Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Privatizing Marriage

I always score perfectly on the World’s Smallest Political Quiz which always includes a question such as  “There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults” as show in the picture.

Libertarians, and I among them, believe that our bodies are our property and it our business and our responsibility as to what we do with them.  Therefore, we believe that government has no right to tell us what we may ingest nor whom we may choose as lovers nor what the terms of those relationships should be as long as they are consensual.

Therefore, it is neither from prudishness nor bigotry that I oppose same sex marriage “legalization”.  By petitioning the courts, voters or legislatures to legalize same sex relationship, libertarians implicitly affirm the State has the authority to define and regulate interpersonal relationships.  If that is true, our war is lost.

Government has only recently involved itself in marriage.  Throughout most of human history, marriage was an affair that was handled between consenting adults and / or contracting families.  Proponents of “marriage privatization” like to point out that George Washington was married without a license.  But then again, so was everyone else.

American States began issuing marriage licenses in the 1800s in order to regulate miscegenation, the then scandalous practice of interracial sexual relations and, particularly, interracial marriage.  At the same time the Federal government and various states wer busy persecuting the Morman Church and its Biblical practice of plural marriage.

America’s Founders envisioned that the individual states would be “laboratories of democracy”.  However, they can also be laboratories of corruption and tyranny.    Therefore, when other states saw that the licensing states were making easy money in the marriage license business, they soon got on the gravy train. By 1923 the Feds got in the act with the Uniform Marriage and Marriage License Act of 1923.  Soon after, marriage licensing would be standard fare in all states.

By the 1950s the marriage license took on new significance as a tool for apportioning the goodies of America’s burgeoning welfare state. I a New York Times Op-Ed piece Stephanie Coontz explains, “governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information.”

It is estimated that there are over 1,400 laws on the books that grant rights, privileges and immunities based upon a valid marriage license.  From a libertarian perspective the various benefits are programs that we philosophically disagree with or could be handles via simple contracts.

The granting of health insurance benefits to a spouse via proof of marriage is a classic example of how bad government policy is cumulative.  In World War II the government imposed wage controls on employers.  When the employers complained that they could not compete for labor under such restrictions the government allowed employers to offer health insurance as a fringe benefit which would be tax deductable for the employer.  Thus health insurance became permanently entangled with employment.  And the benefits became entangled with marriage licenses.

With so much at stake by having a valid marriage license, it is no wonder that same sex couple would want to get their “fair share”. 

For libertarians, who want   “government out of the bedroom”, they must is “legalizing” gay marriage the best way to reduce the role of government in our lives?  Or is the cause of liberty better served by ”privatizing” marriage by restoring to the status that it enjoyed for almost all of human history?  Are we concerned that extending the hand of the State into same sex relationships will open up a Pandora’s Box of unforeseen consequences which precipitates compensatory government interference? 

Chances are that it will.

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