Thursday, March 14, 2013

Should government get out of the marriage business?

I've read two blog posts this morning that have really got me thinking. One is about Rand Paul's comments on government and marriage while the other is on marriage, children and the building blocks of society. Of course in both posts is the mention of homosexual marriage. Let's get started.

In the Red State post, Rand Paul is quoted for the following:

“I’m an old-fashioned traditionalist. I believe in the historic and religious definition of marriage,” said Paul. “That being said, I’m not for eliminating contracts between adults. I think there are ways to make the tax code more neutral, so it doesn’t mention marriage. Then we don’t have to redefine what marriage is; we just don’t have marriage in the tax code.”

The classical liberal in me agrees with this full stop. I personally am convinced by the evidence (yes there is evidence, non-religious evidence) that marriage is between a man and a woman. I am. However, I honestly don't care, legally, if there are homosexual couples who want to join together in a contract that is recognized by the state. I also don't care if I see those couples in public. I don't think it's marriage. If we disagree then let's have a conversation. No need to be offended if someone doesn't agree with your position. This is my first thought and approach to the issue. There are problems from this though as the author the blog post dives into.

He wrote:

"On the specific Paul proposals: I’ve always thought it was silly to block simple legal contracts between consenting adults, but I think that can be accomplished without re-defining marriage.  The issue of tax-code treatment is more complex.  I think society has positive reasons to provide incentives for traditional marriage – to put it bluntly, a healthy, independent society needs a lot of long-lasting marriages between men and women, with a sizable percentage of them raising multiple children in stable households.  There just isn’t any substitute for that.  It’s a practical consideration, not a moral or religious judgment.

But I’m also receptive to the argument that the State subsidizes and punishes far too much private behavior.  Not enough people understand that subsidies are penalties for the people who don’t receive them.  If gay couples feel that way about preferential tax treatment granted to married men and women, it could be taken as an encouraging sign of progress.  We should make the tax code “neutral” in countless ways.  I don’t see why marriage should go first, but it definitely shouldn’t be the last.

Beyond these matters, the notion of extracting government from marriage runs into a couple of big problems.  Child custody is an obvious example.  Such matters are already difficult.  They would grow even more so, if the government played no role in certifying legitimate marriages.  The separation of law from marriage, until it becomes entirely a matter between private individuals, is more difficult to accomplish than the lovely libertarian simplicity of the idea implies."

I obviously didn't think through my weak position on the marriage debate. Yes, I understand the non-legal arguments for marriage, but I don't think I understood the problems of taking government out of the marriage issue. Aside from those problems, there is also the little sentence in the first mentioned paragraph: I think society has positive reasons to provide incentives for traditional marriage – to put it bluntly, a healthy, independent society needs a lot of long-lasting marriages between men and women, with a sizable percentage of them raising multiple children in stable households.This is something I haven't thought that much about either until recently. I've thought about this because my wife and I have been married for some years and haven't had any children. We keep saying we're just not ready financially. We think children are important for a family but I never thought about the building blocks of a society which is the family; well not just "the" family, but LOTS of families. This takes me to the other blog post I mentioned. The post is from Pyromaniacs.


"Sitting around a table at a hookah bar in New York’s East Village with three women and a gay man, all of them in their 20s and 30s and all resolved to remain childless, a few things quickly became clear: First, for many younger Americans and especially those in cities, having children is no longer an obvious or inevitable choice. Second, many of those opting for childlessness have legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons for their decision.


While postfamilialism isn’t nearly as far along in the U.S., American marriage is faltering—and the baby is being thrown out with the bath water. Forty-four percent of millennials agree that marriage is becoming “obsolete.” And even among those who support tying the knot (including many of those who say it’s obsolete), just 41 percent say children are important for a marriage—down from 65 percent in 1990. It was the only factor to show a significant decline. ... On the flip side of the coin, the percentage of adults who disagreed with the contention that people without children “lead empty lives” has shot up, to 59 percent in 2002 from 39 percent in 1988.


In his provocative 2012 book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, Eric Klinenberg writes that for the hip urban professionals who make up the so-called creative class, living alone represents a “more desirable state,” even “a sign of success and a mark of distinction, a way to gain freedom and experience the anonymity that can make city life so exhilarating.” Certainly, the number of singletons has skyrocketed: more than half of all adults today are single (a group that includes divorcĂ©es and widows and widowers), up from about one in five in 1950."

First of all, I agree with Frank Turk that it's mind-blowing a piece like this is published in Newsweek! Second, the stats are blowing me away too. When I first read it I thought: "Well, the West is in moral decline so this makes sense." From that thought I was on to other thoughts unrelated to the decline of child-bearing marriages. Then it hit me again after reading the blog post on Rand Paul's comments about government and marriage: families are the blood of the society. A society can't exist with a bunch of selfish (hey, it's selfish) individuals who aren't having and raising children. By raising children, no I don't mean throwing the kid(s) in front of the television while the parents are doing something else. I mean giving the children a moral education which is severely lacking in the family; heck, Allan Bloom wrote about it back in the eighties and it was a big problem then, just imagine how big of a problem it is now. We can point fingers all day at the cause of the problem and I know (trust me I do being an IT guy) it's important to find causes but for now I think we can see the problem with our society is a lack of concern for family and we should talk about it privately, publicly and think of some solutions.

As much as my convictions are aligned with Rand Paul, I can't help thinking that the consequences of going through with those convictions might support a lack of concern for the family unit which is essential to building a society. I love the West even with its growing moral problems I think it can be rescued. I guess I'm on the fence as to whether government should get out of the marriage business. Thoughts?

Newsweek: where have all the babies gone?

Rand Paul: Get the government out of marriage

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