The Case for Marriage Privatisation

marriage licenseIn listening to debates around marriage equality, you would probably think that there are only two sides to the marriage debate – the “traditional marriage” side versus the “marriage equality” side. But the reality is that there is a position which extends above and beyond the two, and questions the legitimacy of marriage licensing altogether – and that is the case for marriage privatisation.

It does sound a bit odd when you say it – privatising marriage. After all, marriage is a largely private institution, and marriage is not an enterprise. Marriage is licensed however, and in economic terms, monopolised
by government, as all private marriages must pass through the government and have its approval, before being legal and official. Governments take part in social engineering, and try to protect the nuclear family by assigning tax credits and awarding privileges to married couples. What is more, marriage is restricted to monogamous, heterosexual couples. All in all, privatising marriage would be to divorce government from it, and to allow anyone marry whomever they wanted.

In most countries, marriage is ‘nationalised’ – it is regulated and ultimately controlled by the state, maybe to the exception of Liberland. But there are growing movements around the world calling for its deregulation, and the separation of marriage and state. Over in the US, some red states are adopting this proposal as a way to protect religious freedom and deal with political pressure from the LGBTQIA movement. What I would like to cover though, is the diversity of ideas which back up this policy, and why people from all over the political spectrum should support marriage privatisation.

Conservative? Traditional? Religious? Fundamentalist?

First off, the status quo with marriage regulation restricts religious liberty. Ever considered denominations or religions that believe in voluntary, polyamorous marriage, are stopped from practicing their religion because of the definition of marriage? And in some places, liberal denominations, stopped from willingly marrying monogamous gay couples? The current definition of marriage is based upon conservative Judaeo-Christian ideals, and infringes on the religious liberties of minorities. Religious freedom, the freedom to follow your own destiny according to your own God, should be a given, and is trampled on by the government monopoly of marriage.

Theologically, marriage licensing is condescending and narcissistic. Marriage licensing is put simply, a seal of approval from the government saying “now that we agree with the marriage you’re having, it is now official, and it wouldn’t be otherwise!” But what does that say in a theological context? It says that the state is more important than God, and that it should have authority over the word of God – which is an arguably offensive idea to those who are religious. This makes no sense at all, because God in definition is omnipotent and the being most worthy of praise.

Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. – 2 Chronicles 6, The Bible (NIV)

Marriage licensing is the instilling of the regulatory trinity – The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit and the bureaucrat. The first three any Christian would desire, but the last is certainly not needed. The question ultimately is – if your marriage is seen as official in the eyes of God, why does it need government approval? It ties into the aforementioned point – not only is marriage licensing theologically inconsistent, but is both undesired and unneeded. If you want any evidence, all you need to do is turn to the internet, and read evangelical blogs giving you tips on how to avoid marriage licensing!

Privatisation would also cut spending and cut bureaucracy. If you are really so worked up about needless spending and public sector overemployment, one of your best pet-peeves will be marriage licensing and all it entails. Spending taxpayer money on people running a database and creating bits of paper to verify your marriage? Surely there isn’t a better example of bureaucratism in the Western world.

Liberal? Progressive? Feminist? Queer? Socially Radical?

Although marriage equality serves as the mainstream liberal argument on the definition of marriage, the radically liberal position is to support getting rid of a state definition altogether.

Marriage equality isn’t even equal first off, and marriage rights are still heavily restricted. The current definition still prohibits polyamorous marriage, and is exclusive of those who wish to have one. It is my body, it is my choice, and in no way should I be told how to run my life, but rather the state’s role should be to promote inclusion. The prohibition of polyamorous marriage contradicts this. In fact, if we consider the existence of polyamorous relationships within the queer* community, marriage licensing actively and openly does LGBTQIA people a disservice.

Marriage licensing is anti-secular, and is a remnant of theocracy in our legal system. In Britain, where marriage licensing was first brought in, it served to inscribe the Catholic Church’s policy on invalid marriages into law. From that point onwards, it has been little more than a medium for conservative lobby groups and organised religion to enforce their views, and set cultural norms. If we look at the regulatory state’s history of marriage, we can see it attempt to prohibit interracial marriage, indigenous marriage and same-sex marriage. If anti-marriage equality activists are on the wrong side of history, so are those who advocate marriage nationalisation. Marriage licensing is anti-secular, and a clear cut method of conservative lobbying.

I’m not sorry that we can now enter the military and not sorry that we can marry, but frankly I come from a radical vision in time that never made marriage or the military my criteria of success. I didn’t want us to have wars, I didn’t want to register my relationship with the state. So are those victories?  They are. Were they discriminatory? Yes, they were. Was it my idea of what it was to build as a liberation movement for queer people? No, it wasn’t at all. – Amber L. Hollibaugh in an interview with The Nation

Marriage equality advocates the assimilation of queer* people into a life of monogamy through a government institution… which goes against the past aims of the gender and sexual minorities. Take Stonewall for example, an example of queer bashing and police brutality, we see the struggles of gay and trans folk up against oppressive police forces. Why should we turn back and conform to the same government and forces which have beaten us down?

Marriage equality is the active assimilation and conformity to an institution which has discriminated against queer people for centuries. What’s more, you see straight cis politicians taking credit for our struggles because they have managed to draft a legislation and make nice, persuasive speeches about it. What is even worse is that they make issues out of them, make political gains, and tokenise our rights for their careers. Government involvement is taking advantage of our movement, and turning us in the wrong direction.

Libertarian? Classical Liberal? Voluntaryist? Anarchist?

Be you a libertarian, this phrase will ring a bell or two. No-one has the right to stop a voluntary contract between consenting adults. If everything is consensual, I’m happy, and my partner or partners are happy, the government, or anyone else for that matter, should not be able to stop me. Period. It is plain unjust.

Civil institutions are not defined by the government, but are the results of voluntary exchanges. Marriage is a social construct, and an institution built up by social groups, and moulded into shape by cultural norms (which are defined and challenged by individuals). The government has a monopoly on force and always a step behind the actions of individuals, and every time marriage licensing has been adjusted, it has been adjusted to a change in values – to keep up with individuals. Instead of having a government which tries to sustain certain groups’ morals by force, we should be left to decide what is moral for ourselves. If I perceive marriage as one thing, I should be able to act upon that definition, practicing or being in that marriage, and the state shouldn’t assume a monopoly on marriage and its definition. The government should accept that we are all different, and perceive things differently, and respect that marriage is defined subjectively, not objectively.

Last but not least – why cannot we just be left alone? A social contract does not exist. I never consented to government force or the government holding a definition of marriage at all. We have a natural right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and never should these be infringed upon, lest I harm someone else. Marriage law should thus be restrict to protecting the freedom of individuals, not the other way around.

The debate around marriage is in no way two-sided. There is another side, and another option. Marriage licensing lacks real purpose, contradicts the principles of many social groups, and can simply be replaced by,
well, freedom. If a justice of the peace wants to marry my partner(s) and me, then I should be able to engage in this voluntary contract, no license required.

Governments can simply restrict the definition of marriage to restricting harm, and treat it as a voluntary contract between private individuals. Marriage licensing is no longer a necessity nowadays, and is logically flawed on many different levels. So why don’t we privatise it?


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