Why is government involved in marriage at all?

It seems to me that marriage is a religious act. Every religion has various rules about getting married, such as who can marry who, what the procedure is, and how it can be gotten out of (if at all). Sounds very much like a topic that the goverment should stay out of. They have no right to dictate who can marry who, or any such thing.

Here’s what I’m leading up to:

All couples (gay, straight, whatever) should go to the goverment to set up a civil union, if they want the goverment to recognize this person as their next of kin for inheritance and medical decisions, etc etc etc. And if they are religious and want God to recognize them as married, they should follow the procedures of whatever religion they follow.

But these two things have nothing to do with each other, and they ought to get separated.

From what I hear, the great majority of Americans do not mind if gay couples are recognized with civil unions; they just don’t want them to be called “married”. My proposal would take this out of the goverment’s hands. Politicians should love this, since it would effectively destroy this “third rail”. I’m wondering what the Teeming Millions think. Thanks.

Outlaw Marriage.

Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I’m not saying to outlaw marriage. It just shouldn’t be within the government’s jurisdiction.

why only couples?

Keeve: We’ve been over this a number of times and if you do some searching, you’ll find similar threads. Many (most?) of us on this board agree, so there isn’t going to be much debate. However, the people who are resisting SSM don’t want to give up the legal status of marriage, as marriage, so they aren’t going to agree. In fact, the new battle cry will be that gays (and liberals) want to take marriage away from everyone because they can’t have it. You’re not going to solve the SSM problem with a simple semantic slight of hand. Besides, we already have two different definitions: Civil Marriage and Religious Marriage. They don’t always overlap-- some religions don’t recognize certain civil mariages (think Catholics and divorce) and the government doesn’t recognize some Religious Marriages (think FLDS churches and polygamy).

Meh, allow civil unions and in less than one generation the labeling issue will sort itself out. Either it’ll get dropped in favour of “marriage” (because there won’t be any discernible difference between the two) or the word “marriage” will get replaced with the more generic “union” (though “marry” will remain as a useful verb).

Of all the issues surrounding this subject, what to call it is surely the least important.

If you look at the history of marriage in English-speaking countries, you will find that originally the power to marry belonged to the individual people. I cite Northern Piper’s quick overview of the subject fairly often when this comes up; over time, the people’s right to marry themselves got hemmed in by people who wanted increasing control over the matter. Some of that increasing control is related to an interest in the property rights of the people – when most people were peasants who had no property, few social organisations cared overmuch who they married and how. Wealth leads to concerns about distribution of wealth and peaceful transfer thereof.

Marriage is pretty much one of those universal human things. Some cultures have codified it with religious ritual, some with economic ritual (how many goats do you want for your daughter?), some with legal ritual. The English-speaking world seems to have settled on the legal ritual as the primary social confirmation thing.

My religion has no marriage sacrament, nor a theology with which it could justify one; nonetheless, I am still married. (And really not interested in perverting my faith to fit in on this subject by hacking together some halfassed justification for a religious marriage ceremony.) The idea that marriage is an exclusively religious concept is historically false; establishing that in law is an establishment favoring a particular set of religions over others.

If I could wave my magic wand and make everything all right, I would restore marriage to something that individuals could do according to their own preferences, which might include religious foofaraw if they subscribe to one of the religions that cares. Failing in that, having a neutral party administering marriage without ideological bias would be my second choice. As that is unlikely in the real world, heh, I accept the governmental influence on the concept as both inevitable given the property concerns and certainly far superior to encouraging the religious fringes of faiths with sacramental marriage from claiming marriage as theirs by ceding them a field that was never theirs. (If they want a sooper-speshul word all their own, they already have “matrimony” for sacramental marriage, and can leave the rest of us in peace.)

I happen to agree. Marriage is a religious ceremony. It should have no legal character or consequence (either benefit, or advantage) at all. It should be none of the government’s business. Parenthood should have an entire sheaf of responsibilities, legal, social, financial, and those are reasonbly enforced by government.

Unfortunately, under the authoritarian model of religious practice, it is necessary to allow government control of marriage, and many other aspects of spirituality. American Christian churches seem to find this desirable.

But then, American Protestants also think that the goverment should educate their children in matters of faith as well. Evidently, for American Protestants politics is more important than children, wives, or God. Where your treasure is, there lies your heart.


As long as the spouses in question worksout a pre-nuptial agreement covering all possible contigencies regarding inheritance, medical decisions, spousal benifits, etc I see no problem with polygamy. Of course it could make spousal exemption from court testimony more complex.

Just because something is marked by a religious ceremony or religiously-based rite of passage doesn’t make it a religious act. Many Christians commemorate being born with baptism, and other religions have other ceremonies done at or shortly after birth, like circumcision, but that doesn’t make being born a “religious act”.

