I first heard the story of the Kaiser family on the radio. This is a couple who got divorced so their shared girlfriend could marry one of them and have the legal parental status of their three children. They were all in love and wanted each other to be on as equal footing as possible. The local DJ not only called it weird and “messed up”, but also said that if their kids got beat up at school, it was the parents’ fault and should be expected. I was pretty upset when I heard that, but have to admit that it’s not an unusual attitude to have about anything different from the norm. Nearly every news story on it said that the couple was getting divorced so the girlfriend wouldn’t get “jealous”, which doesn’t seem to be exactly what the family was saying about their decision.
What I don’t understand is why anyone cares? Why does the government care, and why does it matter to strangers? Should anyone have the right to tell you who to love and to spend your life with? What is the difference between legislating marriage based on an individual’s sex and/or number of partners and their race, profession, or hair color? We don’t have cookie-cutter lives yet we are expected to conform in ways many people never question.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but they are not entitled to decide how other people live, nor are they entitled to cause harm to anyone who decides to live a different sort of life. Children and parents ought to anticipate a certain amount of teasing because that’s what children do. However, the use of violence is never acceptable, and violence initiated against children because of bigotry and ignorance is especially heinous. Tolerance doesn’t mean acceptance, it means you don’t get to perpetuate violence on those who don’t conform to societal norms.
Of course, when all is said and done, the government invading our personal lives is the core issue. What is the benefit to anyone of government approval? We accept their intrusion because marriage comes with legal benefits, but it shouldn’t. Instead of tax breaks for being married, how about fewer taxes for all? Instead of the government declaring who is allowed to parent a child, why not let the parents decide that? In matters where there is a dispute, those can be arbitrated, but most cases do not need state interference. There are only a few reasons for government regulating the marriage industry; one is because the government wants to control every facet of life that it can. Legislating one group’s view of morality benefits nobody except that particular group. It’s better to let society make morality judgments instead of a centrally planned force with a monopoly on violence. What would happen if the government decided tomorrow that your way of life was immoral? Another reason for government regulation of marriage is a moneymaking scheme through licensing fees, though admittedly, you would think that reason alone would make them consider more marriage alternatives just to rake in the cash. However, the everlasting entanglement of religious culture and government is far more important. This needs to end.
Marriage was, for most of western human history, a contract between families. The church was involved with making it official beginning in the 13th century and continued to increase their involvement in the process over the next several hundred years. In 1753, it became law that the church must grant marriages for them to be legal and set standards by which marriage be performed. This included a license issued by the church. When the United States formed, they kept most of the marriage laws from England. By 1837, a civil marriage became possible as the state offered an alternative to a legal church wedding. Marriage licenses in the USA, issued by the states, began as a way for the state to control race mixing, prevent polygamy, control the marrying off of children, force blood tests, and to prevent the marriages of same-sex couples.
The reasons that we have these marriage laws no longer apply. As a society, we’ve come to accept people of other races and persuasions. We marry for love, not the financial or social benefit of our parents. We have ages of consent that most people consider reasonable and that should prevent child marriages without the need for further government involvement.
The libertarian stance on this is: mind your own business and don’t try to legislate things that have nothing to do with you. This is as true for marriage as anything. We don’t need to concern ourselves with who or how many. It’s an individual choice that should only be made by the people involved. That’s what marriage in a free society should look like.