition being men hoping to gain access, sexual and otherwise, to the single woman. The argument goes that intense competition for single women breaks down the fabric of society, men cannot work together well when violently competing for the same woman. I think there is some legitimacy to the argument but once women have become emancipated and part of the working society we seem to see marriage on the decline and perhaps it is less reasonable of an argument in a modern, western country. Still, I wouldn’t mind hearing other takes on the subject.
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A lack of marriage was a problem for the early Australian colony and much of what occurred then explains later marriage policy. due to the disproportional high male population many female convicts ended up as concubines to officials or as prostitutes leading to very few legal marriages (this was exacerbated by a lack of religious officials to carry out these marriages) and a lot of children whose mothers had too many other children to care for and whose fathers didn’t care for them because as bastards (to use the old fashioned term) the fathers had no legal obligation to do so.
so the government’s solution was to encourage marriage where they could. They felt that this would provide social stability by providing family stability. it didn’t really work as the colony still had hoards of uneducated un-cared for children for many years to come – but this need for social stability was the reason marriage was initially encouraged in Australia.
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