There has been continued talk over same sex marriage that has sparked debate from both sides of the aisle. One side insists that marriage is an institution that must be protected by the government, while the other believes that same sex couples must be given the same rights as married couples. Yet by their actions, both sides agree on one thing: government must define marriage.
Both sides have put so much trust in government that they have forgotten the history of marriage licenses. It was not always the case that couples had to have marriage licenses. George and Martha Washington never had a marriage license, and most Americans didn’t need them until the mid-1800s.
Various states in America had laws outlawing marriage between blacks and whites (in some cases this also included Native Americans and Asians); this occurred until 1967. All these laws primarily banned marriage between spouses of different racially or ethnically defined groups, which was termed “amalgamation” or “miscegenation.” However, it was in the mid-1800’s that certain states began allowing interracial marriages as long as those marrying received a license from the state. In other words, they had to receive permission to do an act which otherwise would have been illegal.
Marriage license – A license or permission granted by public authority to persons who intend to intermarry… By statute in most jurisdictions, it is made an essential prerequisite to lawful solemnization of the marriage.
Miscegenation – Mixture of races. Term formerly applied to marriage between persons of a different race. [Now called “intermarry”.] Statutes prohibiting marriage between persons of different races have been held to be invalid as contrary to equal protection clause of the Constitution.
Mildred and Richard Loving were arrested in Virginia because of their interracial marriage. It was their case that overturned the law. In 1967, in the Loving v. Virginia case, the Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore unconstitutional; however, state granted marriage certificates still exist as a relic of a forgotten era. States have now even written into law that those performing marriages must also be licensed by the state. Of course all this is provided for a fee paid to the state.
Before these historical events the government was never involved in marriage. Marriage was a private and personal matter; not public or state controlled. Some individuals chose to marry under religious institutions, and others simply entered what is often termed common law marriage. Of course the issue runs even deeper today because states have created certain benefits and subsidies for married couples; benefits everyone wants to have. Supporters of civil unions often seek these benefits and subsidies. When they are advocating for equal rights, they are essentially advocating for recognition, or the “right” to government subsidies. There is no “right” to government benefits.
The reality is that government cannot provide a right to anyone. A right is something you can do without asking. On the other hand a privilege is something that another entity or authority allows you to do. For example, I can walk out of my house onto my land. I can walk back and forth on my land all day long. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission; I have a right to walk on my land. If I want to walk across your land, perhaps to go to the store and take a shortcut, I have to get your permission. At anytime and for any reason you can revoke my permission.
Rights and privileges are opposites. We all remember the famous words, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Unalienable means that they cannot be taken away. Even if you support the idea of the state, one must concede that the people grant government privileges; in the U.S. Constitution we can find the term “granted” in Article I. The government cannot give rights to anyone since it had none to give in the first place. Same sex couples have no right to benefits just as opposite sex couples don’t have a right to them.
Do same sex couples have a right to marry? The real question is, do we as individuals have the right to deny another person from marriage? Can I prevent my neighbor from walking across his land? The answer is no; I don’t have a right to do so. If I organize a group of 50 people together, can they prevent my neighbor from walking across his land? Again the answer is no. It doesn’t matter how many of us there are, we are never justified in preventing my neighbor from walking across his land. Why? Because if we, as individuals, don’t have the right to do so we can’t give permission for someone else (or a group called government) to do it either.
Opponents of same sex marriage or civil unions often claim that their primary reason for their actions is to protect children, and thus they say we should give the power of marriage to the state to protect the next generation. To them opposite sex parents are the best option for the healthy upbringing of a child.
This begs the question: by only legalizing the optimal, do they agree that anything suboptimal should be illegal? If the conditions for raising a child vary, and run along a spectrum from the worst (say, being raised by wolves in the forest) to the possible optimal (being raised by loving, talented, intelligent, brilliant billionaires) would those who want to run our lives determine that anything below the billionaire level was suboptimal and therefore illegal? Would someone have to undergo a wealth and intelligence test before being married, because marriage could lead to childrearing, and that child could possibly be raised in a suboptimal environment? A standard is arbitrary, and dangerous to a free society.
Moreover, what about single individuals who never choose to marry? These people are often forgotten in this debate. Are they not discriminated against as well, since they are not given the same privileges as married couples? There are those couples who live together for life and never choose to marry. However, the state has decided to tax them at a higher level and punish them for their choice.
It is time the government got out of the business of marriage and left it in the hands of individuals. Only they, as individuals, know what is best for them, whether it be through religious institutions, contracts, or common law. They did just fine before government got involved.