Great, let’s get this show on the road with a smart infographic:
You’re probably thinking, “So what? Everyone knows approval for same-sex marriage is rising, especially among our wise generation (Millennials) with our hip words like ‘lit‘ and ‘adulting‘.” (Of course, you could be thinking about that breakfast burrito you had earlier and how those beans seemed more than a little suspicious.) Both of these thoughts are totally understandable. But there’s something else this change in thinking toward same-sex marriage indicates: thoughts on what are “valid” or “invalid” change, sometimes pretty quickly.
Okay, so what’s the point?
The point, dear reader, is that as a matter of course it seems rather foolhardy to entrust rights and liberties, particularly marriage, in the hands of a government run by a people who are as fickle as a kid trying to decide what kind of popsicle they want from the ice cream man. (Try saying that ten times fast.) Another cool infographic further illustrates my point:
Humans have a tendency to be regressive, give into mob mentality, and not learn from past mistakes (see: history), so it’s not entirely ridiculous that the above trend could reverse one day. After all, anti-Semitism has made a horrible comeback in Europe. Plus, as seen with 1973’s Roe v. Wade, contentious issues have a tendency to remain polarizing (who’d have thunk it?), and in our ever-divided country, gay marriage has a big possibility of remaining a heated issue. So, why not consider a position that could please both sides of the issue? Especially since we can all (hopefully) agree rights should not be held to the whim of popular thinking, which is the precise reason why marriage licenses suck. (Well, actually, there are more reasons, so keep reading.)
What the heck is a marriage license?
A marriage license, as defined by my favorite source Wikipedia, “is a document issued, either by a church or state authority, authorizing a couple to marry.” Most states didn’t enact marriage license laws until 1929, after the federal government established the Uniform Marriage and Marriage License Act in 1923. And, of course, a marriage license has a fee (tax) as high as $110 in some states, as written by Forbes’ Elisabeth Eaves. But marriage licenses (a tax) have a much darker history than simply being a pathetically disguised tax (yuck). They’re completely racist and bigoted.
No, really, marriage licenses are pretty bad.
A brief history lesson. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, Southern states began passing laws to circumvent the new rights extended to African-Americans. Some of these were poll taxes or literacy tests, but eventually, these extended to “miscegenation laws,” which prohibited interracial relationships as a way of preserving white heritage. A key component to the laws was the introduction of the marriage license, which could be denied to a couple based entirely on race. In fact, many of these laws existed until as late as the 1960s:
So why do we still have marriage licenses?
Whenever I bring this issue up like that crazy, pot-stirring (a metal pot, not the plant) uncle that I am, people (my mom and my roommate) counter with the following three common reasons:
- The tax system and insurance (ugh)
- What about polygamy and incest? (more ugh)
- “The family is the original and best Department of Health, Education and Welfare,” and governments, economies and legal systems all rely on the family to produce “basically honest, decent law abiding people of goodwill – citizens – who can take their rightful place in society.” (Who’re you, Princeton Professor Robert P. George?)
Unfortunately, none of those reasons make sense.
Yeah, I said it. They really don’t, and here’s how I counter all three of them:
- Next of kin and wills are already a thing. Why not allow people to simply declare a “benefits-receiving partner” and make everything easier? Plus, the tax system is way too complicated anyway (and we should all be able to agree on that), so simplify it.
- Honestly, I’m not really sure why polygamy is illegal (most of the laws aren’t even really enforced), but that’s a whole other topic. These things would simply remain illegal if we really want to enforce that. Getting rid of marriage licenses doesn’t suddenly validate marrying children.
- You’re thinking way too far into this. Stop it. Please.
We all win if marriage licenses go the way of the dodo.
At the end of the day, there’s a simple and agreeable way to please conservatives and liberals in the marriage debate. Just get rid of marriage licenses. Government would no longer have a say in defining what a “marriage” is, which should be what conservatives want anyway; and government wouldn’t be able to discriminate in deciding who can get married, which should make liberals happy.
After all, isn’t marriage really just a commitment between two people that they share with the community around them? There shouldn’t be some paper in a state capitol or Washington, D.C. authorizing that commitment. Maybe then we’d all be able to appreciate marriage as more than a business contract.