Should the State be Involved in Marriage?

In my various writings on the topic of same-sex ‘marriage’ (for a complete list, click here) I have argued that government has a duty to recognize marriage as being between a man and a woman. But perhaps the state should get out of the marriage business completely. Perhaps the state should not be involved at all in publicly recognizing certain types of relationships as being marriage. This is the position taken by radical libertarians
and it is an attractive solution to the ‘gay marriage’ debate, even among Christians. According to this line of thinking, once the state begins pronouncing that certain types of relationships are marriage, this itself shows that government has overstepped its God-appointed mark.

In a Christian Voice article , ‘Why Gay Marriage is a Public Threat Part 2‘, I addressed this position. “If it were true that the state has no business recognizing certain types of relationships as being marriage, then how far do we extend that?” I asked. For example, is it wrong for the government of a nation to recognize certain types of relationships as being marriage, but okay for the government of the state or shire or county to recognize certain types of relationships as being marriage?

Let’s try to be completely consistent with the libertarian position and say that it is wrong for government to recognize certain types of relationships as being marriage all the way
down to the level of village government. That would mean if there was a small tribe of a thousand people in the jungle of South America, that it be wrong for them to have formal or informal mechanisms in place for recognizing who was married and for then using those mechanisms to generate the presumption of paternity or to settle disputes about
inheritance or other matters. Few libertarians would want to go that far, and yet it is hard to see how that example is qualitatively different to the situation today, where the people of the community have certain formal mechanisms in place for identifying a legal marriage. Whether one does this through the large-scale community of the state or a small-scale community of the village or tribe, it is in principle the same thing, namely, formal some type of formal way to recognize the difference between being married and being not married.

Whenever you have a community that has formal or informal mechanisms in place for recognizing a marriage, then questions of what can count as marriage will arise and have to be settled by the community. Whether that community is represented by the gathering of local chiefs, or whether there is a de facto tradition of common law that is appealed to, or whether there is the apparatus of the modern state, the basic principle is the same: the civil community has mechanisms in place for recognizing what is and is not a marriage.
But let’s suppose this wasn’t the case and the radical libertarians have a point: we should abolish civil marriage completely. In their book What is Marriage?, Girgis, Anderson and George suggest some of the consequences that would arise if such a state of affairs were realized:

 

Sherif Girgis, Robert George and Ryan Anderson, authors of the book What is Marriage?

Abolishing civil marriage is practically impossible. Strike the word ‘marriage’ from the law, and the state will still license, and attach duties and benefits to, certain bonds [benefits such as the presumption of paternity]. Abolish these forward-looking forms of regulation, and they will only be replaced by messier, retroactive regulation – of disputes over property, custody, visitation, and child support. What the state once did by efficient legal presumptions, it will then do by burdensome case-by-case assignments of parental (especially paternal) responsibilities.

“The state will only discharge these tasks more or less efficiently–that is, less or more intrusively. It can’t escape them. Why not? Because the public functions of marriage–both to require and to empower parents (especially fathers) to care for their children and each other–require society-wide coordination. It is not enough if, say, a particular religion presumes a man’s paternity of his wife’s children, or recognizes his fights and duties toward their mother; or if the man and his wife contract to carry out certain tasks. For private institutions can bind only their own; private contracts bind only those who are party to them. A major function of marriage law is to bind all third parties (schools, adoption agencies, summer camps, hospitals; friends, relatives, and strangers) presumptively to treat a man as father of his wife’s children, husbands and wives as entitled to certain privileges and sexually off-limits, and so on. This only the state can do with any consistency.

But more than inevitable or necessary, it is fitting that the state should do this. Consider a comparison. Why don’t even the strictest libertarians decry traffic laws? First, the orderly traffic protects health and promotes efficiency, two great goods. Second, these goods are common in two senses; private efforts cannot adequately secure them, and yet failure to secure them has very public consequences. It is not as if we would have had the same (or even just slightly less) safety and efficiency of travel if people just did as they pleased, some stopping only at red lights and others only at green. Nor would damage from the resulting accidents (and slower shipments, etc) be limited to those responsible for causing it. To ensure safe and efficient travel at all, and to limit harm to third parties, we need legal coordination. Indeed, it is no stretch to say that the state owes its citizens to keep minimum security and order: to these we have a right. Finally, unlike private associations, the state can secure these goods, without intolerable side effects. Al this makes it appropriate for the state to set our traffic laws….

If something would serve an important good, if people ha a right to it, if private groups cannot secure it well, everyone suffers if it is lost, and the state can secure it without undue cost, then the state may step in–and should.

 

Pro-Choice Inconsistencies

During one part of the trial for mass murderer Kermit Gosnell, the defence attorney thought he had scored a decisive point when one witness acknowledged that he could not say with “medical certainty” that a certain baby had not been killed while still in the womb. However, in a penetrating USA Today column, Kirsten Powers noted that “whether Gosnell was killing the infants one second after they left the womb instead of partially inside or completely inside the womb — as in a routine late-term abortion — is merely a matter of geography. That one is murder and the other is a legal procedure is morally irreconcilable.”

Also, whether the baby was partially inside or completely outside the womb makes absolutely no difference in the amount of pain the child would have experienced. This may be obvious, but it is worth pointing out because during Gosnell’s trial one of the points brought up by the prosecution was the excruciating pain the babies went through as their necks were severed. It is hard to see how the issue of pain is even relevant outside a pro-life framework, for the babies would have died just as painfully inside the womb if they had been subject to conventional, and legally acceptable, forms of abortion.

