Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Radical View of Marriage (That I Think Would Help the Church)

I like being married, but there is something about the whole institution that I think needs to change.  And I think the church would benefit from it:

I think it's time we ask the government to get out of the way.  (You knew I was going to say that.  That's my answer to everything.  But hear me out.)

When I got married I was baffled by the application for a marriage license.  Why did the state of Texas (a place I truly love) want to tell me if I was going to be married?  Why did I need the permission of lawmakers?  I wasn't applying for a government job, I was promising myself to a woman.

In my opinion, marriage is about the vows I took with my wife before our community.  The government was not involved.

In the old Roman days, marriage was a state affair.  And, probably, for good reason.  A household was run like a business and a wife was not just a life partner, she was a business partner/employee of the estate.  Romance was not unheard of, but neither were marriages of convenience.  (Which is why brothels were considered acceptable - men who married for money didn't always have passionate marriages.  I pity them.)

But those days are over.  My wife doesn't need a state document to be my wife.  But that's not all.  As I'm sure everyone is aware, state governments are changing how they view marriage.  Suddenly, this sacred institution is becoming a government-regulated status and we are entering into marriages that are defined by the state, not by us.  No matter how you feel about marriage, I don't think it makes sense for a government to decide what a marriage is when marriage is a cultural/religious construct to us.

I'd be happy to see the government ignore marriage, completely.  Churches could abide by their own community standards when marrying couples.  Does this mean that the church next-door might adhere to a definition of marriage that you disagree with?  Yes, it does.  (They probably do a lot of things you don't like, don't they?)  But the alternative is to ask the government to enforce your religious views on others, and I don't want to live in a world where religious zealots control our lives from Washington.  (Even if you think you would agree with those zealots, imagine how difficult life would be if they were replaced with leaders you didn't agree with.  Will you rebel when these leaders insist that you do things their way?  Will you go to war when your faith is incompatible with the one that is being forced on you?)

Certain war-torn countries give us evidence of just how badly government and religion mix; history tells the same thing.  
And I'm pretty sure that cat has some things to say about it.

So, I'd be happy to see the government step aside and allow the cultural construct of marriage to be no longer governed by lawmakers.  To Believers, marriage can be a sacred thing, and no one in Washington is qualified to govern something like that.  To others, marriage might be a simple tradition, but traditions also should not be governed by federal committees.

What do you think?  Is this feasible?


Jared said...

Women will never allow it because it would mean losing the current system of alimony and child support payments. Any effort to de-institutionalize marriage would quickly be branded as another front in the imaginary War on Women.

obclhorn said...

If you're really interested in the topic, I'd recommend two books: Sex, Marriage, and Divorce in Calvin's Geneva, and When Fathers Ruled. Both give an interesting history of the shift in the west of marriage being governed by church to the state.

But there are numerous practical problems with removing the state from the matter entirely. Jared pointed out to of them. There are also issues of custody, community property, age of consent to marriage, consanguinity, incest, and polygamy. Unfortunately, in a sectarian nation, someone has to keep the books.

Justin T. said...

How do you propose the government recognize marriage partnerships in the context of tax benefits, legal rights and obligations, child custody issues, inheritance, insurance coverage, legal protections, and other things dependent on a government recognition of a couple's union and commitment?

Adam D Jones said...

objlhorne - Community property and custody can exist without marriage, already. Polygamy is not a law that is enforced, anyway, so no one will miss that. Incest is still incest without marriage. These things don't concern me.

Justin T - I don't intend for the government to do any of those things, anymore. We don't need to tell the IRS if we are married in order to be taxed fairly on what we have made - a flat tax would make this even easier. It would be an enormous task to disentangle marriage from the things you mention, and maybe it's impossible, but I would certainly prefer it.

Justin T. said...

Adam- the problem is that there are legal aspects of marriage that have nothing to do with taxation. For example, the marital privilege against testifying in a court of law would have to be completely reworked, undoing centuries of precedent in evidentiary law and would potentially completely alter the way lawsuits are conducted in America.

obclhorn said...

You're kidding about polygamy not being enforced, right? It is.

Mark Boone said...

I disagree. I am far too convinced by natural law positions to think marriage can be separated from government.

"In my opinion, marriage is about the vows I took with my wife before our community."

Yes. And your community is not just religious; it is human, and so is subject to the ends and means of human community, including governmental involvement.

My view is pretty much that of Stephen Heaney in "A Marriage Tail." http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/08/1507

Adam D Jones said...

obclhorn - There are communities of polygamists who get by with the government's knowledge. Also, there are polygamist groups that simply do not require the "married" women to get a government marriage license while living with their sister-wives. This loophole makes the law silly.

Justin - I know that there are laws that would be affected by this. Everyone knows that being married gives certain privileges. The need for legal reform in the case of my hypothetical situation doesn't bother me.

Justin T. said...

Adam- the issue is not that legal reform would be required, it's that it would require a complete dismantling of the entirety of family law, (personal) property law, and estate law in order to completely remove the government from marriage.