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Criticism of the Stateless Marriage- Leave Marriage Alone

January 5, 2014


      There is a libertarian fantasy that we should get the government out of marriage.  Before we rush to implement this libertarian fantasy, we better ask ourselves what marriage does and why do we have marriage in the first place.  Marriage attaches a father to his children and his child’s mother.  Marriage as a legal institution insists on at least this much.  All the other things marriage may do are extraneous.

So what does it actually mean to “get the government out of marriage?”  I guess it must mean that the government takes no position on who the father of the child actually is, and whether he has any rights or responsibilities with respect to the child.  Marriage is anything we say it is.

Sure, you could “get government out of marriage,” but “the State” gets enormously larger as you do.  You don’t end up with a small government utopia.  You end up with the nanny state on steroids.  The fantasy of the “stateless marriage” seems to assume that parents will behave responsibly, even without the force of law.  I’m sure some of them will.  But we have to have some provision for what happens when the parents do not naturally perform their responsibilities toward their children. The far more likely outcome, is that the state takes over responsibility for more and more children.

This is the story of the decline of marriage among the lower classes.  “Freedom” means you can have sex and children without marriage. The welfare state has no presumption that the father is responsible for his children. The state and the taxpayer becomes the provider and the protector of the mother and her children.  The father becomes superfluous.

Sorry, sister, but marriage isn’t about you and your “I’m queen for a day” party.  The white dress is only costuming.  If you don’t attach fathers to children and their mother, then children suffer.  Societies that fail their children go away.  You don’t have to crack open a dusty textbook to figure that out.  We have countries like Japan, Russia and Iran going away before our eyes because their citizens don’t want to get married and raise a family.  I’m libertarian enough to see how a civilization can thrive with a minimal state.  I don’t see how a minimal state can survive without man-woman marriage.

We conducted that experiment right here in the US.  We introduced unilateral divorce and the divorce rates soared.  The state became the missing parent and brought its usual bureaucratic efficiency and compassion into our homes.  Rather than withering away, the government expanded into every aspect of life. Oh sure, we became more free to leave a marriage when we felt like it.  But when we want to stay married and the other person doesn’t, the State takes sides with the person who least wants the marriage.  Then the family courts get involved in separating one parent from the household.  The family courts can have jurisdiction over every aspect of the family’s life.  Somehow the glossy libertarian brochure on stateless marriage left out that little detail.

The nanny state is not the single mom fantasy of having free sex, a baby too, and someone else to pay for it.  In reality the state encroaches into every place you live, every place you sleep, and every job you take.  It is called subsidized housing, child support, and income offsets.  A state bureaucrat monitors how you raise your child, everything you eat, everything you do and every dollar you spend.  That brings child protective services into your life along with food stamps, welfare caseworkers and EBT cards.  Oh sure, the unmarried welfare mother is “free” of her children’s father.  But she has the involvement of the State in every aspect of her life.  At least with a husband, there was a chance that she would be loved.  With the State as the father substitute, who loves her and her child? It takes a lot of laws and bureaucrats to run other people’s lives.  That isn’t the libertarian utopia we were sold.

We have seen children raised without the protection, support and guidance of a married mom and dad.  Our inner city housing projects are full of these children.  The orphanages of totalitarian states are full of these children.  The results aren’t pretty.  Children born outside marriage suffer in every way.  Children from broken homes do worse in school, on the job and in their love lives.  They have less self-control so they often violate the rights of others.  They are more likely to have a criminal record.  Many have no conscience and become sociopaths.  They never lived with committed lifelong love between their mom and dad.  That makes it harder for them to fulfill a marriage commitment later.  They don’t know how even if they wanted to.  That is the large-state dystopia of a society without marriage.

