Time to Get Government Out of the Marriage Business
Marriage is, at bottom, a religious custom -- a place where government's writ must not run.
March 11, 2013 - 12:17 am
The consensus is that the future is already written on the gay marriage issue. We know how things are going to turn out, and we’re in the final act, moving toward the inevitable. The opinion has shifted only in one direction, and turning that tide seems as unrealistic as gun-control proponents convincing states to repeal shall-issue carry laws. Views on gay marriage have changed so much that Obama needs to lie less and less about his actual opinion of it, and it’s well-known that Republicans will be doomed with the next generation if they continue to oppose it. Plus, everyone is certain that one day soon, all of us who don’t have a NoH8 picture with tape over our mouths will hang our heads in shame for being on the wrong side in the big civil-rights battle of our generation. And you know that when everyone is sure of how the future will turn out, that’s exactly what will happen.
Still, I’m conservative, and it’s my job when everyone is so set on a specific direction to stand athwart history yelling, “Mop!” (you’re more likely to stop history if you confuse it), so here I go: This is all incredibly asinine. And I’m not talking from a religious perspective; I’m talking from a libertarian perspective — and though I usually identify as conservative, I tend toward the libertarian perspective unless a) I have a really compelling reason or b) I’m having a bad day and want the government to punish anyone who disagrees with me. And from that viewpoint, this is a really stupid debate, and I don’t understand how everyone else doesn’t see this.
I don’t say this lightly, as I know this issue means a lot more to some people than it does to me. “The state is standing in the way of people’s love!” they say, and I don’t mean to be clichéd, but we’re not talking about love here — we’re talking about marriage. And while so many see this as a big civil-rights issue, there are no rights involved at all. Wanting legally sanctioned marriage is asking the state to do something for you, and rights, luckily, don’t involve the state having to do anything, or we’d all be screwed.
Let’s take a moment to look at what marriage actually is. Is it just a legal agreement between two people enforced by the state, or is it something else? The fact that civil unions aren’t seen as equivalent suggests that most see it as something else. And if it’s something other than some legal agreements, that leads to the obvious question: Why the hell is the state involved in it?
Because here is what marriage is in America and why this issue has caused so much contention: It’s a religious custom written into law. Specifically, it’s a Christian religious custom written into law (that’s why plural marriages have never been legal in the U.S.). Sure, marriage exists in every culture, and even the secular engage in it, but at its heart it is a very religious institution. And opponents of gay marriage rightly see changing the definition of marriage from the union of one man and one woman to be the state coming in and altering religious tenets. It’s like if the state started to dictate what is considered a proper baptism. It’s a clear violation of the First Amendment to have the state come in and just start changing things.
But while I consider what gay marriage proponents are trying to do to be a wrong remedy, it’s easy to see why they’re winning the argument, as the opponents of gay marriage don’t have a better argument for trying to keep the status quo. For one, homosexuals rightly get a lot of sympathy for how horribly they’ve been treated throughout the years, and opposition to gay marriage is seen as an extension of this treatment. Also, they and their supporters correctly see an injustice here, as there are special religious privileges written into law.
It’s just that their solution to this injustice is wrong. If one has identified a religious tenet written into law, the appropriate response isn’t to have the state alter it as it feels necessary. If you’re a libertarian and arguing for that, you need to turn in your libertarian badge (keep the gun, obviously). Having the state fiddle around with religious tenets is a controversial and dangerous action that will have no end. Is anyone really so naive as to think that gay marriage will be the last marriage-based controversy ever? No, there is only one course of action that will actually end this: Marriage and the state need a divorce.
Some may see that solution as cutting the baby in half, but it really just finally restores some sanity to the issue. The state has never been good for marriage, and gay marriage is not the first marriage-law controversy; there have long since been arguments involving things like divorce — arguments often very religious in nature, i.e., the exact sort of arguments you want the state to stay away from. As a Christian, I feel very strongly about the separation of church and state, not as a protection for the state — who cares about the state? — but as a protection for the church. If we can learn one thing from human history, it’s that anything government gets involved in becomes corrupted. And marriage is very important, so it’s something you want to keep the government far away from.
All the government should do is write up a suite of legal contracts between two consenting adults (or groups of consenting adults — let’s just head off that next controversy) that can be signed in front of a lawyer. If you want a religious ceremony and want to call it a marriage, that can be done before or after you sign the legal documents, but the ceremony itself will have no more direct legal consequences than, say, a Catholic confirmation ceremony. And everyone can continue to argue what is considered a proper marriage and what isn’t, but that debate will be moved to the best place for all contentious debates — to a place where it has no legal bearing on anyone.
So, to conservatives who want to preserve marriage, it’s time to stop moping around waiting for the inevitable day when the Supreme Court decides that the Founding Fathers hid gay marriage in the Constitution (probably in the Commerce Clause). It should be obvious by now that the status quo isn’t going to hold. What isn’t determined yet is where we’re headed, and it’s time we take charge and move things in a sensible direction. The right needs to propose the radical, new, progressive idea that the state should never have been involved in marriage in the first place.
And if you get only one thing from this column, it should be this: NoH8 people, stop taking pictures of yourselves with tape over your mouths. What in the world is that supposed to symbolize? Are you saying people are being silenced — that no one is speaking out about Prop 8 and gay marriage? If so, I don’t know what planet you live on. So stop it with the tape; it makes no sense.