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Getting Government Out Of The Marriage Business

by @ 1:16 pm on July 7, 2006. Filed under Gay Marriage, Individual Liberty

That’s what one New York Assemblywoman is proposing in the wake of yesterday’s Court of Appeals decision:

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-125th District, who announced her plan to run for re-election a few hours after the court decision was made public, said this about the court ruling:

?Let’s get government out of the wedding business and have everyone, equally, have a civil arrangement,? she said.

The proposal Lifton supports would replace the word ?marriage? with ?civil commitment? in state laws, creating a legal contract she said would be accessible to everyone, while leaving the religious aspect of the union to religious institutions.

?Why should state government become a religious institution?? she asked.

I’ve argued before that the government should get out of the marriage business entirely.

If two people, or more for that matter, want to call themselves married, that is their right. The state should not be in the business of defining what is and and is not a marriage, nor should it grant preferntial benefits to one form of marriage over another. Barring that, if the state is going to recognize and grant benefits to married persons, then it should not discriminate in favor of one type of marriage over another.

Kim Preistap doesn’t think its a good idea at all:

Ms. Lifton makes her idea sound so simple: it’s just replacing one word with another, that’s all. But it’s much more than that. It fundamentally turns the institution of marriage, the union of a man and a woman before God and man, into nothing but an impersonal and emotionless legal contract akin to a business transaction. In other words, if gays can’t marry, then no one can.

If that’s what you believe a marriage is, the union of a man and woman before God and man, then what does the state have to do with so fundamentally a religious institution ? Why does the state need to recognize it at all and why does it need to grant that religious institution preferntial benefits in the form of tax breaks and a protected legal status that is not available to unmarried persons ?

Kellie and I were married in the Roman Catholic Church, which has requirements for marriage that exceed, and are different from, those of civil marriage. That wedding ceremony is what made the marriage official in the eyes of God, not the little piece of paper we got from Cuyahoga County, Ohio the day before.

Here’s my proposal. Get rid of civil marriage licenses entirely. Let people decide for themselves what they believe about marriage and let them, if they wish solemnize that union in a church of their choice. We are hundreds of years past the day where the state was involved in religious affairs, it doesn’t need to be involved in this matter either.

Previous Posts:

Gay Marriage Setbacks In New York and Georgia
The Fight Begins
Gay Marriage, Polygamy, And Individual Liberty
An Easy Call

8 Responses to “Getting Government Out Of The Marriage Business”

  1. KipEsquire says:

    What you overlook is the economically efficient, “Value Meal” nature of civil marriage as a legal status. The bundle of rights and obligations that accrue, by default, between two spouses via a simple “I do…” gets most couples most of what they want in most circumstances (e.g., inheritance, child guardianship, healthcare and end-of-life decisions, property ownership). And when that is not the case, then instruments such as pre-nups, wills and trusts are still available. Why make every couple go through all the legal hoops that gays must do now? It’s simply wasteful.

    Also, some aspects of marriage cannot legally be replicated by contract, such as elective share and testimonial privilege. Is it your position that they should all be summarily abolished?

  2. Kip,

    My position is that, if the government is going to say that only certain people can get married to certain other people, then it shouldn’t be deciding who can and can’t get married to begin with.

    As you point out most of the contents the bundle of rights that comes with civil marriage can be replicated via contract.

    There would be some things that cannot be replicated, of course, joint property ownership by married couples means something different than typical joint property ownership.

    THe ideal solution would be for civil marriage to be more like civil unions. Let people decide individually (well together as a couple really) what they want a marriage to be and let the government’s role be reduced to registering that union. The act of registering with the state would give the joined couple (I will avoid using the word marriage to differentiate the institution of marriage from the civil status) — gay or straight — the bundle of rights that married couples enjoy today.

    I realize this is probably never going to happen, but I think its a far better solution than putting in the hands of the majority (or a vocal minority) the power to determine who can and cannot get married.

  3. To me, the Assemblywoman is dead on: let “marriage” be a religious institution and let “civil union” be the government-recognized institution. That’s the reality of things, anyway. You can get “married” in the church of your choice and not get the piece of paper from the government, in which case your union is not legally recognized. I know people who have done this: seniors who would lose benefits by making the arrangement legal, others who have debts that one spouse does not want to take on, for example.

    Others have said that there are over 1000 benefits associated with the legal recognition of a union, some of which cannot be granted via legal contracts. If memory serves correctly, Virginia has a way of holding real estate title that only applies to legally recognized unions – tenants by the entirety – which cannot be replicated by contract. The closest thing to it is joint tenants with right of survivorship, but it is not the same.

    So replacing the language is appropriate, IMHO.

  4. Raymond says:

    Then the tax benefits have to go to. The government cannot be a respecter of unions of any kind.

  5. Bull Jones says:


    So what? We are in despreate need of a complete overhaul of our Tax Code anyway. (Not to mention the abolishment of the IRS…)

    The point is that Gov’t has NO business in religion or, frankly, in our personal lives whatsoever. I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me exactly what harm there is in letting homosexual couples marry. Not one person has EVER given me so much as one real ‘problem’ that would be caused by such unions.

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