If Marriage Is Between Two People, Why Is The Government Involved?

If Marriage Is Between Two People, Why Is The Government Involved?

In the last few years, the role of government in marriage has become a hot button issue among voters of all political leanings. As states and courts battle the topic of gay marriage in relation to the US Constitution and equal rights, the country has grown divided and has left some folks, like Senator Paul questioning why government is even involved in the first place.

The role of government in marriage has changed over the centuries. Rather famously, Benjamin Franklin had a common law wife whom he never married in a religious or civil ceremony, but simply announced to the public. Under the legal codes of the time, common law marriages were valid, and were essentially a civil solution for an institution that was still heavily controlled by the churches.

Fast forward a bit, and we start seeing laws governing marriage, particularly in regards to mixed race marriages. Eventually the granting of a civil marriage license became a common practice as people would apply to the state for permission to marry. Laws concerning age, race and the like became common, and by the time of the Civil Rights Movement, laws about mixed race marriage were coming under fire and creating one of the first major national debates on marriage. Here, in the perhaps aptly named Loving vs Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down laws restricting mixed race marriage under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

And now again in 2015, the Supreme Court has stepped in to further redefine what constitutes a legal marriage under the auspices of the 14th Amendment. The concept of marriage has changed many times in this country, ranging from simple civil common law marriage, to limited marriage between slaves, to restricting marriage among different races, to allowing gay couples to marry. This constant refining of marriage in line with changing legal and social trends has left us as a nation grappling with many issues that strike to the heart of our society.

It is in light of all this, that it is correct to ask the role of government in marriage. Senator Paul suggests leaving it to the states or simply getting government out of it altogether. After all, the only interest government has is creating a legal framework that eases right of survival, inheritance, custody of any children, shared property and the like. Not everyone desires a religious marriage, and rather than paying a fee and begging permission from the government to form a union, perhaps it would just be best to go back to the good old days of the Founders and return to the time when marriages were simply recorded and announced, and somehow managed to protect all the legal interests of a married couple. What is your view? What legitimate role, if any does government have in marriage? Join the debate with Rand Paul on Facebook and Twitter.

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(Photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue, Flickr CC BY 2.0)

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