Here’s the most thorough history of marriage in the West that I could find:
In light of Judge Vaughn Walker in California recently overturning Proposition 8, and so much polarization in regard to legal recognition of gay marriage, I think we could reconsider our choices in the way we sanction marriage and validate relationships in our brave new world.
Does the U.S. government really have any business in granting individuals marriage rights? Could not the controversy over gay marriage be settled by removing any government or civil role in marriages?
Personally, as a practicing Catholic I cherish the freedom I have to practice Catholicism as much as I respect the freedom of others to practice or not practice a religion or any set of beliefs, as long as there remains a respect for the property rights, freedom and personhood of others.
I believe our laws should seek to protect the weakest among us. As a libertarian I believe we benefit most by protecting the maximum amount of freedom for individuals without compromising the protection of the weakest among us. But, I do not think that society can legislate morality because we will never come to a complete agreement on what that means and all attempts to do so, inflict more harm than good by piling on more and more beauracracy which only fills the purses of lawyers, with the side effect of creating moral hazards. A minimal amount of law gives the most incentive toward individuals taking responsibility for the consequences of their choices while also encouraging the freedom necessary to pursue a meaningful life.
At issue is not so much who is marrying whom, but rather who has the power to sanction interpersonal agreements. In the early days of Christianity, when a man and a woman married, it was not required to have a Priest present. This is because the marriage was understood to be a commitment made between the husband and wife. Even in the modern liturgy of the Church it is still understood that the sacramental aspect of the marriage happens between the man and the woman. The Priest is a witness, as is anyone else present. It is the only Sacrament in Catholicism understood in this way.
In the US, we continue to grow our government at an alarming rate. It is as if we have come to put our faith in the dictates of government to protect us rather than using our freedom to take responsibility for our lives.
Over time we have become more and more dependent on government to create and sustain our cultural sensibilities (think public education, NPR, FDA, etc.) rather than allowing an organic emergence of culture through the creativity that personal freedom, respect, creativity and relationship fosters.
One of the destructive consequences from government’s regulating of marriage is a shift away from personal investment we make toward a sense of belonging and participating in community. The more that marriage ties one to a legal agreement binding us to the laws of the land the less likely marriage will bind us to the community in which we live.
How ironic that the more we move away from placing trust in religious authorities and institutions, we come to replace that trust to the authority of the government. We have given government the authority to make marriage legitimate and have gradually allowed government influence in every aspect of our lives. American people who once fought so bravely to be free from the chains of an over bearing King are exchanging one misplaced authority for another. As Pete Townshend tells us, “Meet the new boss…”
Have we traded off rule by religious and imperial authorities from our collective past for rule by a government of our elite and wealthy peers? What makes secular leaders any more trustworthy than the disdained authorities of the past? Perhaps the acceptance of secular authority is very much a trade off; a rejection of the authority of our collective past, now condemned as evil, but rather than becoming the Daddy, we look for secular government to “save” us.
Secular marriage today has far more to do with tax credits and divorce laws, than what is intended and proposed by sacramental marriage in Christianity. Why not let there be a choice; choose marriage that is sanctioned privately, with a mutually agreed contract between two people, or one sanctioned by a church. There is no reason that a marriage requires legitimacy from civil authority, especially in a day in age in which more and more people opt out of marriage completely.
If two consenting adults wish to contract their living arrangements there should be little objection from any outside parties. If two people want a sacramental or faith based marraige that too should be a matter between the couple and a church of their choosing.
Marriage as a secular agreement, regulated by civil law, is one more way to grow the business of government. Ask any divorce lawyer, senator or congressman or the IRS. The huge expenses involved in divorces, just like other things that the government has the power to regulate, stem from accumulated wealth of lawyers who lobby for laws that benefit lawyers! This situation could only happen now, at a time when our culture has become so affluent that we can afford such luxuries.
When the government sanctions anything, it happens through a small but powerful group of elites who think that it’s their job to legislate for particular social outcomes they deem as good for us all. A free society must reject any attempt to choose winners, whether in business, or societal customs. If the government does sanction gay marriage, it will soon be followed by legislation across the cultural spectrum aimed at enforcing outcomes concerning all issues surrounding gay and transgendered people. Whatever happened to the battle cry of “Keep your laws out of my bedroom?”
Yes, there are two paths you can go down, one way is to back up, remove some of the powers granted to the government in the last 100 years, the other way is to grant more power to government in the hopes of choosing winners and punishing all the winners of history that we enjoy blaming for where and who we are now.
I do not expect any special treatment for my lifestyle choices and do not want the government to have the power to enforce special treatment of anyone elses. But, most of all, I wish it were more commonplace to have the conversations we’re not having, put the polarizing stances aside, and discuss the content as well as the consequences of our ideas.