Social Question

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

Why must the government be involved in marriage?

Asked by SquirrelEStuff (9169points) June 30th, 2015 from iPhone

Comedian, Doug Stanhope, has a funny skit about marriage that I think raises a good question.
“If marriage wasn’t around, would you invent it. Would you be like, “baby, what we got it is so good, let’s get the government involved.”

Why do we need the institution of marriage? It is after all, a contract between a couple AND the state.
From what I have read, marriage licenses began in the U.S. to prevent interracial marriage. If that is the case, marriage seems to have historically been used more as another form of segregation and governmental control.
Marriage licenses, much like drivers licenses, are not rights, but are privileges, because permission must be granted by the state to obtain a license.
Why must marriage licenses exist? Can’t most of the benefits offered through marriage be done through private contracts?

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11 Answers

Zaku's avatar

I don’t think it does need to be. Many people form marriage or similar contracts without letting the government know officially.

On the other hand, law-makers often make laws that apply anyway, such as “common-law marriage”. While the law-makers are generally well-intended, their ideas don’t always match everyone’s situation well.

In some cases though, family laws can be useful and protect people that are good to protect… though in many cases, they don’t work very well.

bossob's avatar

Like a lot of government regulations, they originally come about to protect the innocent from the scofflaws. In this instance, men who make babies and disappear.

I think of a marriage license as a mandatory pre-nup that only comes into play at the end of the marriage. The intent is to provide basic fiscal security for any children involved, and in times past, for the wives who were SAHM and had no immediate job skills or experience to offer an employer. (alimony) The states can also become involved in distribution of assets and debts at the time of divorce or death, if couples haven’t made other legal arrangements.

Also, decades ago, blood tests were required by some states before the license would be granted.

Keeping track of wedding licenses at the courthouse also helps maintain accurate records of a family’s ancestors, although I don’t know the value of that in legal considerations.

josie's avatar

It shouldn’t be.

Like any mutually beneficial arrangement, you should only need a contract and perhaps an attorney to check the language.

States got involved for myriad bad reasons, among them to restrict inter racial marriage a pet issue for Southern Democrats until the Supreme Court got involved in the 60s- not surprisingly, using the 14th amendment to outlaw racial restrictions of marriage.
Just like the Bergefell case.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Really, it was to restrict inter racial marriages? Oh crap, what a load of shit.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe No, it wasn’t.

@SquirrelEStuff It doesn’t have to be, or at least it doesn’t have to be quite as involved as it is currently. Historically, the state got involved in the 16th century (about the same time that the church got involved, by the way). While the church got involved primarily for record-keeping purposes, the state got involved because marriage had become more and more like a contract, and mere social pressures had become less and less capable of enforcing marriage agreements. Marital disputes were coming to court, but there were no clear laws regarding marriage in order to decide the cases. And since there were very few formal contracts, there weren’t a lot of other resources to help decide the cases either. Thus marriage became formalized and civil marriage became a formal contract.

To answer your last question, though, the answer is actually no. Most of the benefits offered through marriage cannot be done through private contracts. This is because most of the modern benefits came about after marriage had become a government affair (and thus the laws used government-certified marriage as a prerequisite for the benefit). This is easily fixed, however. If the state were to get out of the marriage business (except for the contract-enforcing bit that started the governmental intervention in the first place), most of those benefits could easily be redefined as being available to people who form certain kinds of contracts.

As it turns out, the state has an interest in promoting marriage (or at least something marriage-like) insofar as it has various personal, political, and economic benefits, so it might not want to let you contract certain rights and privileges—such as jointly filed tax returns—out to just anyone. But it isn’t likely that we need the current level of government intervention to get any of those benefits. The logistics of restructuring the rights and privileges of marriage, however, is a whole other issue.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Just to clarify: the marriage license requirement was used by the government to enforce restrictions on interracial marriage, but it wasn’t invented to do so. Marriage licenses predate the United States and have existed in the US since the beginning. But as states began to limit or eliminate their recognition of common-law marriages, the need for the document has become increasingly prevalent.

kritiper's avatar

It’s for the sake of the woman’s legal security. “The ties that bind.” (IMO)

chewhorse's avatar

Because it doesn’t have to do with marriage but the benefits that marriage allows. Without marriage there’s no insurance for the mate through the work force.. No survivor’s benefits, even a will can be contested by the families. This is what the fight is all about and the only loop hole is marriage. The g’ment doesn’t care if two sexes marry so long as the benefits of the marriage isn’t included but they themselves created these benefits and they can’t be selective of a marriage so this is actually the blunt of a same sex marriage and because the g’ment can’t revise the rules they instead made it a religious argument. The SCOTUS says this can’t be a constitutional argument because the g’ment created marriage not the constitution. If LGBT could be included in these benefits just like common law marriages they wouldn’t care to use it as an issue but the g’ment and industry says no so there’s only one way to insure that same sex unity can be included in something that all heteros enjoy and that’s through the same marriage ceremony that all marriages are entitled to. Bottom line, LGBT wants the same benefits, if the g’ment would concede to this then marriage wouldn’t be an issue. They don’t want to be like us, they just want the fair share of unity.

JLeslie's avatar

There are still enough women who don’t work for many years, or earn considerably less, during marriage, that it behoove a the state that there be the institution of civil marriage. If a man leaves the marriage there are legal remedies from the marriage contract that obligates him to continue to support his exwife and children for a period of time. Sometimes it’s the woman who is the breadwinner, but usually it’s the man, especially if the wife has been home with the children.

It’s not just what it seems on the surface as protecting the spouse who isn’t working, it protects the state from having to pay out welfare to the person who hadn’t been working.

The state also has a vested interest in stability of parents raising children.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The primary reason for government involvement is because marriage is about matters of property and ownership. It is the merging of 2 estates. The partners assume one another’s legal benefits as well as obligations including those due and from the government.

LostInParadise's avatar

There is that small matter that never gets brought up in wedding vows – children. Married couples spend a considerable amount of money to raise kids, which otherwise would be the responsibility of the State. The government has a vested interest in creating marital obligations for the well being of children. Before there were DNA tests there were marriage contracts.

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