The pagan Greeks and Romans had marriages; so did or do the Hindus, Chinese, ancient Egyptians, and Incans. Genghis Khan had a number of wives, at least one of whom (Borte, his eldest wife) he seems to have genuinely loved. Communist states still had marriage (Lenin had a wife; Stalin was married at least twice–not to both women at the same time). The form of marriage has varied quite a lot; monogamy and polygyny have been the most common, with polyandry being much rarer. “Serial monogamy”, as practiced by movie stars and many ordinary people in the modern Western world, has been found in other times and places as well. Even in cultures where marriage took the form of heterosexual monogamy, there may have been important differences from our current ideal of marriage: marriage hasn’t always been seen primarily as a question of love or as an egalitarian, voluntary relationship between two individual adults (and it still isn’t seen in those terms in many places outside “the West”).

One thing, though, is that marriage has always been seen as a social act (even more so in most times and places than in the modern Western world, with monogamous marriages based on voluntary, loving unions between individual adults). Getting married imposes all sorts of rights and obligations not only on the parties involved, but also on other people–on hospitals, employers, insurance companies, prosecuting attorneys, probate judges, government agencies for child and family services, etc. Which is why government is involved in marriage.

Christians didn’t invent marriage, they don’t get to make the rules for marriage for everyone else, and if people some Christians don’t think should be allowed to get married–people of the same sex, or people who were previously married but have gotten divorces, or people of different religions, or (for a very small minority of Christians these days) people of different races–want to get married, well, those Christians who disapprove don’t have to let anyone get married in their churches. (If the OP isn’t a Christian, substitute the appropriate terms for “Christian” and “church” as needed.)

Seems perfectly reasonable to me. If you want a civil union, get one. If you want to call yourself “married” go for it. It has no more or no less legal significance than “going steady,” or “living together.”

Marriage is not a religious act.

It only means anything when it has legal status.

At one time laws and religion were intertwined, now civilized states keep the two apart.

Personally, for tax reasons, I would quite like to have a ‘civil union’ with quite a number of people simultaneously - and that is rather worrying our ‘dear leaders’.

It just strikes me that if we go the way of civil unions, then as soon as people start losing their parent’s coverage (insurance and the like), they should immediately “marry” their siblings until they find a life partner in order to keep some benefits.

In the end, I just think that the benefits to married couples should be phased out all together. It was fine to give them benefits when love, marriage, child bearing and child rearing had some connection among them, but nonwadays that the society doesn’t need marriages for self-perpetuation, it is just a waste of government money to benefit a minority.

If a specific government feels the need for more kids to balance its demographics, then give incentives to parents, but incentives to marriage seem pretty pointless to me.

That sounds pretty much the same as what I’m suggesting: Goverment controls civil unions, and marriage is up to the individual’s religion if any.

How is that different than “civil union”? Is there a reason you want to call it “marriage”? My suggestion is based on the idea that most Americans don’t mind giving these rights to various relationships, provided that they aren’t referred to as marriages.

Not as far apart as I would like. For example, in the Roman Catholic religion, a never-married person is not allowed to marry someone who was married and then had a civil divorce. But the goverment will allow such a marriage. This mixing of the rules is problematic as I see it. But it is easily solved if the goverment handles civil unions and civil breaks, and stop getting involved with marriage and divorce.


Why government should be involved with marriage: First, people are going to engage in sexual relations with each other. For the vast majority of people, such sexual relations can and often do result in the conception of a child. Allow me to exclude from this assumption engagement in “alternative sexual acts” however common they may be, exclusively gay persons, infertile persons, women past menopause, etc. I’m making a gross generalization with an awareness that there are many (though overall still a minority) exceptions to it. Among a large percentage of such persons, one or more children are wanted.

Society considers itself responsible for assuring that children too young to work receive proper care to enable them to grow into the next generation of productive adults. (Note that this does not presuppose government responsibility to provide or finance that care. Government may be libertarian, depending on charitable means to provide it, or may mandate that parents provide it.)

It is socially beneficial that every child have a caring nurturing parent (whether biological or adoptive) providing for it. Given our social structure, there is a strong advantage to having two adults providing that care. This corresponds well to the two adults it requires to procreate.

There may be circumstances (“deadbeat dads,” “unfit mothers,” etc. – see any daytime talk show for examples) where the state is obliged to step in and arrange for a child to receive that proper care. But in general, it is considered far more advantageous to give legal recognition, and often tax advantages, to the desire of a couple which wishes to spend the remainder of their lives together with appropriate boinking and consequent offspring. This assures that there are two adults present and providing for the care of the child(ren) which they have produced, at little or no cost to the state.

