Abolish Legal Marriage

Whereas, marriage can be analyzed along five dimensions: natural, religious, economic, social, and legal.

Whereas, individuals who are married have different status under the law for contracts, property, taxes, etc. than non-married individuals.

Whereas, America has weakened or eliminated other legal status distinctions such as those based on race or gender.

Be it resolved, that the United States should elminate the legal concept of marriage. Couples wishing to be married may declare themselves married and/or participate in a religous marriage ceremony, but the law shall make no distinction between people based on marriage status.



Individuals who are part of any partnership have different status under the law for contracts, property, taxes, etc. then people who aren’t in partnerships. So what?

This topic pops up from time to time and every time it does I can’t figure out where you anti-marriage folks are coming from.


Who are you calling “anti-marriage”? I think marriage is wonderful and heartily recommend it.

However, why should marriage have a legal status in addition to its natural and religous ones?

Why should the state spend time and money tracking who is married? In other words, why does marriage rate a registry, official certificates, etc. when other natural (monogamous, in love, fertile) and religious (baptized, confirmed, bar/bat mitzvah, sealed, born again) statuses don’t?

Why should the law treat married individuals differently than non-married individuals?

Most of the legal consequences of marriage the people actually care about aren’t about tax exemptions or joint ownership of property. They’re about next-of-kin status, child custody, etc. So long as “family” is a fundemental societal unit, it’s going to need to be legally recognized. At its base, marriage is the formation of a legally recognized kinship relation where none existed before.

So, what exactly is your proposal? That we no longer recognize family units? Or that we use extra-legal ways to recognize them?

Religious rites like baptism, confirmation, bar mitzvahs, etc are essentially relationships between one person and God. Things like racial and gender discrimination are between individual people and society as a whole. But marriage is a consentual relationship between two people. From a legal standpoint, it’s akin to forming a business partnership. Each party is essentially acknowledging a set of obligations and commitments towards the other.

So what if they care about them? Does our society have no way to enter into contracts without marriage?

Perhaps you might note that it is a fundamental social unit, if it is, because it is recognized. However, it is not really recognized, it is declared. Or did you think you could just trot over, being happy gay man, and get married to take part in the basics of society?

And we can do it without the marriage garbage.


I really don’t care if you “abolish” marriage and institute a contract forming a kin relationship of a specified sort instead. Frankly, I don’t see what the difference is, aside from some traditional ceremonial elements which have nothing to do with the legally recognized elements of marriage, given that they are neither necessary nor sufficient for legal marriage. Perhaps you could enumerate how this would be more than a semantic change?

I’m a bit confused by this bit, though:

Err. I’m not following you here. The point is that gay men can not gain legal recognition of their relationships simply by declaring themselves to be married - which, of course, they do with some frequency. The legal difficulties faced by gay couples are precisely the reason I suggested that we’d better have some sort of legal recognition of something like marriage.

The legal difficulties faced by gay couples are the reason you want legality in marriage? Tell me you didn’t just say that. Please.

I did say that. Perhaps I wasn’t sufficiently clear, however.

The legal difficulties faced by gays resulting from their relationships not being legally recognized are fairly substantial - just for example, it isn’t particularly uncommon that upon the death of a partner, the surviving partner is screwed out of practically everything by the deceased’s family, be it child custody, title to a house, or even just a say in funeral preparations. Legally recognizing the relationship would remedy this situation to a great extent, as we can see from the fact that hostile in-laws can’t do nearly as much to screw over a legally recognized spouse. Hence, I submit that legally recognizing these sorts of relationships is a good thing, and not recognizing them is a bad thing.

Perhaps you read me as saying that we should legally recognize marriage so that we can continue to discriminate against gays? I’m not quite sure how you got that from what I said, but I apologize if I gave that impression. The solution isn’t eliminating marriage, though, it’s recognizing all marriages instead of just straight ones. Or, if you insist, changing the name of marriage to Kinship Contract, Type I (not to be confused with Kinship Contract, Type II, nowadays known as adoption), and opening it to all comers. But like I said, I don’t see how that would be more than a semantic change.

Then you don’t appreciate the weight of law.

Okay then, why don’t you explain the difference between a civil marriage contract and the hypothetical Kinship Contract, Type I, so that my lack of appreciation for the weight of law might be remedied?