When you say you want the state out of marriage, you’re probably saying you want to have sex with whomever you want and ignore the consequences.  I’m fine with that as long as you’re sterile, sleeping with other consenting adults, and don’t pass around STDs.  Have at it.  Go do the unattached consenting adult thing.  I underlined adults because I’ve seen child trafficking and don’t like it.  Yes, I’m judgmental.  I don’t care who and how many adults you sleep with and when you leave one adult relationship for the next.  When kids are involved, I get a whole lot more judgmental.

The state doesn’t get involved when agreements are fulfilled.  The state gets involved when agreements are broken.  I think that reasonably describes marriage as well.  An empty promise doesn’t need enforcement, and I think I saw a couple propose a stateless marriage last Friday evening at a bar just south of the nearby military base.  I doubt they are married come Monday morning.  Please don’t call it marriage because it isn’t.  Contract sex doesn’t give children what they need.  You’re simply sleeping around and rebranding it as the new and improved stateless marriage. 

If you want the government out of the business of raising children then you want married parents in that business.  That is what marriage is for.  That is what marriage does.  Most of us want committed lifelong love.  You can build lifelong love inside marriage.  You can raise children who become self-governing adults inside marriage.  I’ve yet to see it work another way.

Stories to the contrary are again like the mythical utopia that happened somewhere else long ago.  I don’t see the evidence.  I’ve given you examples of the state growing larger as marriage fails.  Chanting the words “free market”, “contract” and “stateless marriage” doesn’t give evidence that the state will become less involved with families if we stop using the power of the state to enforce the marriage agreement.  I’ve shown you my evidence.  Bring me your evidence if you have it.

It isn’t that modern marriage is broken.  It is that we are broken.  We know some marriages will fail.  That is when the state gets involved.  Despite that, marriage is here to stay because it works so well at building families and raising children.  The substitutes are far worse.  Marriage is here to stay. 

Art by Virginia Ross and used with permissionThanks to Clash Daily for posting an earlier version of this article.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave permalink
    January 5, 2014 4:54 pm

    “The fantasy of the ‘stateless marriage’ seems to assume that parents will behave responsibly, even without the force of law. Maybe some of them will. But we have to have some provision for what happens when the parents do not naturally perform their responsibilities toward their children.”

    I believe that there are current laws which hold parents responsible for the welfare of their children…do they require that the parents be married before they can be enforced?

    Oh, and the increased burden on the welfare state by increasing numbers of broken families isn’t so much because we have broken families, as much as it is because we have a welfare state. What are you going to do? Outlaw divorce and force families to stay legally married no matter what? That isn’t going to make an irresponsible father responsible. Want to make a broken family less likely to need state support? Shrink the welfare state and grow the economy so that single mom can make it on her own.

    I am unconvinced that government licensing of a marriage contributes to the quality of a marriage, or to the welfare of the children of that marriage. Neither do I believe that laws which punish a lack of responsibility in a marriage or in child-rearing make for better marriages, or better child-rearing.

    Men and women married and raised children just fine for a few thousand years, at least, before any government began meddling with things. How could that be?

    Sorry, but I just do not believe that we can legislate quality into our families; I do not buy that government involvement improves marriages any more than it improves most anything else it sticks its collective nose into.

    End of rant.

    (Congrats to the Chargers, my friend.)


    • January 5, 2014 5:57 pm

      Except that such “laws” become unenforceable when the “mother” doesn’t even know WHO it was that fathered her baby, which isn’t as uncommon as you might believe. Our divorce rate is what it is for one, simple reason…it’s too EASY to get out of a marriage instead of working to make the marriage succeed. More women than men file for divorce because she KNOWS that much of the couple’s assets and ALL of their children will go to her and the guy will have to PAY her at least until their youngest turns 18.


  2. January 5, 2014 5:52 pm

    I can remember when, in Texas, all you had to do to establish a marriage in common law, was to live together for 24 hours and declare yourselves to be husband and wife. In fact, I know of one instance where a married man moved in with another woman, a detective knocked on their door and the “other woman” introduced herself as the guy’s wife. HE was arrested…and convicted…of bigamy.


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