Almost 20 years ago my wife and I had a great wedding with all the trimmings in a small town church in central Pennsylvania. I remember purposefully waiting until the night before to write my vows and then spent the rest of the evening and the morning of the wedding day memorizing them. The heart felt written words are where my wife, Donna, can surely get her hands on them should she feel the need to remind me of the promises I made. But this verbal and written contract witnessed by well over a hundred people and overseen by a man of God was sullied by the intrusion of the words, “By the Power Vested in me by The State of Pennsylvania…”. I also remember being taken behind the alter before leaving the church to sign the marriage “license”. This forced ménage-à-trois / Prima Nocte with the government was the only tarnish on an otherwise perfect day. And I would never allow such an intrusion on the most important day of my life had I the life experience and knowledge I now enjoy.
How is it that state sanction became part of the most private relationship known to human beings? We talk of privatizing many government functions such as utilities, police, fire protection and Social Security and I would like to add marriage to the list.
Not allowing government to force its way into your relationships with others would remove the state from an agreement between two (or more) consenting adults. If you wished to have a ceremony or ritual to make the agreement more memorable and have a higher meaning, the you should be free to do so. Religious institutions, or any other kind, may choose whatever rules they deem appropriate to sanction a relationship. Even “privatized” marriages that enter into a voluntary contract that the state might be asked to enforce, can still have the terms defined by those entering into the contract. Those terms could be as detailed as desired. The free-market would produce as many different marriage contracts in popular women’s/men’s magazines as there are celebrity diets. A web search today for “Marriage Contract” will produce over 496,000 sites.
It was the Marriage Act of 1754 in England that began the tradition we have of marriage being regulated by law. In the New World, marriages were performed by local government officials but common-law unions were just as valid. As the 20th century progressed along with the idea that government belonged in every aspect of our public and private lives, the legislatures and courts have done their best to smooth out the wrinkles and provide us with a one-size-fits-all package. But the idea that government shouldn’t be setting any rules or providing for advantages or disadvantages in law based on your personal relationships is rarely addressed.
Leave it to the government to think that transportation, communications, science, art, religion, education or marriage could be made uniform so as to serve the needs of hundreds of millions of people in this country with a near infinite combination of needs desires and relationships. The free-market of ideas and of goods and services is the only known ‘system’ with the ability to provide the diverse needs of individuals. And for something as important, personal and long lasting as marriage I will advocate nothing less.
The free-market would spare individuals the frustration and betrayal of the state changing their contract without warning. Each church, synagogue, mosque, temple, cult, club, group, or pair could make their own rules about sanctioning the voluntary unions of individuals. And if private arbitration was not preferred in the original contract then maybe the only role government might be asked to play is to enforce a contract that specified their power to do so.
I’m very encouraged by how many more people are understanding of the concept that the more important something is the less you want the government involved, and intimate personal relationships are very important.
“Freedom’s the Answer,… What’s the Question”
Ernest was aided in the writing of this article by the writings of David Boaz, the author of Libertarianism: A Primer and editor of The Libertarian Reader http://www.libertarianism.org/.