Marriage is great.
Those three words may seem strange coming from a college student, but it’s true. I recently celebrated three years of marriage to my freaking awesome wife, Jacquee. Sorry ladies, I’m spoken for.
What is not great, however, is the unnecessary involvement of the government in the unique institution that is marriage. For many, it is more of a religious or personal commitment than a civil one. The need for state approval is more of a nuisance than any kind of help.
It was my own personal experience with state-approved marriage that birthed my feelings. The short version goes like this: My then-fianc’eacute; and I went to the courthouse to procure our necessary license to make our union legal. Upon arrival we were asked for our names and $50; we provided both. We were also asked to put our Social Security numbers on the form for the license, but since we were both legal adults we weren’t required to show any kind of identification, not even a library card. Then they asked us to raise our right hands and swear we weren’t related.
After that we were free to marry. For all the state knows we could have made up names, invented Social Security numbers and been fraternal twins; all they really wanted was that crisp $50 bill.
Now, to be fair, I got married in Arizona, but I doubt the procedure differs much in other states. The point is the frivolousness of the government regulating marriage is laughable, especially because it reaps no benefit.
For centuries marriages were viewed as arrangements between families or religious ceremonies. Even in colonial America there was no required state regulation of marriage. Couples had to register their marriage, but common-law and cohabitation were recognized as viable unions.
The need for marriage licenses arose in the late 19th and early 20th century in the United States mainly as a means to prohibit interracial marriage. In the 1920s, it was illegal in 38 states for a white citizen to marry anyone of minority status. The government enforced this by making it necessary to get a license.
Today we face another kind of discrimination, that against same-sex marriage. To me the answer is obvious: dissolve state-approved licenses and return marriage to the state in which it began – a personal, family or religious commitment.
I know, it seems far-fetched, but why not do this?
A few of the arguments against this idea have to do with taxing, children in case of a separation and the rights of spouses to hospital visits. However, the answers to most of these are clear and simple.
As far as taxes go, even if you are married you can still file as single, and many people do. However, although married couples receive certain tax breaks, the fairest solution to this and the rest of America’s tax issues would be to pass a flat tax. That way everyone pays the same, regardless.
A child born to unwed parents is nothing new, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon. Unwed couples go to court over custody issues the same as married people; nothing about that would change should state-approved marriage disappear. Judges could still separate weekends and holidays and force parents to pay child support. This transition would be almost seamless.
Along with child support, the issue of alimony could be solved with a trip to a lawyer and a draft of a prenuptial agreement or contract of some sort prior to any ceremony.
When it comes to hospital visits, I’ve never heard of anyone having to produce a marriage certificate or ID to get in to see his or her spouse, so I don’t see why it matters if you aren’t married. At the very least, people could simply carry emergency contact cards, and whoever was listed as the significant other could be let in.
Retooling these unnecessary barriers would make the need for state-approved marriage completely void. Removing the state would open up freedom to those who want to celebrate their union however they see fit.
People shouldn’t need a license to get married. It’s not like driving a car where you could be risking the lives of others. On top of that, there’s nothing about the state requiring a license that encourages marriage. Removing the government’s involvement would do nothing to dissuade two people in love who want to make a lasting commitment, just as the current involvement doesn’t stop people from simply living together.
Marriage is about love and personal devotion. It’s also awesome. Really, the state has no business in the romantic lives of its citizens.
Wenger is senior studying journalism and Spanish.