What Is Marriage?
A seemingly simple-minded question, but bear with me.
Marriage is a big topic today in America, as it should be. The family is the bedrock of civilization. Marriage is supposed to provide stability and perpetuate future generations of a culture.
But it isn’t quite doing that job like it used to. Added to this mix are repeated calls for young men to “man up” and get married. You see, they are irresponsible peter pans who don’t want to grow up.
Yet, has anybody ever bothered to look beyond the symptoms, i.e. why people do what they do? The lack of intellectual curiosity is astounding.
Everyone responds to incentives. What does society, and the state for that matter, incentivize? What does it discourage?
Want to know how bad the condition of marriage is? Ask someone to define it. What precisely is this “blessed arrangement” known as marriage?
You see? Any attempt at defining it, as it currently is, runs into trouble.
Is it contract? No. You work out the details of a contract before all parties sign, not only after someone breaks the contract. And the person who breaks it doesn’t get to walk away with half the assets and possibly a life-time paycheck from the other business partner. Yes, there are pre-nups, but they are frowned upon as “unromantic.”
Is marriage a life-long covenant between a man and woman and God? Then why is the State involved at all? And if it truly is death til you part, how does no-fault divorce fit into the equation?
What is it?
Marriage Does Not Need the Government
Thing is, I don’t need to define it; people know what marriage actually is. They also know what we call “marriage” today is not it. The pretension is both humorous and infuriating to endure.
It reminds me of a riddle: If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Four, calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.
Calling what we have today “marriage” doesn’t make it marriage.
Unless you believe marriage is a licensed relationship approved by the government in order to maintain control over people in their private lives, you have to engage in a great deal of rationalization or self-delusion to argue the institution today called marriage is anything other than that.
Just look at the state involvement in marriage. It is all-encompassing. Note how it is a marriage “license.” They don’t call it a “contract” or an “agreement.” It is not a small, technical matter.
A license is for something that you do not have the right to do without government permission. They give it to you as long as you meet their criteria.
You get a driver’s license, for example, by proving you can drive according to government standards. But if you drive in ways that violate government rules of the road, they can suspend or revoke your license. It is the same with practicing law or medicine.
Although they don’t exercise this power as of now, in reality the government can revoke your marriage license without your consent. Theoretically, they could establish very narrow criteria for obtaining a marriage license. Furthermore, if they wanted to, and probably will, they could create strict requirements necessary to obtain the license and renew it.
No Reason To Marry (Through the State)
Our modern concept of marriage is one which is inextricably linked to the state. It is also, for all intents and purposes, a worthless concept. What does modern marriage provide access to which cannot be obtained outside the institution?
This is not about what my idea of marriage should be or what it once was. I’m talking about what modern marriage actually is due to state intervention, as opposed to what people claim it is. They can only do this by fervently denying the involvement of the state and dismissing any negative effects it has brought about.
All these factors I’ve listed above poke holes in any definition other than the one I’ve offered.
Try asking just one of these questions to people. The room either gets really quiet or really loud. Chances are, you won’t receive a calm, confident, reassuring explanation that satisfies your concerns. That’s because there aren’t, and if there are, the man or woman in question wouldn’t know because they aren’t experiencing them.
That young men are nagged about marriage tells you everything you need to know. It’s an irony lost on so many marriage proponents. Contrary to how they may act sometimes, young men aren’t complete idiots. They still respond to incentives; manipulation, social pressure, and shaming, the most common tactics used to pitch marriage, are telltale signs of a snake oil salesman attempting to sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.
It’s quite simple. You don’t have to pressure someone to do something that is in his benefit, even if it requires work or effort to obtain. People who benefit from marriage get married. Those who do not don’t because it isn’t.
The reasons as to why will inevitably involve government; a high divorce rate, alimony, child support and modern day debtors prisons for those who can’t pay the piper. You have yourself a merry little mess of liabilities. For what, exactly?
I hate to sound like the cynic on this particular topic, but as George Bernard Shaw remarked, a cynic is another way of describing someone who makes accurate observations about the situation.
What’s happening is that there are all sorts of parties looking to get their pound of flesh out of the marriage racket, from Trad Cons to Progressives. Through state control of marriage, these groups are able to enforce their own concepts of social norms and morality.
Notice none of these ideologies are especially concerned about government involvement, per se. Their interest is in how government wields this power.
What we have in modern marriage is a product of social Keynesianism. The consequences of decades-long tinkering have arrived, and subsidies need to be made to continue the manipulation of a natural institution.
Hence, the need for young men to “man up.”
Whether people should get married or not is their own affair, but it is eternally irritating to hear these groups not only refuse to admit their mistakes in supporting state intervention into marriage but harass the next generation into it under false pretenses and lies. Chief among those is the contradictory insistence that state control of marriage defines its legitimacy and is necessary for its survival, while simultaneously rejecting the claim that state meddling has robbed it of its most cherished ideals.