Make Marriage Private

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Religion, Sexuality

This NY Times editorial asks a question i’ve been asking for a while: why is the state involved with marriage in the first place?

Why do people — gay or straight — need the state’s permission to marry? For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity.

For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.

Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.

Keep marriages private and allow any two people to make a legally binding civil union for tax and property purposes.

Problem solved.

The end.


This entry was posted on Monday, November 26th, 2007 and is filed under Religion, Sexuality. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Make Marriage Private”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    “This NY Times editorial asks a question i’ve been asking for a while: why is the state involved with marriage in the first place?”

    This is preciously why I will not get married, as soon as you get married you are inviting the government into your life. Marriage is symbolic for me, I don’t need a goddamn piece of paper to tell me I care for someone. The government however profits off of this institution, and it always has since time in memorial.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    The Lovers’ Penalty

    “Most countries use progressive taxes, in which the tax rate is higher for a taxpayer with a higher income.[citation needed] In some of these countries, spouses are allowed to average their incomes; this is advantageous to a married couple with disparate incomes. To compensate for this somewhat, many countries provide a higher tax bracket for the averaged income of a married couple. While income averaging might still benefit a married couple with a stay-at-home spouse, such averaging would cause a married couple with roughly equal personal incomes to pay more total tax than they would as two single persons. This is commonly called the marriage penalty.

    Moreover, when the rates applied by the tax code are not based on averaging the incomes, but rather on the sum of individuals’ incomes, higher rates will definitely apply for two-earner households in progressive tax systems. This is most often the case with high-income taxpayers and is another situation where some consider there to be a marriage penalty.” – Wikipedia

  3. rachel Says:

    Keep marriages private and allow any two people to make a legally binding civil union for tax and property purposes.

    Make that “unencumbered, consenting, adult people,” and I’ll go along with that.

  4. bob in fla Says:

    Problem solved.

    You’re kidding, right? Last I heard, the Christian right is engaged in a push to make the US into an officially Christian nation. They also are unequivocably opposed to gays. As long as they are around, there will be a problem.

    The problem isn’t gay mar4riage, but the theocrats.

  5. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    Keep marriages private and allow any two people to make a legally binding civil union for tax and property purposes.

    Why just two?

    Also, does “any two people” include brother and sister, or father and son?

    Problem not solved.

  6. Joshua Says:

    A civil union may be legally identical to a marriage in every way but the brand name. The trouble is that, like it or not, brand names, and the images they project, do matter to people. That’s why Madison Avenue is what it is. Privatizing marriage and making it distinct from a civil union sounds great in the abstract, but in practice it would likely result in the marriage brand name becoming more or less exclusive to members of institutions that sanction marriages (read: organized religions). The rest of us would have to settle for the civil union brand name, which is already widely regarded as a second-class alternative at best. Effectively reserving marriage for an exclusive subset of the population would only reinforce that perception.

    Do we really want to create a de facto two-tier marriage system based upon religious affiliation vs. lack thereof? Because like it or not, that is what Justin’s proposal would probably do, and the long-term social and cultural fallout from it is anyone’s guess. Beware the unintended consequences.

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