Social Question

iamthemob's avatar

Should we simply return marriage to the church?

Asked by iamthemob (17161points) November 20th, 2010

Prior to 1753, marriage was exclusively the domain of the church, and governed by cannon law. Passage of the Marriage Act made marriage a civil matter that, although preformed in the church, needed to be recognized by the state. The United States continued the tradition of civil or secular marriages preformed by state authorities as opposed to the church.

Although there are repeated calls to a state of traditional, millennia-old holy matrimony, the actual history of marriage is muddled, varied, and often not romantic or holy at all.

If traditional and religious people are so concerned about maintaining the sanctity of marriage, is the best option for the state to simply give it back to them? Should the state eliminate the relationship of a “secular” or “civil” marriage, and instead just transfer all of the rights currently associated with marriage to a “civil partnership”? Such a relationship would not depend on any sexual relationship, not be concerned with kinship ties, and need not be limited to a specific number of people – but instead would be an agreement between parties above the age of consent and intending to reside in a single household or, barring the possibility of that, to combine their assets and liabilities, in order to provide more stable support to each other and form a cohesive family unit. All state marriages would be re-titled as civil partnerships under the law, and anyone seeking a marriage would have to consult their religious authorities…but receiving a marriage would not entitle you to legal rights unless you registered as civil partners.

Further, divorce would only have effect on civil partnerships, and religious institutions would not be required to dissolve marriages upon the termination of the civil partnership, and married individuals would have to apply to the religious authorities separately, and no religious divorce would indicate that there was a termination of the civil partnership unless a separate application was made to the state.

What are the problems, if any, with such a scenario? If we take the sex and religion and separate them from the legal rights, haven’t we done the best possible thing to “defend marriage”?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

71 Answers

kess's avatar

Because the original intent and purpose of marriage is lost, we have all this chaos which is considered as marriage.

The origin intention and purpose of marriage is to promote and perpetuate Life.
And whenever two unite and become one for the sake of this purpose (promote and perpetuate Life), they are married.

Thus No religion nor Law can nor should govern this union.
For the Law of Life governs it and Life is Greater than the two.

Now take a look around, many of the ” marriages” sanctioned by either state or religion are actually not marriages at all. because their focus is either Money or Sex and both in varying degrees.

iamthemob's avatar

@kess – Then your argument is neither here nor there in terms of the argument. We’re talking distinctly about isolating the property rights associated with marriage, and then eliminating the state involvement in marriage.

After that, marriage can be whatever you want it to be. ;-)

Kayak8's avatar

@iamthemob I think you may be on to something!

BarnacleBill's avatar

Interesting idea.

The US fixation on the necessity of marriage came about during the reign of Queen Victoria; prior to that period people lived together on the edges of civilization often lived together without benefit of clerical marriage until a minister made it to their community, had children out-of-wedlock, and men separated from their wives by putting a notice in the newspaper, saying they would no longer pay their bills.

iamthemob's avatar

@BarnacleBill – It just seems objectively unfair that one type of family should be so profoundly privileged as opposed to another.

kess's avatar

@Iamthemob you are right it matters not which ever way you go, the result will be same, for once the understanding of marriage is not there, there will be fight among those involved to established their rights to property or sexual preferences

For they would use what ever avenues that is available, whether it is clerical or legal.

But with the understanding there will be no disputes because nothing I have will actually be mine and I in actuality I would have much more than I own.

iamthemob's avatar

@kess – You seem to think that a real relationship is mutually exclusive from a legal or clerical union. Not at all the case. The debate at this point is mostly about same sex unions, the purpose of which is to create as stable a family unit as a heterosexual one. So legally, people should be able to form the family any way they want, as long as it is meant to be a real commitment, and the law should privilege them all equally.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Historically, the role of religion in society has changed. In an age of no mass communiciation, churches provided social structure in small communities, traveling ministers and revivals provided entertainment of a sort; a reason to gather with far-flung neighbors. Religious weddings were not the events that they are now; people were married in their parent’s parlors, in the middle of the week, in their best clothing, with just a few day’s notice. Wedding feasts were reserved for the wealthy, and really only appeared at the later part of the 1800’s.

Much of what we have in the way of laws around marriage were designed to protect women. There was a point where, if you were married and inherited property from your father, it went to your husband, not you. Also, Dower interest pretty much placed women in situations of poverty because their sons or stepsons got all of the family assets. Marriage became a necessary criteria in order to award military pension claims to widows for their support.

I agree that civil partnerships should be separate from religious marriage.

kess's avatar

Like I said originally once you deviate from the original purpose of the marriage, all sort of scenarios will arise but all will end no where.

And concerning same sex marriage, how does it promote and perpetuate Life?

This is the one question that each who desire marrige need to ask and answer to themselves,
And once they answer truthfully then all is right.

For it is true not all who preach abo0ut Life ,actually Lives for It.

wilma's avatar

I have also wondered why this might not be the best way to handle marriage/civil unions.
I suppose that there would still be problems but it seems a more fair way to do things.

BarnacleBill's avatar

@kess, heterosexual marriages don’t necessarily “promote and perpetuate life.” Couples choose not to have children, or are infertile.

GracieT's avatar

@BarnacleBill, or both! I can’t, but we have chosen not to adopt because we feel that we would not make good parents if we have them. :o)

iamthemob's avatar

@wilma – The whole “sanctity of marriage” argument reeks of a church/state collapse to me. If the only real thing preventing it is coming from a religiously motivated place, we just need to separate the civil and the cannonical parts of it.

The problem, of course, is that I don’t really know of a single gay man or woman who wants to force any church or religion to recognize the union (I’m sure they’re out there, of course. ;-)) Oddly enough, because the institution and the religion are so entangled, the call for same sex marriage allows the other side the argument that gay men and women are forcing their beliefs on whatever religious community is involved.

