With the Supreme Court taking on the issue of gay marriage, there has been much discussion about the issue in the media in recent months and there will be more, once the court issues its ruling. I have listened to the discussion with interest, but have yet to hear anyone raise what I consider to be the central question: what business does the government have being involved in marriage in the first place.
Marriage is a religious matter, and its parameters should be set by the various religious groups who want to practice it for their own members. When I was a Baptist pastor and also chairman of the Alaska Libertarian Party, I was asked at times if I would perform a ceremony for a couple that did not have a marriage license. Of course I would, as long as they understood I was performing a religious service and they were Christians. Otherwise, I was just acting as an agent of the state and they would need a license. As far as I am concerned, the wedding ceremony is a religious service in which the participants want to make a vow before God, with their friends as witnesses.
If they obtained a legal document from the government and wanted me to sign it for legal reasons, that was fine, but as far as I was concerned, it was a religious issue. I have been married to my wife for 50 years, not because of some legal action I took June 7, 1963, but because I made a promise to her, with God and many friends as witnesses, that I would stay with her through good times and bad, until death took one or the other of us.
So how did the government get involved in this issue? I’m no historian, especially on the issue of marriage, but I will make some logical guesses. In Western cultures, it probably started when the church and the state were one and the same, as was the case in many of the European countries from which our dominate culture springs. So we also codified it as we developed our own laws here, largely from our religious impulses and a perceived need to protect marriage as an institution.
Well-meaning politicians codified it further with laws relating to tax benefits and laws of inheritance. They granted favors on the basis of marriage, which only made those who didn’t qualify for them, want the same benefits. Getting the government involved in marriage through laws and favors hasn’t done much to preserve it, so we now have half of all marriages ending in divorce and people rightfully pushing for an expansion of the definition of marriage.
The government wrongly forced the Mormons to abandon their practice of polygamy, wrongly denies gays the right to marry, and wrongly codifies something that is primarily a religious concern. Whether homosexual, heterosexual, polygamous or monogamous, all the legal issues now protecting marriage can be dealt with contractually by those who want legal protection over one issue or another. As to any favors granted to the married by law, do away with them because they obviously have not done much to protect the institution anyway.