Government and marriage

Government and marriage

December 19th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that its 2013 docket will include two cases directly related to gay marriage. The first is a case determining whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry. The other is a constitutional challenge to California's Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban preventing the state from recognizing gay marriage.

Perhaps more important even than the outcomes of these two cases is the opportunity this attention on gay marriage affords those of us on the right side of the aisle to discuss the government's role in marriage.

As conservatives, we often advocate for government recognition of marriage between one man and one woman on the basis that it is an institution that benefits the public good. Yet, in the same breath, we fight other attempts by government intended to benefit the public good -- such as mandatory exercise schemes, occupational licensing requirements and bans on sodas and fatty foods -- with every fiber of our being. This intellectual inconsistency not only concedes marital power to government without a constitutional basis, but weakens our arguments when government tries to gasp control of other aspects of our lives -- from what we can eat to how we should teach our children.

Our other conservative arguments against gay marriage are even more flawed and even less compelling.

Religious beliefs, while the best reason to oppose gay marriage personally, are perhaps the worst reason to encourage government prevention of gay marriage universally.

For many of us as conservatives, religious dictates determine how we and our family choose to operate in our personal lives -- and we don't want government in the way of that. It is contradictory to argue to keep government out of religion while attempting to use government to mandate our religious beliefs on others who may not share out values.

Utilizing nanny-state tactics to force lifestyle decisions on others is the very antithesis of limited government tenets -- particularly in the case of gay marriage bans, where the freedom being eliminated is only considered wrong on the basis of personal morals and subjective social ethics. Despite arguments to the contrary, it is extraordinarily difficult to prove that anyone is harmed by two men or two women marrying.

Tradition is at the heart of conservatism and also at the heart of gay marriage opposition. "Marriage has always been between a man and a woman" is a common refrain from our side. Our modern notion of marriage is just that -- modern. Throughout history, a large portion of marriages have been either arranged or polygamous, or both.

What marriage hasn't been traditionally is a government contract which, sadly, is what it has become.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, there are 1,138 federal benefits, rights, and protections granted on the basis of marital status. Additionally Scott Shackford, writing on Reason magazine's website, points out that "there are 179 tax provisions that take marital status into account -- everything from tax exemptions for health insurance contributions to tax credits for children."

These tax breaks and benefits amount to an unsettling attempt at social engineering by the government in an effort to goad procreation. After all, the more kids today, the more taxpayers and potential members of the military tomorrow.

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The U.S. Constitution contains no mention of the word "marriage." Since the 10th Amendment states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people," it follows that the federal government should not be involved in marriage.

In light of that fact, it is apparent that the easiest solution to the thorny issue of gay marriage is to simply get the federal government out of the marriage business altogether.

While states have a right to determine their own marriage requirements, that right may be ultimately stripped by civil rights and equal protection arguments that claim that it is unfair for a privilege to be denied to individuals based on sexual orientation. As a result, state governments may be forced out of the marriage game as well. And that's for the best.

Marriage shouldn't be a government contract. It shouldn't be a tax shelter. It should be a covenant between people who love one another.