It’s an odd self-perpetuating system.

@GracieT – That’s one of the most responsible thing I’ve heard someone say.

iamthemob's avatar

I noticed that there was a similar question asked last year – if anyone wants to see what as already discussed, you can find it here.

Judi's avatar

I think the state should grant Civil unions and let individual Churches define what they want to call Marriage. Civil unions should be granted all the rights the state grants couples in Marriage now.

iamthemob's avatar

@Judi – Who should be allowed to get a civil union (or whatever they want to call the contract)?

Personally, I’m of the mind that the only limitations be (1) the parties are adults, and (2) they share a primary residence. So, you could have more than two parties. Further, there would be no consanguinity limitations (brothers and sisters could enter into the contract, etc.).

This makes it about a family supporting it’s members – not about who is having sex with who. I think that part of the problem with the angry defenders of “traditional marriage” is that they can’t get over gay sex.

crisw's avatar

I believe that the legal status of marriage should be abolished.

All couples, no matter their gender makeup, should be able to get a civil union that should confer all the legal benefits that once accrued to marriage, and confer them equally to all couples.

Marriage would be solely a ceremony, like a bris or a christening. Any couple could get married or not, as they so chose, but only the civil union would have legal value.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Have you been channeling Robert A. Heinlein, @iamthemob? This sounds like a lot of what I’ve seen in his writings. He often wrote of “contract marriages”, including plural marriages of “many married to many” (as opposed to the traditional idea of plural marriage we have of one man with a harem).

I definitely like the idea so far, but I can see one problem right off the bat. Meeting someone at a bar, for example, and asking, “Are you married?” could turn into an hours-long discussion that starts out with, “It depends…” or “It’s complicated…”

faye's avatar

I would say no because church has no part in my world.

Aethelwine's avatar

I definitely like the idea so far, but I can see one problem right off the bat. Meeting someone at a bar, for example, and asking, “Are you married?” could turn into an hours-long discussion that starts out with, “It depends…” or “It’s complicated…”

I would say no because church has no part in my world.

These were the first two thoughts that came to my mind when I read this question. Also, my sister married her girlfriend in Iowa this past April. She’d be pretty pissed she couldn’t say she was married after waiting so long for this opportunity.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I’m with @crisw on this.

Supacase's avatar

I believe civil unions should be all that are recognized by the government and should be available to any adult couple.

If people want their marriage blessed in a church, they can certainly do that as well. Then they can consider themselves married. Or, if they only care about the religious blessing, they do not have to have the civil union; they can consider themselves married, but their union will not be recognized by the government.

iamthemob's avatar

@CyanoticWasp, @jonsblond – the whole “it’s complicated” thing is a concern of mine as well. However, I think that it’s solved by society understanding the serious legal commitment that marriage involves. Knowing that you might in the future be in a position where someone may need or want to become part of your household in the future…it makes you think about making the commitment until you’re fairly certain your life has stabilized and you’re actually ready to do it.

Just like any other contract, especially long term ones, I feel like it’s only complicated if you’re stupid about it.

Jaxk's avatar

Government involvement in marriage is for one purpose only, the continuation of the family. If you remove that aspect, there is no reason for the government to be involved. Joint tax returns, inheritance rights, community property, are all part of the government promoting the family.

If you want to go down this path, you should simply get the government totally out of the marriage business. No joint tax returns, no inheritance rights, no community property. If you want to leave all your possessions to someone, you leave a will. If you want to jointly own property, you both sign the contract or bill of sale. Everything is governed by contract law. I’m not sure why we want to bastardize the marriage contract to eliminate the reference to the family when that is the only reason for the marriage contract to begin with.

Just do away with it all and you’ve solved the problem.

iamthemob's avatar

@Jaxk – I don’t understand how this isn’t about the continuation of the family.

Plus, I don’t really think that there’s any one purpose you can say marriage has stood for – but if it’s anything, it’s about preservation of property more than family.

BarnacleBill's avatar

@CyanoticWasp, “It’s complicated” has existed for decades under “My wife doesn’t understand me”. What actually makes you married in the eyes of the state is that you pay for a license, and sign it in from of a person who is licensed by the state (minister, justice of the peace) to administer an oath to you and witness your signature. Whether you are married by a minister or a JP makes no difference to the state; both are legal. Where the ambiguity comes in is whether you’re entering into an inferred contract by executing a marriage license, or are being licensed to have sex.

Joybird's avatar

I’ve said it again and again. Marriage should be relegated to being a religious ritual only with no legal standings in terms of property states. If you want to do civil management of property states than it should be done via any number of documents that people can have drawn up on their behalf and file with their county. So if you want to maintain the assets you accumulated prior to a long term relationship than you file a demonstration of what those are. And if you combine any assets than you enter into an additional form of documentation that spells out how the assets will be divided should the relationship terminate. I’m not married to my daughter but we have a number of joint property agreements. The same should apply to people engaging in long term romantic relationships.
And if someone wants to negotiate restitution for staying home with the kids at their partners request than it should be figured out on a percentage based on yearly income and interest accrued on the part of their partner. This is all very easily determined. People can even do breech of contract clauses, renewal dates, termination statements etc. The problem in this day and age is that we have totally forgotten that marriage is a property state. It needs to be abandoned as the primary property state so that people forever more are made clear about the very concept of what it means to combine resources and assets with another person.
This is the point on which I disagree with gay rights. They should have hammered away at abolishing marriage as the recognized civil property state. Screw religion. It ruins everything anyway.

nicobanks's avatar

You’re really just talking about a change of lingo.

I’d rather religious people accept that a civil marriage is a civil partnership – separate and distinct from their concept of marriage.

So the two things share a word. Get over it already. (Not you: them.)

CyanoticWasp's avatar

It’s more than just language, though, @nicobanks. The change has to be reflected in law, as well, so that people can legally make the (contracted and recognized) civil partnership / marriage that has the same legal benefits that marriage has today.

iamthemob's avatar

@nicobanks – I agree that they should get over it. However, I fear they never really will. There is validity to both sides in terms of the use of “marriage” as a universal concept. On the anti-same sex marriage side, I get that they feel like one of their sacred ideals is being assaulted. On the pro-same sex marriage side, the idea that there should be separate statuses, even in name only, is a government approval of treating gay men and women as a separate class of citizen.

In the end, I feel like this is a compromise that (1) reveals what the true government meaning of marriage (or whatever) is and should be, (2) allows for equal treatment of all classes, (3) prevents any argument about an assault on marriage, and, on a personal note, (4) kind of sticks it to people I think are closed-minded by letting people who want to prevent certain people from joining their club have their club, but removing any recognition of the club outside of the club itself. ;-)

Qingu's avatar

Before marriage was part of “the church,” it was part of “the state” or “the tribe.”

Religion has never had a monopoly on the institution of marriage. It has always been deeply intertwined in whatever civil or social power structure existed.

I used to be sympathetic to this position, but now I think that treating marriage as a solely religious institution is just a cowardly capitulation to the insane religious zealots who dominate American politics.

@Jaxk, your view of marriage is pretty interesting. So in your view, government shouldn’t get involved in marriages between people who have no interest in having children? Or people who are physically incapable of bearing children?

Qingu's avatar

By the way, in the Bible, “marriage” was an economic transaction. It was a purchase of property (the woman), a transfer of ownership from her father to her future husband. This is why the Bible says you should pay a brideprice, a little more than the cost of a slave.

You could also have multiple wives (not husbands, of course), and if you’re a guy, you should feel free to have sex with your concubines and slave war captives as well. Just make sure you don’t have sex with a woman who belongs to another man, because that’s “adultery” and you’d both get killed. Unless you rape her in the countryside, or unless you rape her in the city and she screams in earshot of men—in those cases, only you die and she goes free. (If she is raped in the city and she fails to scream, or if nobody hears, then she is killed as well because it’s assumed that she is party to her devaluation, i.e. adultery).

Oh, and if you happen to rape a virgin girl who is not already purchased from her father, you have to pay her father the brideprice and marry her, and you can’t divorce her. “You break it, you buy it.”

That’s religious marriage for ya.

Jaxk's avatar


The whole point of government involvement with marriage was to promote the family. Go forth and multiply so to speak. Expansion of the population and family continuity were good things. Marriage was simply a convenient way to identify and handle it. As women obtained rights (they had precious few in the old days), government incented (I know it should be incentivised, but I hate that word) families to have one parent at home for child rearing and one parent working. This scenario prompted joint tax returns, to make it feasible to live on one salary and community property rights, so the non-working partner would not be left destitute.

Fewer families have a stay at home mother as economics simply require two incomes. But surprisingly there are still a lot of marriages that work this way. But if you remove the child rearing aspect of this, why would the government give a tax break to two people because the love each other. The government couldn’t care less about finding your ‘soul mate’.

So your choices are: get rid of the government involvement, leave it in place for families with one working parent, or just leave it alone. If you try to say you only get the tax break and community property if your having a single income family, the tax code becomes so convoluted as to be unworkable.

Frankly I think this is all political correctness run amok. We want to ignore why there is a tax credit for married couples and just say everyone living together should get a tax break. But now we’re discriminating against singles. Why don’t they get a tax break. Hell, give everyone a tax break. Oh, sorry, that’s right we don’t want to lower taxes. We just want to lower taxes for the sympathetic group of the day.

I know I sound jaded. And of course I will be considered a bigot (that goes without saying). But can anyone tell me why the government would care whether or not you’re married other than the promotion of the family?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Jaxk it has always seemed to me that the State’s involvement with marriage was not so much to “promote” families (oh, some of that, to be sure, so that there’d be new hands to man the plows and fire the guns) as much as it was to maintain order in the lower classes. That is, with an enforceable contract the State can assure:
1. This woman belongs to this man, and anyone attempting to interfere with that union (in-laws excepted) can be prosecuted for the attempt, and (maybe more important than that, even)

2. The offspring from this union belong to this couple, and are their responsibility to raise… within wide-latitude guidelines set by the State.

iamthemob's avatar


This is one of those intellectually upsetting times where I both completely agree with you and completely disagree with you.

In the end, I have to lean toward the disagree side though. Regardless of whether there is a stay at home parent, tax breaks for married couples still promote the best interest of the child. If a married couple doesn’t have a child, it promotes cost-spreading among smaller groups of individuals. Financially, those who share their costs are more financially stable than those that don’t. The sharing of dependent-based health care decreases spending of individuals on insurance, and overall tends to decrease the costs of employers on the care as membership in the workforce increases, or at least it has the potential to do so.

Opening up marriage actually serves as a tax cut without there being a tax cut in some circumstances. Further, consider the situation, which happened in England, where you have a couple that live together, support each other, but are not married and don’t intend to marry other individuals – two elderly sisters. One has a pension, the other is disabled. The one with a pension is about to die…and that will leave the disabled one without support. Thereafter, the state will be responsible for caring for a destitute and disabled person.

The pension would, however, prevent this. The legal benefits of marriage outside of those would require thousands of dollars in legal fees to replicate. And if there are heirs who disagree with estate planning choices who have intestate inheritance rights, there are times where contracts become meaningless.

Because the notion of family is changing, and should change, there isn’t any reason why we can’t say that the primary government concern should be the family. The breaks and legal streamlining promotes stability and responsibility in these families. I don’t see the reason not to support this – but the idea of the family should be expanded, and therefore we take the element of sex out of it, and make it about households.

This isn’t government control. It allows people to make personal choices about their lives and manage their households in multiple efficient ways.

Jaxk's avatar


You’ve woven a pretty intricate story. I’m not sure how wide spread that scenario would be. Of course you always have the disabled person that doesn’t have a pensioner willing to support them and we need to handle that as well. Basically, what I see in this question is a way for two people that want to live together (for whatever reason) to get a tax break as well as sharing expenses. Hell everyone I know has had a room mate at some point in their life. My grandmother and great aunt (her sister) lived together for forty years. Bought a house together and shared the expenses. They never would have even considered any of this stuff. Both lived to over 100 by the way.

In your scenario, could I form a civil union with my dog and get a tax break? How about a frat house? Or maybe my local chapter of the Royal Moose? We’ve completely lost the whole point here. There is little reason for a stay at home parent without children and there is even less reason for the government to provide a tax break for it. IMHO

Jaxk's avatar


I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about. How does marriage keep anyone from interfering, for whatever reason? And responsible parent (guardian) has little to do with marriage. Are you suggesting that if the parents are not married, they have no responsibility. I’m sure a lot of deadbeat fathers would quickly buy into that scenario.

iamthemob's avatar


Please, please don’t make this ridiculous. Please. When you start asking questions involving a contract with a dog, that’s precisely what you’re doing. I hate to get texty-screamy, but so everyone can get it (because this argument, although simply done away with, keeps popping up), dogs cannot legally contract under the law, and therefore there is no danger or legal possibility of this question arising under the law. Further, a frat house is something that you clearly will not be living in once you graduate, as the house is for students. Therefore, there is no possibility that they could get married, as there is no indication that they wish to make the relationship theoretically permanent. And even if they did, what the hell…I really doubt this would be epidemic, as the contract could be terminated as soon as it was clear it was entered into with bad intent, and college students wouldn’t really be motivated to do this because the amount of debt they would share with each other, jointly and severally, would be ridiculous, it would potentially subject the frat brothers to getting inheritences that would have gone to an individual brother who is thereafter screwed, and there aren’t really great tax breaks for a lot of students as they wer more often than not going to school and not really making money. It would be incredibly stupid, and if it did happen, after one or two instances that would be sure to receive public attention, I can guarantee you that no one would do it again. Finally, your local chapter of Royal Moose, I believe, do not share a primary residence, and therefore this would be impossible. Additionally, the same legal debt frat house problems come into it.

You seem to forget the legal drawbacks that are associated with marriage, particularly the shared debt. Opening it up, in fact, would draw attention to those drawbacks, because if people are cavalier when they do it, especially in the manner you suggest, the ways that they get screwed over will suddenly be clear to everyone.

Again, what the contract provides is a way for people to share their lives, the benefits and drawbacks all together, in a streamlined fashion so they don’t need to be legally sophisticated to ensure that they are prepared for all of the problematic eventualities of sharing a life together – diseases, deaths, debts, births, etc. Contracting to determine what your rights will be as each arises would mean a whole bunch of legal consultations.

I mean, if you’re debt set on getting the government out of the personal relationships, I guess I should be all for it. I mean, as an attorney, my mouth kind of waters at the infinite amount of billing that I’d be able to do every time someone had a baby, or died and left property, etc., etc. ;-)

Jaxk's avatar


You’re forgetting prenups. Hell, I can go onto LegalZoom and get a prenup fairly cheap. What your doing here is opening up massive loopholes in the tax code. And you’re totally ignoring the reason for government involvement in marriage.

As for the massive billing every time some had a baby, how is that different than having a baby out of wedlock right now. Dying also, when both parents die you have the same scenario since the marriage is no longer an issue. Same with property. I know lawyers like complexity, it makes the payments :-)

iamthemob's avatar

The problem is that there are THOUSANDS of rights and legal issues covered under one contract – marriage. Just because we deal with them in unmarried couples doesn’t mean that it won’t mean a MASSIVE explosion when, all of a sudden, nobody’s married anymore.

There aren’t massive loopholes in the tax code – it’s one, single issue – joint returns. That’s it. Whether someone is truthfully married to another to qualify for the deduction may require an increase in IRS investigation, but that’s really it. One household – primary address – that’s really it. People can game the system now, as long as they’re both citizens, by getting married anyway – and there are ways that the IRS has to look into this, which is why it’s not always happening. Also again, those same people will suffer the consequences if there is partner debt or death involved and they didn’t see it coming.

I am not totally ignoring the reason. I’ve told you a couple of times that the security and stability of the family would still be the driving purpose. However, families are not mother, father, child anymore. The proposal would still do that. It would be the government recognizing that they U.S. understanding of family has, and should, change with the times.

And a good pre-nup can’t possibly cover the rights under a marriage. Trust me…you’re getting exactly what you pay for when you a cheap pre-nup from an online site. There are too many state and federal issues to consider. It also doesn’t take foreign law issues into account. Finally, it can’t be binding on third parties (such as health and life insurance companies), and therefore misses out on all those benefits.

The funny thing is, you keep on bringing up particular issues and ways that we can deal with those issues, when they are all covered under civil unions/marriages. There is one loophole, clearly controlled for, where the problems already exist and there are ways in place to monitor it. The government purpose in marriage will still be in place – and in the end, who cares? If it’s what the people want, the government is an agent of the people. The fact that you keep on bringing up multiple things to deal with each of the issues covered by marriage shows that the amount of attention one would have to pay to the legal position they’re in, their partner’s in, their family’s in, of the partner’s family, and the changes in those positions and the time they’d be spending talking to an attorney or shopping for shaky legal docs.

In the end, the question really is – what is it that you think is the problem with marriage, when without it you really seem to just be handing over a bunch of money to…well…me?

Jaxk's avatar


I guess I’ve been a little ambiguous. I’m not arguing to change it. In fact, I’m fine with the way it is. My concern is that if we add people that don’t fit the purpose, we stand to lose the the benefit for those that do. And it’s more than just joint tax returns. Community property allows the avoidance of inheritance tax as well. The whole visitation or medical approval thing I don’t get anyway. When my father had a stroke, I wasn’t allowed any information until I got approval from his wife. Simply because she’s the one that brought him in. It had to do with hospital rules not government approval.

iamthemob's avatar

@Jaxk – we don’t stand to lose any benefit at all. No one is going to marry someone to ensure that they avoid the inheritance tax unless they clearly want to provide support for that person, and plan to be with them until death. This won’t happen casually. And if there are suspicious circumstances, that can be investigated.

When you say that it’s fine the way it is…you’re not losing benefits. When it opens to other people, you don’t lose any benefit either. When you don’t, however, you are refusing the benefits to an entire class of people that deserve the same benefits, and there is no legal reason to prevent them from getting it. Why should they be denied the benefits, when you don’t lose any?

Qingu's avatar

@Jaxk, your views on the government’s involvement in marriage don’t appear to be based on any sort of facts.

First of all, are you talking about the American government, or “government” in general? In either case, I am unfamiliar with any sort of government documents or principles that say anything remotely like this. Perhaps you’d care to cite them?

You said, “The government couldn’t care less about finding your ‘soul mate’.”

There are many reasons why the government should recognize a mutually trusting relationship between two people—“soulmates,” or whatever. Married couples cannot testify against each other in court. They have special visitation and power of attorney rights in near-death situations. They can file joint tax returns. All of these things are interactions with the state; none of them involve reproduction. (None of them necessarily heterosexual relationships, either).

It’s frankly pretty surprising that you’re not familiar with these aspects of marriage.

Jaxk's avatar


Actually my comments are based on facts. Just because you’re not aware of the facts doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The ‘Revenue act of 1948’ created the joint tax return. It was touted as a boom for the family.

“yielding what Nobel laureate Gary Becker would later quantify as efficiencies in the market and at home, allowing most families to raise a full quiver of children on one paycheck. It didn’t mean mothers couldn’t work outside the home, but it leveled the playing field for the one-paycheck household.”

More people got married and had more children. That was afterall the point. You can read about it here . Frankly, I’m pretty surprised you don’t understand the purpose for all this.

Jaxk's avatar


Frankly I don’t lose anything whether they change the definition of marriage, leave it alone or get government out of the marriage business altogether. When you say it won’t happen casually, you’re right. It will happen for financial gain. Hell people get married today for the soul purpose of tax relief. If you don’t believe people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid taxes, I don’t think we have much common ground for discussion.

Government does not let things stand when it appears that the code is being used for purposes other than what was intended. If tax relief or any other benefit is no longer targeting the original purpose, everyone stands to lose it. Frankly, I think incenting a stable family is a good thing. Once it becomes merely a tax loophole, it may disappear. That really is my only point.

Qingu's avatar

The National Review?

Do you have a non-Republican-shill source? I mean, I don’t quote from the Daily Kos in my discussions with you.

iamthemob's avatar

@Jaxk – Well, people will go to extraordinary lengths regardless. Tax benefits aren’t remotely the most important ones. Immigration, health care, and others come into play.

Your concern is based on some amorphous possibility that people might abuse it so much that the government just stops the government benefits. That is unlikely… government officials need to be re-elected, and imagine the reaction if they suddenly just took them all away. I bet there would be some intermediary measures – they revised the whole tax code in 1986 to close loopholes, as well as the bankruptcy act in 2005, etc.

Marriage is already different from the way it was when we first started, so the original purpose argument is problematic. I’ll wager that allowing gay couples the civil and family rights they deserve is much more important, as it is a concrete harm currently done, than you being afraid that, somehow, the government will just “cancel marriage” because it doesn’t think it’s doing what the government wants it to do.

tigress3681's avatar

Woah woah people. Marriage was originally about combining assets, not love. And having children was a means to keep assets in the family. From time immemorial, procreation has not required neither a marriage, nor a parental commitment to each other. Let’s not pretend that marriage is about families or children, as you need not be married to have either.

bob_'s avatar

This question was addressed on The West Wing. It didn’t get much traction.

Josh walks into the room and Congressman Benoit is waiting.

Sorry I’m late, Congressman. I’m sure Leo’d want to be here himself.

I’m sure.

A few snags with the tax bill.

So I gather.

The truth is we could use your vote.

I’m surprised your Justice Department hasn’t filed a single amicus brief in the Oregon or Massachusetts gay marriage cases.

Josh sits down.

We’ve debated this a lot. You know how dicey it is for the party.

I do.

We’re headed into a Presidential election year.

We are.

We can’t get too far ahead of public opinion as much as we’d like to.

That’s why I’d like to help, by introducing a bill to ban marriage.

That’s an interesting idea: we drop a bill to ban gay marriage, tag a few moderate Republicans as intolerant, but trust me, it hurts our moderates 50 times more.

My bill bans all marriage.

All, as in…?

If the government can’t make it available to everyone, I want us out of the business entirely. Leave it to churches and synagogues, and, of course, casinos and department stores.

Josh laughs.

Did the RNC put you up to this?

They don’t condone my lifestyle, and I don’t condone theirs.


Josh walks in.

The Democratic Leadership…

What about them?

Did they call to warn me that Benoit wants to ban marriage?

Ban marriage?

If we won’t support gay marriage, he wants the government out of it entirely.

Who takes an idea like that seriously?

It’s a direct-mail bonanza for the other side. Even a fringe bill to ban marriage, they’ll be reenacting Caligula at the Republican National Convention.

You’d look cute in a toga and a dog collar.

Thank you.

iamthemob's avatar

@bob_ – This is slightly different, though. It’s not a ban on marriage, but rather (pun intended) a “divorce” from it.

Return the title marriage to the church. Retitle civil marriage as a civil union/partnership or domestic whatever-gee-whosits. Those married would retain the marriage title. Those who want to get married from that point forward would have to go to a church, but ministers or priests or rabbis would no longer be sanctioned by the state to produce legally recognizable unions. That would be done by a government official, and could be combined with the receipt of the state license.

Not a ban. More like a solution to the semantics issue.

bob_'s avatar

Oh. Why should those already married retain the title?

iamthemob's avatar

@bob_ – Administrative simplicity. Less political fallout. Retroactive application of laws always seems like a messy business when they tend to deprive people of property and monetary rights they’ve been receiving. Further, it would act as essentially to void ab initio marriages from the beginning – and that would cause a serious legal mess for people who had been divorced (“Well, now I don’t have to pay alimony because we were never married”) or were widow/ers (“Wait, am I getting hit with a property transfer tax on the value of my home?”). At the most basic level, the flood of people requesting update licenses would be a nightmare of paperwork.

It just makes sense to let them keep the title, and then just add the new civil title to it without issuing the license with the new civil status, so they’ll just be “married.” Further, those that were already married are the type of people that the church would recognize anyway.

bob_'s avatar

Ah. Good points. It definitely seems simpler to deal with people complaining about others having had the right.

Still, I don’t really see such a scenario taking place, as the institution of marriage is too ingrained.

iamthemob's avatar

@bob_ – Unfortunately, I don’t disagree with you on that point. However, I prefer moving forward with it as the main argument, personally, as it seems to make the contrary arguments all the more, well, clearly religious and therefore unconstitutional.

Jaxk's avatar


The tax code change in the 80s is a good example. When interest deductions were first instituted, the main purpose was buying property. By allowing a deduction for interest on the loan, it made housing more affordable. By the 80s the interest deduction was being used for all sorts of purchases, cars, credit cards, etc. Hell it was creating too much borrowing and the deduction no longer fit the purpose. So what did they do? They got rid of it.

Tax loopholes are not really loopholes they are in fact incentives. Government uses the tax code to modify behavior. Behavior that the government feels benefits society. Once the incentives (they begin calling them loopholes) no longer fit the purpose, they are eliminated. This is not some obscure seldom utilized tool. It’s done all the time.

Let go of your ideology for a second and think about what behavior the government is trying to incent. And does behavior benefit the government? When the behavior no longer fits the purpose, it changes.

iamthemob's avatar

@Jaxk – nothing that I have suggested is outside the purpose of providing families with tax deductions to provide for a more stable household. The benefit is a benefit only if the couple is not subject to the marriage penalty. Therefore, if income is doubled in many cases (partners earning equally, the couple has the option to file separately. Marriage doesn’t mean that you automatically file together – it means you get the option to do it.

This will happen more often in a situation where there is one earner in a couple making more than the other. Therefore, one partner is, in essence, providing support to the other. This makes a more stable unit and, therefore, a more productive society.

The tax is not dependent on children, as there is no requirements for children to gain the benefit of the tax.

Further, the benefits related to marriage are those that don’t have anything to do with whether there are people other than the partners to the marriage in the marriage, but rather a recognition that there should be a standardization of partners ability to transfer property between them regardless of their location in the U.S.. The thousands of benefits are mostly about adults sharing their lives, which creates more stability.

We’re talking about adults planning on sharing the rest of their lives together, and wanting to support each other. Knowing that this benefit exists, taking it away will subject people to being left without a proper income if the relationship ends, and having property taken from them, leaving them destitute and dependent on state support.

This is the behavior the government is trying to incentivize (I like the word). It is a recognition that the people are supporting each other and sharing a life and pooling resources as if they were a single unit. Consider the statements below regarding an IRS memorandum on the different treatment of married and single people sharing property:

Finally, the Internal Revenue Service issued a ruling in which it agreed to treat approximately equal divisions of property at divorce as non-taxable nonrealization events. General Counsel Memorandum 37,716 explains in part the I.R.S.‘s rationale for treating married couples differently from unrelated individuals:

[W]e believe that the interest of each spouse is in the
martial property as an entity. A divorce decree merely
severs the interest that each spouse held in the marital
property. Cofield v. Koehler, 207 F.Supp. 73 (D. Kan.
1962). This is true regardless of whether the marital
property is community property or jointly held

As further justification for treating married couples differently, the General Counsel Memorandum stated:

Note that there is no such larger entity to be partitioned in
an equal in value division of property held by unmarried
co-owners. At the time of divorce, all marital property is
disposed of. It would be rare if, upon divorce, married coowners
would divide some of their jointly held property
while retaining a joint interest in other property.
Unmarried co-owners, however, may sever their interest in
some jointly owned property while retaining a joint
interest in other property. This difference is an important
factor in explaining the reason for the discrepancy in the
treatment of married and unmarried persons. Also
important is the longstanding judicial precedent for
treating divisions of property held by married persons as

The family unit, therefore, is about the intentions of the adults to share their lives – this is the general interest supported by most of the benefits.

Jaxk's avatar


You have at least addressed my issue directly. I appreciate that. But whereas your links address many of the pieces, they really don’t address the lynchpin for the entire government involvement in marriage. I suspect we’ll have to disagree. If it’s any consolation, I fully expect your arguments to win out in the near term. Whether or not my argument materializes in the long term is pure speculation.

How much social engineering should the government be doing. Hell, I don’t know. It’s clear they’re doing some and want to do more. We live in interesting times.

iamthemob's avatar

@Jaxk – I think part of the issue here is that we are referring to “government” generally. The major issue is that the federal government has historically had next to nothing to do with the regulation of the family – that was left to the states. In the few areas where the federal law depended on legal definitions of family relationships, it deferred to the state. This was true even when states had anti-miscegenation laws limiting marriage within races – therefore, a couple would travel from one state to another, and because the couple was of mixed-race, they would lose the state recognition of their marriage. During that time, the federal government incorporated definitions of marriage state-by-state.

DOMA was a severe departure from this history, and has arguably been in the recent federal court analysis a violation of the Tenth Amendment securing unarticulated powers to the state government.

Return of federal definitions of marriage to the church would mean only that the states would be defining marriage themselves, as it has always been. Considering that this means there will be a gradual transition, the adjustment should be profoundly smooth.

bob_'s avatar

Whoa… this is getting, like, lawyerly and stuff.

Jaxk's avatar


I have no issue with that. Whereas the Federal government bestows benefits to marriage, they leave the definitions to the states (DOMA is a departure from that rule). DOMA was intended to override the ‘Full Faith and Credit’ clause. I am a big proponent of States Rights and the Constitution. I also don’t support bastardizing these principles for specific issues. Consequently, I don’t support DOMA (not to mention I think it was passed for the wrong reasons).

nicobanks's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I don’t understand why you say this about “more than just language.” People can “legally make the civil partnership/marriage that has the same legal benefits that marriage has today.” They can do that by getting married: by purchasing a license and arranging for an officiant to perform the ceremony and file the papers. Where I live, straights and gays can do this. It should be that way everywhere – why not?

@iamthemob I disagree, I don’t think there is validity to the anti-same sex marriage side. I know people do feel like one of their sacred ideals is being assaulted, but those people are not thinking clearly or reasonably. No one is suggesting doing anything to anyone’s sacred ideals. There is nothing sacred about a civil license, ceremony, or contract. No religious institution holds civil marriage sacred: what religions hold sacred is their own marriage ceremonies and contracts, and no one is suggesting doing anything to those. No one is saying “your religion should allow gay marriages.”

Christianity does not have a claim of exclusivity on the word “marriage.” Christians have shared this word with secular states and other religions for as long as they’ve held the word sacred themselves.

Maybe you’re right and the religious anti-same sex contingent never will get over their confusion about the word “marriage,” but I don’t think compromise is an appropriate solution. Why should we do anything to “prevent any argument about an assault on marriage”? Their argument is foolish and illogical – let them make it!

The “true government meaning of marriage” is already clearly revealed in the legislation. Changing the word “marriage” to “partnership” would not make it any more clear, it’d merely pander to a segment of society who can’t seem to understand that we aren’t living in a theocracy.

And you know what I think? Pandering to them on this point won’t make any difference because the real issue here is just that: we don’t live in a theocracy, and they wish we did. Giving them this won’t derail them. If anything, it will stoke them.

iamthemob's avatar

@nicobanks – How is this pandering? First, marriage until the 18th century in common-law England (our legal heritage) was governed by the church. The Anglican Church at that time was very much a state church, as the sovereign was the head. The concept of a civil marriage in our legal perspective is a relatively new one. So it’s not irrational to say that our legal history is entangled in a “sacred” idea of marriage.

Second, marriage as it has been has been historically performed by church, and not state, officials. Various religious leaders are sanctioned as agents of the state for this purpose. Therefore, in practice the idea of marriage has been very much tied up with religion (particularly Christianity, regardless of the religious diversity in the nation) – and people have only begun to clearly, or more clearly, separate out the concept of a “civil marriage” as opposed to a one based on religion.

Finally, why are we spending our energy on a semantic defense? What we should be looking at are the capabilities of families to share the same or similar legal rights, benefits and responsibilities regardless of arbitrary characteristics. People seem to care about holding onto marriage. Fine…let them have it. But officially strip it of its legal characteristics. From the same-sex side, they (we) don’t want s term separate and apart from that given to those currently allowed to marry as that suggests a tiered citizenship. Fine…everyone gets the same title.

After a generation or two, if we separate them, it’s reasonable to believe you’ll have citizens who do understand the civil as opposed to the religious nature of the relationship. If we insist on holding onto getting this word for ourselves, despite a vehement opposition from “traditionalists,” in a generation or two…we might very well still be fighting.

I’m not willing to die without those rights because we’re fighting over a word. I ask again, how is this pandering?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@nicobanks you make my point for me. In the USA we don’t have the right to marry who we will… and to have it recognized by the federal government yet. That’s the legal change we need. (Got to cut this short; I’m late for an appointment.)

nicobanks's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I think you must have mistaken something in my original post. I agree that allowing same-sex marriage is the legal change you need. My point is that changing the word “marriage” in the legislation is a legal change you don’t need.

nicobanks's avatar

@iamthemob Obviously we feel differently about this. Perhaps you are taking a more practical viewpoint, while I am taking a more idealistic viewpoint. Ultimately, however, we’re both in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage, so that’s good! I just want to say I hold no hard feelings, even though I feel so differently about it from you. Anyway, here’s my response:


The history you’re describing isn’t wrong, but it isn’t complete. If we’re looking at the histories of Christianity and our civil/legal heritage we should go back at least 2,000 years, maybe 2,600. I think if we did, marriage would not seem such a tangled concept. I think space for both religious and civil marriages would clearly emerge.

If we took the time to understand.

I agree that emphasizing the capabilities of families regardless of sexual orientation is (also) a good thing to spend one’s time on.

And I don’t want to spend energy on a semantic defence, either.

But I also don’t want to “let them have” the word “marriage,” for reasons discussed in my last post.

And because I don’t believe changing the word would actually result in understanding (how could a move based on ignorance result in gnosis)? And because, frankly, the word has emotional, psychic impact for people – all people, outside of religion too. They have grown up (and are growing up now) socialized into this concept of “marriage”... to deny them that would not be a step toward equal rights. (And what about people already married by civil ceremony – would they lose the title “marriage” too? And what about “husband” and “wife”?) Maybe in a few generations this problem would disappear, but that’s not good enough.