Last week I wrote a couple articles for Christian Voice where I pointed out similar inconsistencies in the public discussion serounding the Gosnell trial. They can be read at the following links:

Finding Evidence

A highlight from a recent interview with Steven King on NPR :

On his belief in God and whether it has changed over time

“I choose to believe it. … I mean, there’s no downside to that. If you say, ‘Well, OK, I don’t believe in God. There’s no evidence of God,’ then you’re missing the stars in the sky and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets and you’re missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design. But, at the same time, there’s a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, ‘Well, if this is God’s plan, it’s very peculiar,’ and you have to wonder about that guy’s personality — the big guy’s personality. And the thing is — I may have told you last time that I believe in God — what I’m saying now is I choose to believe in God, but I have serious doubts and I refuse to be pinned down to something that I said 10 or 12 years ago. I’m totally inconsistent.”

These remarks here have sparked some very intense responses…

From a National Geographic Blog:
Evolution is Wonderful

“But King’s quote represents a snobbish and pervasive belief that those who see no evidence of gods are somehow impoverished in their lives.”

From Patheos:
Stephen King: If You Don’t Believe in God, You’re Missing Out on Sunrises, Sunsets, and the Stars

See what I mean. Touchy, touchy. I’m pretty sure when Mr. King said “‘Well, OK, I don’t believe in God. There’s no evidence of God,’ then you’re missing the stars in the sky and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets and you’re missing . . . ” he was simply saying that what someone is “missing” is some evidence for God. He was not saying that someone who fails to acknowledge a god is missing out on the ability to enjoy a sunset.

I can see why a nature devotee would be upset having it suggested that he didn’t love or could not appreciate nature because he’s an atheist, but that’s not what happened, and I think that Mr. Backpacker was reading into the comment waaaaay too much. Plus it seems to me that atheists spend a lot of time proclaiming that if someone believes in God, that person is basically akin to a child seeing recognizable shapes in the clouds and can’t possibly have an interest in science or reality, so I have a hard time sympathizing with atheists as victims here. By the way: 50 Nobel Laureates and Other Great Scientists Who Believe in God.

I’m curious about where this hostility comes from. Are atheists worried that Mr. King, with his very ambiguous, “totally inconsistent” (random) beliefs about “god” is going to convert all of these NPR-listeners and nature-lovers over to deism. . . or even worse, to have them consider the possibility that nature actually does exhibit intelligent design?!

‘Gay Marriage’ is a Public Threat

Is opposition to gay ‘marriage’ about warding off a public threat, or policing private morality? Is it about imposing religiously-derived categories onto a secular public, or protecting our way of life?

These questions recently came to mind when I stumbled across an article written thirteen years ago by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

Mrs. Mathewes-Green is one of the most helpful and lucid thinkers of our era. Her writings and public speaking have been a source of much rich blessing for both my wife and me over the years. So I was naturally interested when I read some questions Frederica posed on her website about what she calls “anti-gay activism.”

Frederica Mathewes-Green

I fall into the category of what would probably be considered an “anti-gay activist” since I have been very involved in both Britain and the United States campaigning against the promotion of homosexuality in the schools and, more recently, same-sex ‘marriage.’ But perhaps these efforts are misplaced. Does the gay agenda really threaten marriage? Is homosexuality really a political issue, or just a question of private morality? These were some of the questions that Frederica’s thought-provoking article raised. Since the time when she wrote that article, David Dunn has argued that gay marriage will definitely not affect traditional marriage in any way. I’d like to suggest that both Mathewes-Green and Dunn may be being too optimistic and that the evidence from Canada shows that legalizing same-sex ‘marriage’ can be considered a public threat.

To be fair, at the beginning of the 21st century when Mathewes-Green wrote the above article, it was still possible to assume that gay rights only affected the homosexual community, and that what happens in the secular realm need not affect what happens in the rest of the world. But things have rapidly changed since then, and it has become increasingly clear that the goals of the gay community, if realized, would affect everyone, not merely themselves. To put it simply, gay rights in general, and gay ‘marriage’ in particular, represents a significant public threat.

At least, that is what I have argued in two articles I wrote for the Christian Voice website. In these articles I surveyed just a few of the many areas in which same-sex ‘marriage’ represents a threat to the public common good. To read these articles, click on the links below:

Liberty Is No War on Women

Here’s a book I wanted to bring to your attention. The description from Amazon:

The Left has accused supporters of limited government of waging a “War on Women.” In Liberty Is No War on Women, Lukas and Schaeffer take this charge apart. They demonstrate that liberals’ recipe for ever-bigger government backfires on women by eroding opportunity and true financial security, and explain how returning power to the people is the real key to women’s freedom. As Lukas and Schaeffer conclude, the “War on Women” rhetoric is fundamentally insulting to independent women and should be soundly rejected by all Americans.

Salvo had an interview with Ms. Carrie Lukas a while back. It’s well worth your time.

In the chapter “The Myth of Having It All,” you examine why it is that some women have been deceived—or have deceived themselves—into thinking they can have both a career and a strong family. Are these expectations the result of our culture actively promoting female supremacy?

Certainly much of the culture creates unrealistic expectations and a sense of entitlement. But the problem women face is that we often have conflicting desires. I talked to a lot of college women in the course of writing my book, and it was very common for these intelligent and ambitious young people to tell me that they expected to be both full-time moms and CEOs of major companies. Now, I’m not saying that no woman can accomplish both of these goals, but she’s going to have a tough time doing so. Often, “women’s studies” classes and groups like NOW [National Organization for Women] make it seem as though the problem women face in balancing work and family is caused by bad public policy or men who won’t do their share of the housework. But the real problem is simply a consequence of being human: We can’t be two places at once, and there are only 24 hours in a day. This means that we are going to face tough decisions and real tradeoffs when allocating our time.