The Legality of Marriage


Historically marriage has been a social contract between two people under the guidance of their religious institution. If they chose to live their lives together and make their promises to one another through the avenue of religious ceremony they were considered “married.” The legal aspect of marriage is a modern invention created so that governments can more easily track, control, measure, and tax the population. Modern society is made to believe that a “marriage” is only legitimate if it is conducted with the permission of the state. Most religious people still acknowledge the importance of ceremony and some sort of official promise to God, but they also profess the belief that it is only truly legitimate if permission is granted through the legal system.

If the government is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people (which simultaneously is simply impossible and is therefore a conceptual fallacy) then what makes their blessing of marriage the factor of legitimacy? Is it because when people desire to get married they are required to monetarily pay for a marriage license? Is it because in most states only certain people are allowed to marry each other, creating a sort of legal exclusivity for people to be considered “married” by the state? Is it because only people who are “legally married” are invited to tax and insurance benefits? All of this is bullshit, and it’s set up for the specific purpose of controlling the population, to reinforce the government’s claim to legitimacy, to restrict freedom, and put limits on consciousness.

In Reynolds v. United States (1878), George Reynolds possessed a legitimate religious claim to defend his practice of polygamy. Utah, a territory at the time falling under direct jurisdiction of the federal government, declared polygamy to be an illegal practice, placing restrictions on religious practice. Why? Because the federal government saw this unusual practice by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as something that went against the social norms of society as a whole. According to their traditions and beliefs, marriage was limited to just two people. When a legitimate religious organization, hierarchical in structure and possessing characteristics akin to a government, was interpreted to be a threat to the “true, legitimate government” something had to be done. The federal government needed to show the Mormons who’s boss, and therefore placed restrictions on their religion. Rather than fight, the Mormons bowed out and abandoned polygamy as a religious practice, save a few “fundamental” or “extreme” Mormons which continue the practice to this day. If marriage were not a government function, this argument would have never happened and the federal government would have had to make an example out of another religious practice in order to show the Mormon church who’s boss.

Why does the government care? What vested interest does the government have in making polygamy illegal? Is the law effective? Based on the fact that some Mormons are still taking multiple wives, living together, raising families, etc. the ultimate conclusion is that the law is completely ineffective. These people are living perfectly normal lives. They are providing for their families, they are working, and they are functional. So what is the law doing? When it is enforced, it is turning these individuals into criminals, dragging them through the legal process and again forcing them to defend their beliefs against the tyranny of government restriction.

Some might defend this law, claiming that it reflects the values of society. But if it truly reflected the whole value of society, polygamy would not be practiced in the first place. Obviously society as a whole doesn’t operate as one, individuals possess their own values and morals. By laying preference to one set of morals or values, government restricts and therefore discriminates against another set.

It pains me to say it, but the government does sometimes get it right. In Loving v. Virginia (1967), an interracial couple was told by the state of Virginia that they could not live together, they could not be married, and they could not even be seen together. The United States Supreme Court overturned Virginia’s ban on interracial couples, and they were allowed to marry and live together, have kids, and live happily ever after. As someone who is in an interracial relationship, this case is monumental.

Moving on to the subject of same-sex marriage, this is yet another argument that would not be occurring if government was not involved in marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was created for the specific purpose of limiting marriage to one man and one woman. Its segregation discriminated against an entire population of people in order, once again, for the government to attempt to regulate “morality.” Was if effective? Did same-sex couples cease to exist, stop living together, and stop raising children together? No. When it was overturned many people celebrated the occasion as victory for gay rights. But its overturning was more than a victory for gay rights. Like Loving v. Virginia, its overturning was a victory for civil rights and for human rights. But same-sex marriage remains illegal in many states. These states will claim it to be a “states’ rights” issue. But I would argue that it is a human rights issue, taking it outside of the control of the state.

Marriage is a fundamental human right. It is a social contract. It is a religious practice. It is all of these things, but it is not the responsibility of the government to control, tax, regulate, and decide upon. Permission should not be required and requested from the government for two people to live their lives together. The government is not society’s father figure, it is society’s virus. To presume one should approach the government as if to say “Daddy, I like her, can I be with her, please? I’ll give you $30,” is absolutely absurd. As a society which claims to no end to cherish individual freedom, democracy, liberty, and all of these rhetorical concepts, we owe it to ourselves to reflect on our values, to limit government to the confines of protecting these ideas, and live without the nanny state that government has slowly become. Only then can we live free. Government is not the solution, it is the problem.

IMG_0044 - Version 2  Adam Hinds is a veteran of the war in Iraq and a Navy Operations Specialist. He lives in Tennessee with his dog, Willie, where he studies International Relations and Religion at Middle Tennessee State University. He is an expert ship handler, an avid outdoorsman, a music enthusiast, an outspoken libertarian, and an unconventional Christian. In his travels he has visited or lived in 18 countries including Japan, Israel, Australia, Brazil, Bahrain, and Hong Kong among others.

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