The Sanctity of Marriage

I have told you before that I am somewhat (“diminished form”) Libertarian. Today you get an example of something Libertarian that would benefit society. The U.S. Constitution is overtly Libertarian regarding religion, so religious connections to marriage – such as those intended to preserve The Sanctity of Marriage – seem like fair game to me.

Equal-rights laws are typically applicable only for taxpayer-supported or public organizations. Fraternal organizations may restrict membership in ways that are not acceptable or legal outside that organization. The last time I checked, the KKK was not required to allow blacks, Jews, or Catholics to be members. They have not gained advantages from this ‘freedom’. It has served to define them and inform society of their true nature (as if, in this extreme case, it were not obvious).

Let churches have internal rules which are not ‘fair’. If they want to hire only members to work for the church, then those members must know to expect treatment according to the church’s standards. If they dislike that treatment, they can work for a secular employer. If a church chooses to be a place of public accomodation in offering employment, then the government has a legitimate role in protecting the rights of the public. That is ‘fair’.

A church-related organization that serves charitable or educational purposes should be treated exactly as the church itself. If it takes public money or provides publicly-accessible services, then it may expect its fair share of public influence.

In any case, there are limits to religious conduct. Human sacrifice is illegal, and it is the secular government which enforces this limit on any and all religions. Such limits are appropriate and will continue even if some restrictions on churches are loosened.

Religious organizations, associations, or societies may have exclusive control over their beliefs and practices about marriage.

Marriage has been, in many cultures and for eons, tied to traditions, superstitions, and other social strictures. The issue we are arguing about – gay marriage – is only a problem because marriage is confabulated with religion. Governments have maintained this strange (although understandable) combination with laws which give some emphasis in marriage to churches and clergy, while providing no legal distinction between a church marriage and a civil marriage.  One aspect of this is that a religion or church has no unique legal control over its members’ marriages. For example, the Catholic Church (among others) maintains that divorce affects the standing of members – yet the Catholic Church cannot legally prevent members from divorcing.

It is time to remove the artifice of this combination of religious and civil marriage. We need marriage laws which serve secular governmental interests apart from religious (or other social group) interests. This can be accomplished by having a ‘civil union‘ secular marriage which establishes the marriage status required for income tax filing, joint property and inheritance, other legal, financial, and medical issues, et al. No, I do not know what this would be called; many folks have objections to the terms ‘civil union’ and ‘marriage’, for differing reasons. A separate ‘social union‘ religious marriage would have only one secular provision: that the members of the marriage could legally refer to themselves as married and use appropriate titles. Government-recognized religions (and possibly other social groups) would be free to conduct and regulate ‘marriage’ according to their specific rules and beliefs. For example, Denomination “X” might choose to require that marriages of their members cannot be dissolved without clergy-directed counselling. Or they might require members to have children, or live in a 1-story house, or keep pets. None of this would affect the secular standing of the married parties. A denomination might even require that members not have a civil union in addition to their social union. Hence, they would be married for their church but not for taxes, property, etc.

If a religion wishes to sanctify certain relationships, then let us place the burden for maintaining that sanctity on the religion.  The public, and secular society, has enough to do with maintaining the public mechanisms (of those relationships) that serve public, secular interests.

I wish to be open with my motive for this proposal:
legal exceptions can be effective in isolating, confining, and diminishing
an organization which deserves less tolerance than it offers to others.

3 Responses to “The Sanctity of Marriage”

  1. 1 Jim
    July 21, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Rawhead, thanks for contributing to this conversation.
    Sorry that I was lax and didn’t post your comment promptly. (It’s been one of those months . . .)

  2. 2 Rawhead
    July 2, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Married couples do not always get a tax benefit. Often, if incomes of partners are similar, they actually incur a penalty for being married by being pushed into a higher tax bracket than they would be in if filing single.

    I’m all for eliminating government recognition of marriage entirely. I know this is a radical idea that will never happen in my lifetime, but I’m still all for it! Get rid of the tax benefits/penalties of marriage! The tax code needs a complete overhaul anyway, and this should be part of it.

    Marry whomever you want without all the hassle of a ceremony. Call a woman your wife, a man your wife, or even a duck. Bang a kangaroo on the side, who’s gonna care? Divorce her with a swift kick in the ass! So many problems will be solved.

  3. June 13, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Jim too,

    Matters of sexual morality should be regulated by government to the extent that they may harm people, as in child porn or venereal disease prevention, but otherwise, what people do in the bedroom should be a private matter.

    In pondering this question I find I have changed my opinion from what it has been.

    The secular institution of “marriage”, in America at least, carries important financial meaning because of the tax structure. Married couples, because of joint filing, pay less tax than unmarried people. Why is this? Although my cursory attempt at research yielded little insight, it seems to me that some Congress, no doubt representing the wishes of their constituents, intended to benefit society, sociologically, and probably morally as well, by encouraging marriage. I originally thought that this meant children, primarily, but then it occurred to me that a marital union itself has benefits. Married couples are more stable in terms of personal and social responsibility. I don’t know why this wouldn’t apply equally to same-sex couples. If the term “marriage” is extended to same-sex couples, then so is the secular tax advantage.

    I understand that same-sex couples can adopt a child in a few states, but that most states explicitly sanction only single adoption. I perceive that the trend to adoption is rising. Society needs to decide whether to grant financial benefits to same-sex couples. I can envision a decision that would grant benefits only if there are adopted children, but that seems unfair to me.

    Homosexuality is a genetic condition and to label it a “choice” has no rational basis.

    I believe that society would on the whole benefit from approval of same-sex marriage, and if those are called “civil unions”, then the benefits should be the same as for “marriage”. However, whether society is ready for this is to be determined. Clearly, the trend is in that direction.


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