Decrease Government Control of Marriage

Marriage is one of the most controversial and debated issues in the U.S. today. It seems to me that both sides of the argument are missing a key question: why is government even involved in marriage?

The history of marriage licenses is not widely known. In the early history of our republic, marriage was a family, church, and community issue. Marriage was a private contract, outside of the jurisdiction and power of the government (although unfortunately there were laws preventing whites and blacks from marrying):

No State shall [...] pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts – Article 1, Section 10; United States Constitution

Imagine it! You didn’t need permission from the government to marry, the state didn’t dictate the rules of marriage, the government was in its proper role of protecting private contracts. Then marriage licenses started popping up in various states, primarily in the later part of the 19th century. The legal definition of license is, “The permission granted by competent authority to exercise a certain privilege that, without such authorization, would constitute an illegal act.”

States started requiring licenses in only one case of marriage: interracial marriage. If two whites wanted to marry, it remained a private issue and the government respected the contract. By creating marriage licenses, the states were easily able to regulate and prohibit interracial marriages (such as a white marrying a black person, Native American, Japanese individual, Chinese individual, etc.). Most states wanted to keep interracial marriage in their complete control through licenses.

In 1923, Congress approved the Uniform Marriage and Marriage License Act, and by 1929 every state had created marriage license laws and carried control over marriage. This is essentially the system we have had for more than 80 years, and today people seem to have forgotten that there is another way around either legalizing or prohibiting homosexual marriage: return to the concept of private contracts.

If you are joined in a wedding ceremony without first obtaining a marriage license from the state, the state recognizes your matrimony as invalid. Without the state’s permission it cannot happen. It is the nanny state at its best in an area that government has no logical involvement. Why do married couples get special privileges that a single man or woman can’t? I find it incomprehensible that people go along with the idea that the right to marry comes from the government.

Government has mangled marriage into a scenario of special privileges and tax breaks rather than marriage’s supposed purpose of love, commitment, and the union of two souls. Marriage has become an institution of the state and, to that degree, it has been taken away from the family, community, and church. It is an issue that the government created with its own flawed beliefs of controlling the people (the states wanted to control and prevent interracial marriage and personal decisions); marriage licenses remain an easy way for government to unnecessarily regulate individuals.

There is a simple solution to the issues of marriage today, and that is to again understand contracts. Licenses were unneeded in marriage from the beginning and used only to regulate behavior that the state didn’t approve of. The government’s proper role is to recognize civil unions, uphold and protect private contracts, and return the power back to the families and churches. It is not government’s role to define marriage, control marriage, and make decisions that should be left to the local level.

The last thing people should be calling for is more government control of marriage. This takes power from individuals and local entities and gives it to government bureaucrats. In a time when constitutional amendments and increased state regulatory power over marriage are seen as the main solutions to the ongoing controversy, I implore you to consider an alternative viewpoint.

More government control over marriage is hardly a sensible and sustainable solution. Instead, allow people to voluntarily enter into contracts without the watchful eye of the state dictating the conditions. Let families, churches, and communities make the final decisions, not the state. It is time to grasp that the natural right and ability to marry does not stem from the state. Increased individual regulatory power, not increased governmental might, will go tremendously further toward solving the issues of marriage by promoting freedom and responsibility, free of state control.

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