Why do we need the government to approve marriage?

This came up while I was thinking about the problem of gay marriage.

I did not ask this as a loaded Libertarian question, I am honestly curious, why do we need the government to sanction marriage at all? Could we easily stop doing so?

Many laws, covering everything from income taxes to child custody to inheritance of property, recognize the existence of marriage. Unless and until all of these laws are amended or repealed the government must have a way of deciding who is married and who is not.

Marriage is many things. One of those things is that it is akin to a business contract. The government is there to enforce that contact as it appies to finances and minor children.


As long as you get different treatment from the government based on marital status, they have a vested interest in approving/disapproving marraiges.

Right. The State has an interest in there being a uniform standard as to who is legally “kin” to whom, for such considerations as community property – and the division thereof in case of dissolution of the bond --, inheritance of estates, custody and responsibility for the welfare of minors, taxes, etc. (love? schmove!)

“Sacramental” marriage was already long-established and traditionally and generally recognized as the standard that defined a family unit, so it got “grandfathered” in as the model for what became “civil marriage”.

In some countries, being married before a minister of your religion is simultaneous with the civil recognition of being married, or you may alternatively be just civilly married. You can also have jurisdictions where the civil marriage procedure is mandatory regardless of whether or not you have a church wedding.

I’m pretty sure that, at least in the western world, it was many years before Marriage was a Church-regulated affair. for a long time, up until medievel days, civil marriage was the norm.

and back to the OP, I think that it’s less that we need the government to approve marriage, and more that the state sees marriage as an activity which it should regulate. I mean, there are few things more basic to a communtiy than who is married to whom.


You can be married without government approval. Doesn’t require any particular custom or action, just the acquiesence of the other person to consider you a married pair. If I had my druthers, a marriage wouldn’t need all that silliness that American Christians get into, just a small token exchanged privately. A ring? WHy not?
Heck, if we’re thinking simplistic here, two murmured "I love you"s does the trick.

You cannot gain government or legal advantages from being married without the government saying “OK, you’re married.”

Will rights
Hospital visitation / control rights (family says “take off life support,” you say “no!” unless you’re family by marriage you have no say
Cohabitation / Tax rights
Family-raising rights

Sorry to bump such an old thread, but recent events have had me thinking about this again.

Is this the extant of rights and regulations that are effected by marriage law? I am still interested on what would need to be done to get government out of the marriage buisness altogether.

To be honest, I don’t think you can get the government “out of the marriage business altogether” and still retain anything like our current concept of marriage.

The whole point of marriage is that it takes a relationship from being a purely private affair between the couple concerned and makes it a public affair, which the world at large is expected to acknowledge, accept and recognise. And with the pervasive influence of government in modern life, that effectively means that, if marriage is to be effective as people intend, government has to be prepared to take a view on whether people are married or not, and treat them accordingly. If you can’t get the government to recognise and accept the reality of your relationship and the consequences which flow from it, then you’re not really married as we currently understand the term. And this, in turn, means there has to be some civil law about what amounts to a marriage and what does not.

There’s a huge range of rights, duties, statuses, presumptions, etc that are affected by getting married. Getting married will probably have more legal consquences for you than any other single event between birth and death. I couldn’t begin to list them all and, in any case, the legal consqequences of marriage will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but there is virtually no branch of law or government activity – tax, social security, family law, criminal law, inheritance, contract law, even the law of torts – which is always completely indifferent to the question of whether people are married or not.

The only way to get government completely out of marriage is to treat everybody as single, regardless of the reality of their lives and relationships or their wishes in respect of the matter. I can’t see why that would be a good or a desirable thing. For governments to ignore social realities seems to be, in general, a Bad Idea.

Another one’s immigration.
There’s a really sad old thread in the pit about a US-Australian (I think) couple who wanted to marry and live together, but neither country would let them marry, and none of them couldn’t get the neccessary permissions to immigrate, so in the end they gave up each other :frowning:

In response to the Defense of Marriage Act, the GAO came up with a list of 1,049 federal benefits, rights and privileges which are contingent on marital status. You can read all about them in this lengthy .pdf file. As an overview, the laws were classified into the following 13 categories:

Social Security and Related Programs, Housing, and Food Stamps
Veteran’s Benefits
Federal Civilian and Military Service Benefits
Employment Benefits and Related Laws
Immigration, Naturalization, and Aliens
Trade, Commerce, and Intellectual Property
Financial Disclosure and Conflict of Interest
Crimes and Family Violence
Loans, Guarantees, and Payments in Agriculture
Federal Natural Resources and Related Laws
Miscellaneous Laws

It would require a lot of changes to laws (and these are only the federal ones) to completely eliminate the role of the government in marriage.