Defense of Marriage

In November California will vote on whether to overturn the state court’s decision to permit homosexual marriage. I personally will vote to support the court, against the proposal. However, I think the whole issue is basically a mistake.

The government should not be in the business of legitimizing marriage. Currently marriage comes with a set of legal privileges, rights which one spouse has with regard to the other. It also has tax implications. These ideas are not inherently wrong, but I think it is a mistake to tie them to a notion of marriage. Our society no longer speaks with one voice regarding the definition of marriage. Therefore, we should shift those privileges and taxes to work in different ways.

People should be able to designate, perhaps on the annual tax form, who should have rights concerning medical and property decisions when they are incapable. People should be able to file taxes as a household composed of several adults sharing a residence. There should be laws which grant these privileges automatically when people share a residence for a long time, unless explicitly denied, along the lines of common-law marriage.

If we do that, then marriage can return to where it belongs: with the church. There will no longer be concerns about which marriages are valid, and which should be recognized across state boundaries. That seems to me to be a much more sensible system for today’s society.

This is not, of course, a new proposal.

I’ll be on vacation and not posting for the rest of the week, back after Labor Day.


  1. fche said,

    August 26, 2008 @ 4:01 am

    One justification for the traditional state view of marriage is similar to how the
    state expresses incentives in other ways – taxation. In this case, the marriage
    incentives are to an extent toward procreation.

  2. graydon said,

    August 26, 2008 @ 9:15 am

    It’s a much more complex issue than this; certainly legal rights are a component of the issue, but the further broad social de-stigmatization of homosexual couples is another major goal (as social conservatives correctly sense). Heterosexual couples do not spend their days hearing their culture deny the legitimacy of their choice of partner. Homosexual couples often do, and many would like to stop having to do so.

    I’ll grant, as many who’ve made this point do, that this is a less-solid “legal leg” to stand on — we do not have enshrined rights to avoid social stigmas of various sorts — but this one cuts very deep and hurts gay couples very seriously. Much like other systemic cultural biases (the comparison is often drawn with race and gender) correcting such biases takes generations of broadly supported, overt symbolic gestures to the contrary. Passing a gay marriage bill is such a gesture: a society that passes such an act is placing a symbol on itself publicly stating that being gay is more welcome there than elsewhere.

  3. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    August 26, 2008 @ 12:50 pm

    fche: the way to increase procreation (which I personally don’t think we should do) is to pay for children, not marriage. In fact the U.S., at least, does this via the dependent child tax credit. Some cities in Italy and Germany are actually paying significant amounts of money to women who have children.

    graydon: I think the government should firmly support the right of gay people to be treated like anybody else. I’m not sure I agree that the government has a role in righting a historical cultural bias against homosexuality. That is a role which to me seems better suited to private citizens than to the government. The government almost by definition follows society on cultural issues, rather than leading it. The people who lead society on cultural issues are artists, entertainers, intellectuals,celebrities in general, not politicians. I think the government might have a role in righting economic damage, but nobody seems to be raising that as a significant issue, presumably because, as far as I know, there is no evidence that gay people are any poorer than average.

  4. etbe said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 5:09 am

    Rick Moen’s essay titled “Kudzu and the California Marriage Amendment” is interesting.

    Apparently determining the gender of a person is so difficult that the IOC has given up.

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