'Get the Government Out of Marriage' is a Red Herring
A red herring is something that distracts people from the issue at hand. It allows people who are otherwise thoughtful and intelligent to not think about another topic too deeply. Libertarians often make claim to "get the government out of marriage," but this ends up serving as a distraction from the real policy issue at hand. There are a several reasons I believe it's a red herring, or at least an idea that people haven't thought through too well.
First, I do not think it is realistic to believe the government will actually get out of marriage, especially once the definition of marriage becomes sexless (genderless) as a widespread policy. Sexless marriage as a policy is what must happen in order to allow gay couples to marry. It wasn't fair that only straight women could be brides, and only straight men could be grooms. So now no woman gets to be a bride, and no man gets to be a groom in same sex marriage states. The state will not likely give up the increased power it gets over individuals, children, and the church as this change gains traction.
Second, how would we accomplish getting the government out of marriage? Marriage is part of so many social policies, from tax law, to food stamps, Medicare, Social Security... the list goes on and on. Extracting the concept of marriage from all of these policies, at the federal level, at the state level, and perhaps even at the local level seems extremely unrealistic to me.
But even if we could, remember that marriage provides a certain incentive to people, an incentive to create families. So we would not just be removing that incentive, but actually incentivising something else in its place. Quite likely, we would increase the incentives for single motherhood and absentee fatherhood, both of which are sub optimal conditions for children. And remember: children grow up to be voters.
Third: now that we've raised the subject of children, just what kind of impact would it be to get the government out of marriage? Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse says privatizing marriage is unjust to children. She asks and answers questions like these:
- Do the needs of society place constraints on how we treat children?
- What is owed to the child?
- Are our views of the child somehow related to the foundations of a free society?
- .... and others.
It's a must read for any libertarian.
Fourth, and perhaps most important to my claim that its a red herring: no legislator is proposing any policy to get the government out of marriage. It's not on the table anywhere, that I am aware. So people who are otherwise articulate and intelligent are being distracted from the real issue. What is being proposed and implemented is to make marriage sexless as a policy. And without sex, traditional marriage ceases to exist. This answers the question sometimes posed by gay marriage supporters:
"How does gay marriage affect YOUR marriage?"
I've encountered honest, far-left leaning Democrats who admit that sexless marriage is the destruction of traditional marriage. They admit it, point blank. One even likened it to slavery. This is not how it gets marketed to voters. Voters are told that marriage is simply being expanded to include gay couples. Expanding marriage vs. eliminating traditional marriage are two very different things.
Furthermore, father of Marxist thought Friedrich Engels was against traditional marriage. It is not possible to know what sort of stand he would take on the sexless marriage issue. I think it's very fair to say that his modern day followers support it. It frustrates me that some prominent libertarians refuse to engage an important social policy that socialists support. Does it occur to them why socialists support it?
Finally, fiscal conservatives would be well served to understand that traditional marriage is the foundation for the success of their fiscal policies. It creates the sort of citizens needed for fiscal conservatism to thrive, as it's the gold standard for children's outcomes across all measures.
Libertarians and fiscal conservatives: please support traditional marriage as a distinct policy. Your fiscal policies cannot succeed without it.
Jennifer Thieme is the Director of Finance for the Ruth Institute, a project of the National Organization for Marriage Education Fund. Signup for the Ruth Institute newsletter at www.RuthNewsletter.organd receive a free download, "Improve Your Marriage, Even If Your Spouse Doesn't Change a Bit!"