My fellow PolicyMic contributor Robert Taylor wrote a wonderful piece Thursday advocating that the government should get out of the business of marriage. He argued that true liberty would only be achieved when people were free to pursue whatever contractual arrangement they wished.
The comments section quickly responded with reactionary doubt as to the plausibility of removing government from this sacred institution. What about tax breaks? Current married couples? Child custody? It made me curious about the real and imagined hurdles to actually getting government out of the whole affair, and how we could best achieve that reality.
First and foremost, let me make my position clear: I think this entire gay marriage debate is asinine. I think politicians love wedge issues that divide people into predictable voting blocks, and for the most part people don’t actually care about these things until we’re told we should — or that the other side is somehow coming to destroy our way of life.
Furthermore, I think it would be great if the government introduced a bill that banned marriage entirely … in all its forms. The wisest position for a truly virtuous government to take would be: "If we can’t guarantee marriage and make it available to everyone, then we should have no involvement in it whatsoever."
Let churches, casinos, and drive-thru Elvis chapels make money by telling people their love is eternal, and leave the headache of their rights up to personal contract lawyers. The sooner we achieve this, the sooner we can return to the good old Roman days of orgies and feasts!
More pragmatically, I would truly prefer my government focused on more pertinent economic, technological and social issues — so let’s actually examine what it would take to get government out of this problematic institution.
Let’s say tomorrow we no longer have civil unions, tax benefits to married couples or a 65% divorce rate. Marriage ceremonies are still performed by Churches, because people still want to show their families and friends that their love is a unique snow flake that will last through the end of time. But any couple that wishes to co-habitate, raise kids, or share benefits can draw up a personalized contractual agreement.
A lot of the complexity from these "marriage" contracts is removed because they no longer require government intervention, but for the sake of judicial expediency there are still some boiler plate formats regarding next of kin status, child custody, rules of inheritance, medical decision making authority, etc.
OK, so now we live in a world of personalized contractual agreements between couples, and those of a particular religious inclination can pursue a ceremony of their choosing. Contract not romantic enough for you? Get a Catholic church soul binding ceremony for $199. Want your love to really last through the ages? Get a Scientology 1st degree, Xenu-blessed, Tom Cruise officiated Destiny bonding!
Conservatives are happy because they no longer need government recognition of their holy union — what authority could be higher than their lord and god? They don’t have to worry about D.C. politicians offering their Church’s ceremony to heathens and sinners, because marriages are strictly reserved for loyal followers.
Liberals are happy because anyone can form a union with anyone else, and share their love, benefits, and rights. If they need a ceremony to add some flavor to the union, they need only find some Internet based church and enough guests to make it a party. Who cares about the close-minded religious fanatics that consider you a sinner? Elvis thinks you’re cool and that’s all that matters.
So now that gay couples can have meaningful civil contracts, why not Polygamists? OK, why not have complete marriage freedom? What would the problem with Polygamist marriages be?
The horrifying Mormon sects that practiced polygamy were the shame of our nation because they isolated children from the world in a cult like brainwashing process of convincing 12year old-girls to sexually serve 50-year-old husbands. Those crimes have nothing to do with the institution of marriage, and put them in the same company as the Taliban.
Polygamous contracts would be far more complex than coupled contracts, and would address unique issues. Would rights be transferable throughout the pact? Is there a limit on how many people can be involved? Would corporations suddenly become one big marriage? But complex doesn't mean impossible.
Groups of consenting adults can live together now, and draw up contracts to outline communal property rights. They simply have to address caps on the number of people in the agreement, custody of children, property ownership in case of death, appointments of proxies or mediators, severance payments, child visitation rights, etc.
Out of work lawyers should be foaming at the mouth to make this a reality, it would keep them in business for decades!
The truth is, we can normalize anything once we agree and move pass the shock factor. People have a romantic idea of love, marriage, and tradition. But most of the things we consider eternal evolved from something else, and will change in time regardless of how hard we cling to them. I would vote for pragmatic progress over tradition, if it guaranteed more people liberty and happiness. Because those are the true virtues our country was built on — the right to pursue happiness!