Privatize Marriage Now
Reviewed by Ryan McMaken
Recently by Ryan McMaken: Hunter S. Thompson's Last Stand
Ann Coulter, that warmongering demagogue of Conservatism, has declared war on Ron Paul. Naturally, she hates Paul because he stands for peace, free markets and the rule of law. Coulter hates of all of these things since she loves war, the police state, and the destruction of the constitution in pursuit of untrammeled political power for Conservative nationalists. In other words, like most Conservatives, she loves socialism, although she prefers to cloak her socialism in words like "national greatness," "secure borders" and "family values."
In a recent column, Coulter attacks Paul for a variety of his pro-freedom positions. In this column, however, I’ll focus only on her wildly inaccurate claims about how marriage is a "legal construct" and how every good American should insist that government maintain its death grip on the institution. She denounces Ron Paul for his insistence that marriage should not be controlled by government and that people should be free to contract with whomever they choose. Coulter of course insists that marriage should be socialized, regulated and controlled by government.
Coulter counters Paul with a claim that "there are reasons we have laws governing important institutions, such as marriage." Well she’s right there. There is a reason that governments regulate marriage: Governments couldn’t resist the urge to seize control of marriage which was a traditionally religious and non-governmental institution.
Let’s briefly examine the history and nature of marriage in the West and see just why we have laws. By "laws" of course, Coulter means secular civil laws. She’s not talking about Canon Law or Church Law, which is what governed marriage throughout most of the history of Christendom.
Being a sacrament, marriage was traditionally governed by religious law and was a religious matter. The Church recognized that with marriage being a sacrament, the state had no more right to regulate marriage than it had the right to regulate who could be baptized or who could be ordained a priest.
Indeed, in the Catholic Church to this day, a couple may become sacramentally married without even the presence of any clergy, let alone a government agent. If no clergy is available, couples may simply make vows in the presence of lay witnesses. The marriage is then perfectly valid according to the Church’s own law. This further illustrates the traditional, religious status in the West of marriage as a private bond between two persons. There’s certainly no state-sponsored marriage certificate required.
Naturally, marriage, being what it is, did nevertheless impact the distribution and ownership of property. Who were the legitimate heirs of a married couple, for example? Could Bastard Jimmy inherit the property of his father instead of First Born Tom who was the child of both dad and his wife? These considerations attracted the state’s attention.
The state hates it when property changes hands without being taxed and regulated, so the state set its sights on marriage centuries ago. Over time civil governments inserted themselves more and more into the religious institutions of marriage. This was helped along by the Reformation and by defenders of government-controlled marriage like King Henry VIII of England. As nation-states consolidated their monopolies on all law and over all institutions in society, the state finally displaced religious institutions as the final arbiter on marriage.
So yes, Ann, there is a reason that governments control marriage: They couldn’t keep their mitts off it.
The natural outcome of widespread approval of this state of affairs is that governments are now seen as the institution that can legitimately define marriage itself. We now have civil laws deciding what marriage is and what it is not and who can be married and who can not.
For anyone who has an interest in actually defending the historically traditional status of marriage, this power should be viewed as both dangerous and illegitimate. Thanks to the secularizing efforts of Christian reformers and anti-Christian types throughout history, marriage gradually became for many a civil matter only. Many people get "married" in courthouses in totally non-religious ceremonies. Such marriage contracts are in essence no different from run-of-the-mill legal contracts. The fact that we call such unions "marriage" doesn’t make them so. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, marriage is a religious matter. Some government judge can’t make you "married" any more than can your hair dresser. Here, we see that the so-called "traditional" marriage types who nevertheless defend government civil "marriage" (as defined by them) have already sown the seeds of their own defeat. They’ve already removed the institution of marriage from its traditional role and status.
What they should be arguing for is the removal of civil governments from the marriage bond altogether. Couples who wish to marry should approach their religious authorities about it. Then, if they wish they can join into some kind of civil union, which is just a contract. People who wish to have a civil union but no marriage may enter into that arrangement, and those who wish for a marriage with no civil union should be able to do that as well. Marriage, properly understood, should be considered off limits from government meddling. People are welcome to contract, but if the "defenders" of marriage had done their jobs right, there would be no confusion today about what is marriage and what is a government-approved contractual union.
Unfortunately, though, when Conservatives and Christian Right types bemoan the loss of so-called "traditional" marriage yet agitate for more government control of the institution, they really have only themselves to blame since they’re therefore accepting the proposition that government has the legitimate authority to regulate and control marriage. The power to regulate marriage is the power to destroy it.
This fact certainly doesn’t stop Coulter. Coulter is such an authoritarian on marriage, in fact, that she even apparently supports government-mandated blood tests as a means of enhancing government control of the institution: