Should Christians Abandon State Marriage?


The folks over at World Net Daily are asking a question I have had for some time.


Should Christians abandon state marriage?

Government doesn’t belong in the marriage business.

That’s what a chorus of prominent libertarian, conservative and Catholic voices have been saying for some time. They argue that there’s no good reason for the state to regulate marriage and predict that making marriage a purely private affair will bring a blissful end to the same-sex marriage debate.

If the state isn’t defining marriage, it can’t redefine it either, they reason.

That sounds good to some, but privatizing marriage would make matters worse, say experts in law and family policy. Marriage is a fundamental public institution that demands a state role, they say, warning that private marriage would jeopardize children and give marriage the same status as alternatives like polygamy.

Still, as homosexual marriage advances, the drumbeat for privatization grows louder:

  • David Boaz, a vice president at the libertarian Cato Institute, opened the debate in 1997 when he asked, “Why should the government be in the business of decreeing who can and cannot be married?” He contended that ending government’s role in marriage would “solve the gay-marriage problem.”
  • Conservative talk host Larry Elder told WND readers in 2004 that marriage licenses made as much sense as licensing barbers or taxi-cab drivers. The state should “leave marriage to non-governmental institutions like churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship or private institutions.”
  • Doug Kmiec, a pro-life law professor who urged fellow Catholics to vote for Obama in 2008, said in 2009, “If the state got out of the marriage business. . . . then the question of who can and cannot be married would be entirely determined in your voluntarily chosen faith community.”
  • Former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul announced in 2012 that he “would like the state to stay out of marriage. … A voluntary association shouldn’t be interfered with by the state, so I’d just as soon that the state not issue licenses or define marriage.” Paul wants to “let the individual, let two people define marriage,” arguing it “would get rid of this whole debate and we wouldn’t be arguing over the definition of marriage.”
  • Tea party favorite Glenn Beck told entertainer Penn Jillette in late 2012 that same-sex marriage does not “pick my pocket nor break my leg,” and he didn’t think the government had a role in regulating marriage. “The question is not whether gay people should be married or not, the question is why is the government involved in our marriage.”

Currently, government is heavily involved in marriage. Changing that would require a wrenching overhaul of American law. For example, until recent changes adopted following the U.S. Supreme Court’s skewering of the Defense of Marriage Act, federal law treated married couples differently than single individuals in 1,138 ways, according to a 2003 GAO report. Marital status matters when it comes to taxation, federal civilian and military benefits, Veterans and Social Security benefits, private employer benefits, immigration and more.


  1. Back in 2004, there was an active discussion in Canada about changing the marriage rules. The proposal was for marriage to become a religious ritual or sacrament like baptism without any legal significance. In addition, same-sex or opposite-sex couples would be able to register their relationship with the government and obtain the usual set of federal and provincial benefits and protections.

    Later, it was determined that such an arrangement would require the unanimous consent of all ten provinces and three territories. That was felt to be essentially impossible, and so the idea faded.

    In mid-2005, more than 8 years ago, same-sex marriage became available across Canada. It quickly became a non-issue, and marriage equality became part of the culture.

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