Lots of people ask me about marriage. No, they don't ask me to marry them, they ask me what I think of gay marriage.
I find that question strange. I've never even been married - what would I know about it? And I'm not gay - what would I know about that? And given my complete lack of experience of these two subjects, what the heck would I know about gay marriage?
Some background. I went into some Linn County (Iowa) office one time, for the purpose of getting married, or at least getting a marriage license. My memory of the event is hazy, but I do know it was before my first child was born. Something the clerk told me sounded suspiciously untrue so I asked to see a copy of the Code of Iowa (always question authority!). Having been a uniformed police officer for two years I was quite familiar with how to read the Code.
I looked up the Iowa marriage code section and read it. Not too long. One of the last paragraphs, however, had what I found to be a surprising note. Paraphrasing here, but more or less it said 'If the religious beliefs of anyone contradict anything in this section of the Code, then that part of this section is not applicable to that person.'
Huh? Here is the law, but if you don't believe it then it doesn't apply to you? Really? Wouldn't that sort of make it ... an option, not a law? How about if we did that for, say, stopping at a stop sign. 'If you don't believe in stopping at stop signs, then you don't have to.' Or paying your taxes. 'If you don't believe in paying your taxes, then don't.'
I'm thinking I'd be coasting through a lot of stop signs, and not paying a lot of taxes.
You see those politicians who passed Iowa's marriage law knew they were doing something they shouldn't be doing. They knew they were infringing on the personal liberties of Iowa citizens. They couldn't even fake it at the time - they had to write it down in the Code of Iowa, in black and white.
I walked out of the county office, whichever one it was, and never bothered to look back.
You see the truth is - marriage has nothing to do with government. Nada.
Marriage is a contract (and sometimes a covenant, which makes my argument against government involvement even stronger) between two people (we could say 'two or more,' but honestly I'd like to avoid that debate for the time being). The contract is exclusively between those two people. It involves them, it involves their personal beliefs, their faith, their church, their spiritual leaders, it involves all the people and institutions they want it to involve.
But it doesn't involve the government. Not the Federal government, not the State government, and not your local government.
And it doesn't involve me, so I keep my nose out of it. So should all those governments - they should have nothing to do with marriage. If there are marriage laws on the books, they should be repealed immediately. And they should not be replaced - they should be permanently eliminated.
Of course it's never that easy. There are a multitude of ways marriage laws indirectly impact people, including me. There's not enough time to write a treatise, so let's settle for just one small example. Taxes. Marriage can lower your taxes. And what does that mean? That means my taxes go up, because I am not married. You didn't think the government had a secret stash of gold somewhere, labeled 'only for married people, give them some of this after the ceremony' did you?
You might expect me to be against marriage, since it costs me out of pocket every time two people get married. You would be completely wrong. I am totally in favor of marriage, if two people want to get married. Go for it. Do it in a tent in a backcountry wilderness, or in the biggest cathedral you can find. Drop a bundle, or drop nothing. Write your own vows, or copy something smart somebody said about 2,000 years ago. Do it your own way. I personally find marriage vows between two people an incredibly lovely and exquisite human expression of spiritual union.
Which is why I don't want the government to get involved - they will simply ruin it. Politicians will turn it into a political football, which they will kick around until they have bloodied everyone they can, and deflated the ball itself. I can imagine nothing more dangerous for the institution of marriage than letting politicians get their hands on it.
Of course some people will argue marriage has positive spillover effects on society. Daniel Moynihan is the one who originally brought this to my attention. And Mr. Moynihan is not someone I want to argue against (others have, but I don't like crossfire). So let's promote marriage. Through private markets, not government meddling. Pretend there was a business somewhere that wanted to offer its customers an advantage if they were married. Pretend that business was a water park. Pretend that water park wanted to sell single people entry tickets for $20, and married couples tickets for $30. Why not let them do it?
As for me, I'd be a little disappointed at having to pay $5 extra, just because no one has ever asked me to marry them. Sort of unfair, I'd grumble to myself. I might even decide to boycott that water park, and spend my money at an amusement park instead - one that didn't discriminate against me because I was single. But the point here is - I could do whatever I wanted about it. The choice would be mine to make. And I could change my mind the next day, should it be exceptionaly hot and I unusually dry.
Over the course of time, with people making millions of personal choices every day, some sort of market order would arise. The market might be dominated by marriage discrimination pricing, or by non-discrimination pricing. None of us really know what the actual result would be.
But, pretend you - no, pretend I - firmly believed society needed more marriages. I could use my influence to work toward that end. I could explain my position to my friends. I could use social media to spread my viewpoint. Maybe I could come up with a meme or two expressing my views. Were I substantially wealthier I could even buy TV commercials doing the same. In short, I could use my powers of persuasion to seek voluntary agreement with my point of view.
This works. Did you ever hear of Fair Trade coffee let's say 25 years ago? Not me. Now it seems to be everywhere. But to the best of my knowledge there is no law mandating a certain percentage of the market must be Fair Trade coffee. Proponents simply devoted themselves to spreading the word, and they appear to have been successful. Their message was well delivered, and consumers were receptive to it. Voila - lots of Fair Trade coffee.
That's how good things happen, when government doesn't get involved.
Of course it's easy to be impatient. I have a good idea! I know I am right! We should pass a law right now!
Not me. I'd rather stay the course, because, well, I simply do not trust politicians to have either the desire or the tools to answer these kinds of questions better than private citizens do. Emerging order - it's a wonderful thing. Politicians ramming it down our throats - tends to make far too many people gag.
Thanks for listening. May all your marriages be blessed and ... please don't make me pay any more of your taxes for you, OK?
P.S. A video for everything, right?