Jason Kuznicki writes on marriage here. He notes:

The thesis: Marriage is in many ways a defense against the state. Marriage is many different things, but in a whole set of ways, it is an approach toward a more limited and more tractable form of government. Marriage — “state-sanctioned” marriage — is a defense of the home against the bureaucracy.

Marriage does a lot of things. Here are just a few of them: It helps to decide child custody and presumed parental obligations. It resolves nearly all questions about inheritance. It does the same with property and financial decision making. It settles who gets to make medical decisions. It determines who may have standing to sue for wrongful death. Whether rightly or wrongly, it helps to determine — and who may not — receive retirement benefits, even if those benefits come from a private company.

In each of these cases, I think it’s preferable to have a “default” state: It’s just better to have an understanding about how, barring alternate arrangements, everything is going to play out: When one spouse dies, the other gets the house, the kids, the right to sue. No fuss, no questions asked. Not even any probate in a lot of jurisdictions, as I understand it. When one spouse is incapacitated, you look to the other one for the life-and-death medical decisions. And so forth. In a time of crisis, you do not want a bunch of lawyers trying to argue their way through your private life. You just want to get on with the business at hand.

He continues to point out that this default state leaves those who don’t follow the default in some difficulty, a point on which there can be no reasonable disagreement (that is one on which no reasonable people, I think, can disagree). There are two other facets to this discussion which are salient, after which I’ll attempt to wrap up to a conclusion. And, much of this was reasoned and conceived during the fever dreams of the last two days for which I apologize in advance.

Marriage has been, historically and socially perhaps even “humanly”, been regarded as more than a contractual matter. A sacramental, liturgical, and eternal significance has almost universally been attached to this event. The phrase, of “pledging our troth before man and God”, is common because it is …, well, common. Marriage (first marriages at least) makes sense as celebration and virtually all cultures that aspect is there in abundance. There is also universally a religious aspect. At the very least, shared liturgical praxis is a to touch the sacred. Charles Taylor in A Secular Age begins by looking at the word “secular”. “Secular” comes from the Latin, saeculum, meaning a period of time. A liturgical rite, in a primal fashion, is a denial of time. It is meant to forge a connection with all the other rites that are the same. The Eucharist for example is a forging of a connection with the first Eucharist during that passover night almost 2000 years ago and every other Eucharist performed everywhere else since then. Marriage ceremonies are the same, a denial of time. This connection between the lover’s bound in marriage and eternity is almost as universal.

Over the last 500 years a concerted almost continuous effort to “civilize” Western culture has been ongoing. This effort has had a great deal of success. It has however been a great effort. Persuasion and teaching on “right behavior” has been performed at a variety of levels and through many organs, from the state, schools, churches, university and so on all have tried to brow beat the common herd (and the rest) to acting in a civilized manner. When one looks, for example, at the behavior of nobility during the War of the Roses and compares it their counterpart in the Elizabethan era or today, one comes to realize how far we have come down the road of civility. One of the crucial elements in passing down the advances and instilling “right behavior” in the next generation is in the raising children in stable two-parent families. Marriage is not just of interest to individuals, it is a crucial linchpin in retaining civilization. In the absence of families teaching their children how to behave and how to live and being a good example,  the  project, begun 500 years ago, will fail. The state has an interest in marriage, it is not just that people have in interest in marriage to protect them from the state.

So marriage, as a institution which naturally stands abreast interests of state and the sacred, in a polis which is allergic to notions of mixing church and state will not unsurprisingly find itself in the mix when marriage  is at question. Is is natural that the Church (or the organizations which represent that which is sacred) have an abiding interest in marriage. So too does the state, in maintaining the future. A state which has divided the sacred and secular and pretends to only devote itself to the latter is going to find it a tricksy thing to find the correct line at which to make that divide. Alas, one of the problems for the gay couples in our community is that, while the individuals find some measure of protection in marriage, the state itself has much less to gain from protecting them. The last two generations have seen a relaxing of the “project” of civilizing man and the loss of manners surrounding us bespeaks this, especially as demonstrated by so many of the young. The state enforcement of standards of behavior and putting its intrusive fingers in marriage is not merely an annoyance. It is likely a necessary evil.

Filed under: Ethics & MoralityGovernmentMark O.

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