Marriage and the State Get a Divorce

by on February 13th, 2004

This entire gay marriage hubbub has me thinking. In modern civilization, the institution of family is unquestionably important for the health and happiness of every individual. Even if you disagree with gay marriage, you should be able to empathize with a gay person’s desire to have the same rights as a heterosexual couple. The issue is coming to a head, and whatever the outcome, I doubt there will be a revolutionary change in the way society at large operates. I am still interested in a positive outcome, which is why I decided to write this article.

Initially, I thought the final goal should be for gay couples to strive for a civil union that grants them the same rights as any married couple and to leave semantics alone. Keep the term “marriage” as it is, for a man and woman – and award the same exact rights to those who are willing to enter into a contract born of a love for another person of the same sex. I remain skeptical of the motivations of the militant gays who demand that semantics are important and argue vehemently that anything other than calling a gay union “marriage” is tantamount to bigotry of the worst kind. I feel such an approach hurts the cause for gay rights. Instead, by striving for rights versus semantics, the gay community can out flank their opponents. Such an approach will force any remaining opponents of the civil union concept to reveal their pure hatred of homosexuality.

Reduce this argument to the premise of marriage, particularly as a contract. When a couple decides to get married, they are not thinking in terms of a contract, say between business partners, but in reality, it is no different. The contract of marriage is a promise between to individuals to be faithful, to support and love one another forever, and to legally share possessions. If one or both parties break the contract, there are then grounds for a divorce. My question is why does the state have any say in whom is married at all? Perhaps it is the market liberal in me speaking, but I see no reason for the state to be involved in shaping the content of a marriage contract at all. Shouldn’t the state simply enforce the marriage/civil union contract as they would for any other legal and binding contract?

Would removing the state from defining the concept of marriage make it any less legitimate or important in stature? If anything, removing state controls over marriage will serve to strengthen the institution. Eliminating state sponsorship forces the couple to overtly consider the potential costs versus benefits of a marriage. As it stands today, some people are married simply for state benefits or without understanding the full ramifications of the act. Breaking up is hard to do – and much more painful once the vows have been stated. Moreover, do not forget the children; nothing is harder on a child than growing up in a broken family.

Removing the state also eliminates the debate over what types of couples are allowed to marry, unionize, or whatever you want to call it. Any two individuals can enter into any type contract they wish, so long as they are not infringing on someone else’s rights. Marriage will return to the churches and the government will no longer be able to discriminate. This solution eliminates the debate over semantics, which to me, is the greatest remaining barrier between the two sides.

In this country, you have a right to love a man, woman, or anything in between. If you want to attach contracted conditions to that love, that is your right in a free country. I am sure the initial popular reaction to this idea will be outrageous, but stop to think about it for a moment. If anyone can provide me with a reason the state should sanction and define and institution of marriage, please tell me.

Michael Hussey