How do you declare that you are married? By yelling to the air? After that, I still don’t know that you are married.

I thought the city hall is just keeping a record of the fact that you are married.

So who benefits from the abolition of marriage, how and why?

Logic be damned; we don’t live on planet Vulcan; I want something more than logical consistency and uniformity with other laws, I want to know why abolition of marriage would be better for humans.

Actually, the Vulcans practiced marriage, and arranged marriage at that.

Carry on.


I’m not fond of the idea that it should be government’s job to grant permission to couples to live together (marriage) and to stop living togeher (divorse). Can we let govt simply recognize or record marriages and divorces, as they do the formation and dissolution of busines partnerships, instead of granting permssion? If we did this my way, a marriage could consist of any two people who want to be married: two men, two women, or one of each; it would make no difference. Better yet, it could be three or more people. Also, dvorse would never require you to prove that one of the parties did something wrong.

So Tygr and I, having analyzed the growth potential of Raleigh, have hypothetically decided that land near where he lives is going to become very valuable in ten years or so, and buy up a 100-acre tract “out in the slashin’s” with the intention of splitting the property taxes on it for ten years and then selling it, hopefully at a killing. But one or both of us may not live out that ten years, or one of us may need to sell off his share because he needs the money. We could, of course, write a detailed deed in which what happens in any of fifty possible scenarios is spelled out.

But we don’t need to – all we need do is say that we hold the land as tenants in common, and state law covers all 50 scenarios. If we jointly disagree with the default position for tenants in common and want to write in that, say, in the event of his death or incapacity the land will go to Jkayla and not to the Tygr Cub, who at two is not suited to manage land by herself and having a share of his interest in trust for her would unnecessarily complicate the situation, we can do so – but the default positions are already spelled out for us, so we don’t need to analyze all of them.

It’s in an analogy to that basic concept that legal marriage has its proper place. It’s in society’s interest to ensure that minor children are provided for by their parents rather than the taxpayers, to the extent possible, and that persons (usually the mothers, but not always) whose careers have been interrupted by the need to bear and raise those children have economic assets. And that there are options in place in law to provide for unforeseen circumstances that do occur in people’s lives.

The legal conception of marriage is that it provides those default options as a matter of standard law. They can be superseded by agreements between the parties to the marriage, to be sure. And dissolution of a marriage with children is not as simple as dissolution of a partnership. (Going back to the land-investment partnership analogy, think of it as Tygr and I having decided to plant a grove of trees which will take 20 years to produce a viable crop but which need constant tending until then. If we fall at odds over the property, who’s going to ensure those trees are taken care of?)

Now, I would have no problem with two gay people marrying, and (aside from personal moral convictions that I do not believe I have any right to enforce on others) I would have no problem with a hypothetical polyamorous multi-person marriage. But these are not arguments against legal marriage; they’re arguments for allowing an expanded definition. If you personally feel it’s immoral to marry another man (or another woman, if you’re female) or a group of other people, then don’t. But don’t try to enforce your definition of what’s a morally valid marriage on others who disagree with you.

How you declare anything - by stating so to those you want to know. Why do you need to know I’m married?

In many states, they are first granting you a license to get married. But they question is, why do they need to keep a record of marriage? They don’t keep records of ordinations or engagements.

Thanks for the comments, Polycarp, you provided some detailed benefits of the legal version of marriage.

One question -

If we license marriages and provide for legal standards of marriage to ensure minor children are provided for, should we not license potential parents before they have the children?

Simply placing them in a contract that has some barriers to dissolution doesn’t seem like a lot of protection against children ending up the public dole.

I’m sorry, Gorsnak, I find myself not being able to participate calmly in this thread. My problem. I would prefer all my comments to be forgotten, especially implications I may have made about your character.

Point taken. This is a case where you need to do “balancing,” and the consensus view of Americans seems to be that the current system gives the best balance between a societal need for security for those children and the rights of the individuals contracting the marriage.

Personally, I’m not overly thrilled about the idea of “marriage licenses” – it’s a Constitutional right (see Loving v. Virginia) and the state has no right to “license” it. Actually all a license does is to ensure that you have met the legal qualifications for marriage in that state, and its issuance is a matter of course on the prsumption that you have. But it still is an intrusion of the state on a right.