Marriage is not exclusively religious: There is absolutely no correlation between the desire of two people to commit to each other and their putative religious faith. Atheists fall in love just as often as fundamentalists, and every gradation betwen. However, marriage is seen by some faiths as entailing a religious commitment. One makes promises before God, the gods, the tutelary god of marital unions, one’s ancestors, or Whomever, relative to the union one is committing to in marriage. These commitments are similar to the ones the state tends to seek the marrying couple to make to assure the care of the resulting offspring. So there is no clear and practical reason why the religious officiant (priest, pastor, rabbi, bishop, whatever) should not function as agent of the state in receiving those commitments. This meets the Lemon test, in that there is a clear secular purpose distinct from the religious one, and far from entangling government in religion, it reduces the duty on government by enabling the clergy to assume a share of the duties of the marriage-officiant civil official, as regards their own co-religionists.

Marriage requires some degree of regulation: Children become capable of receiving sexual pleasure at a much younger age than is required for mature commitment to a lifelong marriage. For most people this is the early teens; for a substatial minority of people, sexual arousal, sometimes even with orgasm, occurs before full puberty. Childhood/adolescent crushes on adults are a staple of human experience. Adolescents pair-bond and proceed as far in sexual relationships as they consider socially acceptable (note, not as far as their parents do, as far as they do). But these relationships are not (usually) stable lifelong commitments, but temporary emotion-based reactions. The result is a very fertile breeding ground for pedophilia and for unstable underage marriages. So obliging commitment for marriage to require a certain degree of maturity (generally an age of consent, often with parental or judicial signoff required for marriages at a younger second tier of ages) is beneficial to the goal of providing stable adult parentage for minor children.

Marriage does not require fertility. The array of factors that lead a couple to desire to contract marriage is as manifold and rich as are the varieties of human experience. The ability to jointly beget and bear a child is not a mandative factor. It is here that we bring back into the discussion those people we excluded from the generalization in the first paragraph. Because adoption, fostering, and other modes of provision for children by others than their biological mother and father, are fully acceptable ways of handling society’s requirement that children be provided for. And some couples will wish to take advantage of the nature of the marital commitment towards each other without any desire to add children to the mix.

Hence: The nature of pair-bonding, and the social requirement to assure children are provided for, make marriage an institution which requires to be encouraged. A delimitation on the basis of maturity is a good one. But other limitations are mandated by personal (often religious), not social definitions of marriage, and need not be applied. (I call on all participants to place tripartite and higher-level marriages and bigamous concurrent marriages in a separate thread, to avoid confusing the discussion with the sorts of extraneous complications such relationships necessarily entail legally.)

Given that my religion has no marriage ceremony, and my husband has no religion, I find that utterly unacceptable.

I am married. I am exactly as married as people who have some sort of liturgical dongle on their marriages because they have religious hoops to go through. I am not the sort of second-class citizen that does not get access to the universal human thing known as “marriage”.

Marriage is not soley a religious ceremony. Midnight Catholic Christmas Mass is, and the govt doesn’t get involved there.

It seems that there are reasons for a couple to want official (public) notice of the relationship that exists between those two folks. Inheritance is one issue, especially when contested.

For example: If a noble had no official heirs, the crown was able to appoint a new croney to that estate. With hiers, the king was less likely to do so. A marriage certificate is paper proof of the legitimacy of an heir, among others.

So when individuals want government (or public) approval for something they are doing (like getting married, or running a buisness), then the government has the ability to regulate said behavior in what it thinks is the common good, and thus is not a “private” or “religious” only matter.

Disclaimer: I personally don’t care if Bert wants to marry Ernie. I wish them all the luck. They’re gonna need it.

Polycarp, let me take issue with a few of your points (excuse my paraphrasing :slight_smile: )

“Humans are horny and when they do, kids can come out”
“These kids need to be taken care of and that is more likely to come at no expense to the government when there are two parents”

We have better ways to establish paternity than seeing who is married to the mother. You can regulate paternal responsibility without regulating marriage.

“Marriage is not exclusively religious”

Cohabitation and cooperation (with or without children) do not need marriage. This is where the differential incentives to marriage come in place. If you make them either available to all or not available at all, there is nothing left but a “spiritual” bond of whatever flavour you choose and no real function to a legal marriage.

“Marriage requires some degree of regulation”

You are substituting sex for marriage. Sex does require some regulation to shield children from it (in that they are not deemed capable of giving consent).

The remaining aspects of a union (buying a house, sharing bills, what have you) do not need marriage to be regulated as they already are regulated by banks, providers, etc. mostly by a simple age limit.

“Marriage does not require fertility”

You are assuming that you need marriage for child rearing. I think the numbers of single parents out there will beg to differ.

The reality is that marriage is everyday less linked to procreation and rearing. Married couples are outnumbered by all the other possible situations (according to the USCB).

Every need for marriage you are offering is a need for parenting, not for marriage. The protection of marriage is just a relic from a different time when marriage was linked to procreation.