Why should we need permission from government to get married?
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reading about the same-sex marriage symposium recently hosted by the UI College of Law (concerning the still-to-be-decided Iowa Supreme Court case Varnum v. Brien), I started thinking about this hot-button political issue that marks an ideological divide between the two major political parties.

Unfortunately, neither side asks the real question: why should anyone need permission from government to get married?

Why does government have any role at all in marriages? Not long ago, two people could simply exchange vows under a tree or in a church.

But modern government regulations require marriage licenses granted by the state (taxed, of course), some states even compelling blood tests or proof of immunization.

But what legitimate claim does government have to regulate marriage? Marriage laws ostensibly prevent bigamists, close relatives, and insane or diseased people from marrying. But how effective or necessary can these regulations be in today’s age?

Left-leaners seem to have the least problem with government regulating every aspect of our lives: they merely want government to sanction same-sex marriages like traditional marriages, since many (mostly government) benefits are conditioned upon marriage.

Of course, right-leaners point to these benefits as another reason why gay marriage should not be OK’d: it would cost taxpayers more. But this problem lies with government handouts, not with people getting married.

Conservatives usually (and laudably) oppose intrusive government regulations, but they seem to want government to control this most personal choice.

The opposition mostly stems from religious prohibitions against homosexuality, together with a fear that gay marriage will somehow undermine traditional marriages or hurt the children raised in such marriages.

They believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality. But although early Christian leaders were right to proscribe the predatory exploitation of young boys common in classical times, the Bible also condoned slavery, discriminated against non-Jews, and decreed women inferior.

Modern Christians understand that although the world has changed, the enduring message of the Bible is compassion and love for others: the affection and long-term commitment of any two adults for each other surely fall within the purview of God’s love and compassion.

And after all, is the blessing of marriage bestowed by God, or by Caesar?

And even if children did implausibly suffer from being raised in same-sex marriages, or if it improbably led to a decline of traditional marriage, there still exists no legitimacy to our being compelled (like slaves or minor children) to apply to our bureaucratic masters/parents for permission to marry. Children and marriages both do best free from the heavy hand of government.

This issue is really about freedom of association, our Constitutional right to peacefully affiliate ourselves with others.

Conservative Republicans have traditionally upheld personal freedoms and limited government (which is why I am still a registered Republican).

Insisting that government get out of the marriage business is the only opinion that is consistent with Conservative belief in limited government.

How could any advocate of Constitutional freedoms believe otherwise? Just as freedom of speech is not limited to speech that the majority finds agreeable, freedom to associate is not limited to majority-approved groups.

Whether or not one personally approves of homosexual relationships, no rationale exists for government interference in such personal matters.

As government once prohibited men and women of different races from marrying, now government appointees and bureaucrats believe they are wise enough to decide whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

Why is it that people invariably look to government to help them, when government is nearly always the main force to be overcome in the pursuit of happiness?

Marriages should be private contracts between individuals of legal age. Government would simply record civil union contracts as they occur, and enforce them like any other contract.

Whether to call such unions “marriages” would be decided by couples, their families, their churches – not by government.

Other people and businesses should be free to recognize (or not) these marriages; and churches not required to marry any specific couples.

No matter how the Iowa legal case is decided, we will have made little progress toward real freedom from our government masters. I believe it will be up to Constitutional Conservative groups to ask the real question: who should control marriages: the state or free individuals?