Originally posted by sh76
Is there anyone on this board who thinks that the government SHOULD be in the business of sanctioning "marriages"?
OK. You can tell me if the following means I think "the government SHOULD be in the business of sanctioning marriages" and if I sound like a libertarian.
I will state some hopefully provocative assumptions: Government is a part of society that WILL form; government being that entity or collection of entities that have a monopoly on the use of force (call it violence if you wish) over a group of people, in order to maximize the freedom and security of a (possibly different) group of people. Autocratic, theocratic, or democratic, this applies. I will also assume we are talking in this case, about a functioning but not perfect representative democracy in which the governed elect the government and can remove it. On a practical level, democratic governments form as the mechanism by which the people governed seek to maximize their freedom and security, two values which are always in conflict, and which require force to be applied from time to time, at least against the part of the population who would themselves use force for personal advantage. Some of that behavior is premeditated, and there are emotional triggers that can induce it in almost anyone. Some freedom is necessarily sacrificed in order to have security in this environment. Utopians can have their dreams but that the way it is on the planet I'm on.
All of that paragraph could be better organized. Don't tase me, bro, on my style.
So we have government. We also have people entering into private agreements for mutual benefit. One way is to write up a contract. What do we do about breaches of contract -- one person delivers, and the other doesn't? Do they settle the matter between themselves, in the street, with guns? Most people don't want that. There is a mechanism, using government, to enforce properly executed contracts, or to terminate the contract peaceably according to its terms or according to general contract law that is applied. Sure, everything should be settled without force, but if force is going to be used, it has to be regulated. That regulatory function is part of government. It can't be anywhere else, wherever it goes, where it goes is government.
Now to "marriage." We have people entering into agreements to live together, possibly pool their resources, possibly keep certain assets separate (pre-nups), possibly own property and enter into contracts with others as what I will call instead of "marriage" a "social partnership", in which they may possibly have and/or live with and raise children, possibly help each other when they are ill or dying, make medical and financial decisions for each other when the other is incapacitated, possibly want to leave their estate to each other or other people, possibly want to terminate the agreements.
All of this can be done under contract law, individually or by "bundling" a collection or collections under a name like "social partnership." In a perfect world, the bundles would be well defined, and the name used should not carry excess psychological baggage. We don't live there. Some proponents and some opponents on the issue want it to be called, officially, "marriage" which I think is a mistake due to the fact that the institution of marriage, like many aspects of our social mores, was absorbed long ago by another social institution -- religion -- and in a democracy there has to be a wall between the two institutions for their own good. Social mores aren't divinely sourced, they are enshrined in religion by a society to reinforce them. At least, that's the empirical reason.
Where the hell am I going with this, you ask?
It is understandable that to maximize freedom and security, the people have an interest in ensuring that agreements are honored and breaches are resolved peaceably. It is understandable that the people will form a government- administered institution that bundles a group of contractual obligations. An example is the laws governing non-profit mutual benefit corporations. Thus the people may decide to set up an institution that bundles the obligations made in social partnerships. However, the institution's availability to people, and its details, should be based on criteria that maximizes their freedom and security, which I remind you is the reason people form governments. Further, there should not be "gradations" of legitimacy under the law (eg "marriage" versus "civil union"
except as needed to honor that value, although outside of the government, the people are free to prefer some kinds of partnerships to others and blather on about why one shouldn't be allowed or should be named so-and-so.
So I think it is reasonable for people in a (imperfect) democracy, as the people ultimately in charge of the government, to bundle a bunch of related agreements and commitments, together with a way to manage disagreements or termination of a social partnership, and give it a name that doesn't blatantly imply that it is any more than that. Then if people also want to add a private ceremony that they pay for and conduct separately from the governmental action, that does add more to the partnership's aura, and call it by some name they like, they can. If they want to say the civil ceremony is enough for them to call it by that name, let them. If they want to sit around saying that some other people shouldn't use that name for THEIR situation, let them. It's a free country, isn't it?
So that's my defense of governmental interest in marriage.