Pandering because: People seem to care about holding onto marriage. Fine…let them have it. But officially strip it of its legal characteristics. Fine…everyone gets the same title. You want to gratify their base desire (the desire to keep the word “marriage” from gays, a desire based on ignorance, prejudice, and pride) in order to procure something from them (equal rights). That’s the definition of pandering.

iamthemob's avatar

@nicobanks – Oddly, I agree with you. I never, ever like to refer to marriage as a “century long” tradition – but the one thing that did stay constant during much of the time was that it was an arrangement based on property interests, and not about the individuals who were actually getting married.

And I understand the resistance, that many of my friends share, in “letting go” of the word marriage. I can do it easily because I could give two shits about getting married as long as I get the same legal rights, titled the same way, as everyone else.

But that’s only pandering if I cared about getting “married.” I don’t. I really, really don’t care what it’s called. And because the term seems to be important to them, eh…I’m willing to give it up. In either case, if we do end up keeping the phrase, we’re not going to make them any less intolerant. In fact, it will probably make them moreso. What we want on this issue, as much as possible, is to build consensus.

And there are many in the gay community who abhor the same-sex marriage movement, as traditionally as an institution it has represented a codified oppression of women. The institution of “marriage” is, in fact, something that they would do away with altogether.

Therefore, in the end, and considering the mixed feelings in the community about it, I believe if we have to call it something different, it’s the most reasonable choice. We’re not going to build any bridges between the communities by fighting with each other over something which, in the end, is solely symbolic. Importantly symbolic, but if fighting for the symbol (1) increases the length of time rights are denied, (2) creates animosity between the groups, and (3) prevents those on the other side from seeing us as people in productive relationships because they are denied the rights to be in them while the fight is going on…I understand why it would upset some people, but I find it incredibly arrogant of those who want to call it “marriage” demand that those of us who don’t care or refuse the term and institution to begin with delay and perhaps give up all chance of getting our legal rights so they can use the word.

nicobanks's avatar

@iamthemob “That’s only pandering if I cared about…” Good point. You can see, though, that it would be pandering for me to take your position? I won’t take it; I won’t pander to prejudiced, ignorant fools.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so idealistic and hard-line if I was living under this inequality, but who’s to say?

[This paragraph has been edited] “The institution of ‘marriage’ is something they would do away with altogether [becuase of the patriarchy, social history, etc.].” I’ve heard this argument from straights and gays alike. I empathise somewhat from a logical standpoint, but abjectly not from an emotional standpoint: I’d rather make marriage into a beautiful institution than do away with it entirely. But this doesn’t really have to do with our conversation. People who “abhor” the institution of marriage – from what I’ve heard/read them say – would never get married anyway, even if it was changed to “civil partnership.” Changing the lingo doesn’t “do away with” the institution at all.

“I find it incredibly arrogant of those who want to call it ‘marriage’ demand that those of us who don’t care or refuse the term and institution to begin with delay and perhaps give up all chance of getting our legal rights so they can use the word.”

Arrogant? How so?

Otherwise, I still have a hard time believing the word “marriage” is really what’s standing in the way, here. The problem is prejudice and ignorance – I don’t believe you can fix that or even begin to fix it by replacing the phrase “civil marriage” with “civil partnership” (or whatever). I just don’t buy it. I don’t believe it would make the difference you believe it would.

iamthemob's avatar

You can see, though, that it would be pandering for me to take your position? I won’t take it; I won’t pander to prejudiced, ignorant fools.

Absolutely. In fact, in my ideal world, we ditch the word over the vocal protests of people like you so that the ignorant can see how lucky they are, and perhaps open their eyes as to why they’re holding onto prejudices that, in the end, get them nothing.

I empathise somewhat from a logical standpoint, but abjectly not from an emotional standpoint.

I agree with you.

As to the arrogance…there are people who practically need these rights. So, if your partner is foreign, if you don’t get them, the partner gets deported. If you could get the rights without the word, that person doesn’t get deported. Asking individuals to potentially lose out in that way, in a way that may be impossible to correct, because it would be pandering to ignorance and therefore understandably upsetting, is the definition of arrogance in my opinion.

The essential question is how much are those who think keeping the terminology is the only way to really move forward willing to ask others to give up…maybe permanently…just for that principle.

nicobanks's avatar

@iamthemob Being arrogant means exaggerating one’s own worth. I don’t get the connection, here. And as I’ve said, I don’t agree with your opinion that I’m asking anyone to give anything up becuase I don’t believe that offering to replace the word “marriage” in the legislation actually would result in a consensus to allow equal rights.

iamthemob's avatar

If you are privileging how you feel about a word and saying that is more important than someone getting rights that they need to live (health beneifts, pensions, etc.) or to live together (immigration issues, adoption, etc.).

I’m not going to say that you’re doing that. I used the impersonal “those who think” in an attempt not to include you. However, if we all have the same rights, that’s having equal rights. And if the only thing standing in the way is someone wants to use this or that word, then it is arrogant for those to privilege that belief above those who need the rights for their lives to continue or to continue together. That is solely them exaggerating the worth of their feelings over the practical damage done to others.

Therefore, it is arrogance. I’m not saying you would take it that far. But that needs to be the way one holding onto the term marriage needs to approach their argument all the time to ensure that they aren’t letting it stop progress.

HungryGuy's avatar

Getting back to the intent of the original question, I agree. If the government just regarded any contractual agreement between two or more people as just that, without additional baggage of calling certain contracts “marriage;” and then letting people define “marriage” any way they want among themselves; we’d solve most or all all the issues of gay rights, religious rights, and whatnot all at once.

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther