Get The Government Out Of Marriage

In his recent article, PolicyMic editor Jordan Wolf presents a compelling argument that allowing homosexuals to marry may be the answer to adapting the institution of marriage into the 21st century. Although I agree completely with his assertion and his evidence, in my opinion, he ignores the main issue in the debate over gay marriage: it’s yet another example of the government’s favoring certain parties over others.

Because they are allowed to partake in the government-recognized institution of marriage, certain individuals (i.e. heterosexuals) are allowed many legal advantages which are not afforded to those who cannot marry (i.e. homosexuals). At present, individuals are free to hold their own private ceremony and consider themselves married, but only in a non-legal sense. Such contracts are not protected by law, nor do they include the aforementioned legal benefits.

Privatizing marriage and extending it to all individuals, hetero- and homosexual alike, would address the fairness problem. Privatization would preserve the legal advantages of marriage for those who prefer it, and wouldn't penalize those who don't.

For most of Western history, marriage was not enforced by the government; it was a private contract between families. Nearly all adults were married in the 1950s, so using marriage licenses to allocate benefits and legal privileges was practical. At present, however, because nontraditional family arrangements (e.g., single parenthood, cohabitation) are increasingly common, this system becomes less realistic.

Furthermore, as Wolf points out, much of the debate about gay marriage relies on the assumption that all individuals want to get married. Marriage may be preferable for some, but it is not suitable for all. There are financial and lifestyle factors to consider, and the government does not have enough information to know what is best for each individual and family.

Just as the government shouldn’t favor certain businesses and industries over others, the role of government should not be to favor or subsidize one lifestyle over another — like homeownership over renting, rural lifestyles over urban ones, or married people over single people. The government cannot ascertain with accuracy which activities or preferences will maximize an individual’s level of utility largely because it is not omniscient, and it is also influenced by special interests.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Christine Harbin

Christine Harbin considers widespread economic freedom to be one of the most important goals for sound public policy. She holds undergraduate degrees in economics, mathematics, and French from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and an MBA from the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.

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