Marriage and Government

MarriageAs 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I think it would be best if most or all of these laws benefiting a spouse were repealed and if marriage could simply return to a contract between individuals, as it was for most of history, without needing government or clergy approval.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.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Twist