Why Privatizing Marriage Won’t Work

Most of this post was originally published as Government & Marriage: Answering Libertarians. I’m republishing it under a different name because after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage the issue of getting government out of marriage has once more been raised as a solution to the same-sex “marriage” debate. Those who have wanted—and still want—to get government out of the marriage business are in denial of the importance and widespread influence of legal regulation of marriage. Not only that, but the horse has left that barn, and there’s no closing the door now!

To bring this issue up now also reflects a naive lack of understanding of the intent of many leaders and advocates of same-sex “marriage” to use the strong arm of government to impose legal recognition and approval of their lifestyle. And for some advocates Christians have always been in the cross hairs.

As time permits I will do a new post on why privatizing marriage won’t work and include some summaries and analysis of articles by Jennifer Roback Morse (see the bottom of this post), and other authors I have read on the topic. The arguments below are from the original post. Some, while not directly addressing same-sex “marriage,” are nevertheless clearly applicable. Ryan Anderson reiterates parts of the reasoning in Redefine Marriage, Make Government Bigger.

What Is Marriage bookmarked border…marriage—we will show—has enough objective structure apart from spouses’ preferences, to be legally regulated.1

…As we deprive marriage policy of definite shape, we deprive it of public purpose.2

These two statements are from chapter one, “Challenges to Revisionists,” in What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. In chapter three, “The State and Marriage,” Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert George turn to fully addressing both libertarians and the Left on civil regulation of marriage. (My emphases are in bold).

…some on the libertarian Right say that marriage has no public value, and call for the state to get out of the marriage business altogether. Voices on the Left say that marriage has no distinctive public value; they say that the state may work it like clay, remaking marriage to fit our preferences.3

Their answer is based on the objective structure of marriage and the public value of marriage:

By regulating marriage entry and exit, and by helping and sometimes requiring the government as well as individuals and civic institutions to treat certain groups as a unit, marriage law sends a strong public message about what it takes to make a marriage—what marriage is. This in turn affects people’s beliefs, and therefore their expectations and choices, about their own prospective or actual marriages. The mutual influence of law and culture is confirmed by empirical evidence on the effects of no-fault divorce laws. But if easing the legal obstacles to divorce has had an effect, surely removing even the hassle and stigma of a legal divorce would. The state’s influence on marriage is extensive.

Indeed, it cannot be otherwise. Abolishing civil marriage is practically impossible. Strike the word ‘marriage’ from the law, and the state will still license, and attach duties and benefits to, certain bonds. Abolish these forward-looking forms of regulation, and they will only be replaced by messier, retroactive regulation — of disputes over property, custody, visitation, and child support. What the state once did by efficient legal presumptions, it will then do by burdensome case-by-case assignments of parental (especially paternal) responsibilities.

The state will only discharge these tasks more or less efficiently — that is, less or more intrusively. It can’t escape them. Why not? Because the public functions of marriage — both to require and to empower parents (especially fathers) to care for their children and each other — require a society-wide coordination. It is not enough if, say, a particular religion presumes a man’s paternity of his wife’s children, or recognizes his rights and duties toward their mother; or if the man and his wife contract to carry out certain tasks. For private institutions can bind only their own; private contracts bind only those who are party to them. A major function of marriage law is to bind all third parties (schools, adoption agencies, summer camps, hospitals; friends, relatives, and strangers) presumptively to treat a man as father of his wife’s children, husbands and wives as entitled to certain privileges and sexually off-limits, and so on. This only the state can do with any consistency.

But more than inevitable or necessary, it is fitting that the state should do this. Consider a comparison. Why don’t even the strictest libertarians decry traffic laws? Firstly, orderly traffic protects health and promotes efficiency, two great goods. Second, these goods are common in two senses: private efforts cannot adequately secure them, and yet failure to secure them has very public consequences. It is not as if we would have had the same (or even just slightly less) safety and efficiency of travel if people just did as they pleased, some stopping only at red lights and others only at green. Nor would damage from the resulting accidents (and slower shipments, etc.) be limited to those responsible for causing it. To ensure safe and efficient travel at all, and to limit harm to third parties, we need legal coordination. Indeed, it is no stretch to say that the state owes its citizens to keep minimum security and order: to these we have a right. Finally, unlike private associations, the state can secure these goods, without intolerable side effects. All this makes it appropriate for the state to set our traffic laws.

In an essay solely on political theory, we might argue the details, but here we can extract from this example a widely acceptable rule: If something would serve an important good, if people have a right to it, if private groups cannot secure it well, everyone suffers if it is lost, and the state can secure it without undue cost, then the state may step in — and should.

All these conditions are met in the case of marriage.4

They undergird their argument by citing the benefits of marriage both to family members and to society at large. Marriage “tends to help spouses financially, emotionally, physically, and socially,”5 and children thrive best when reared by their married biological parents.6 Marriage also “helps create wealth, helps the poor especially, and checks state power.”7 Those benefits however, are based marriage as the conjugal union of a man and a woman. We’ve lost a great deal through SCOTUS redefining the legal definition of marriage, but that’s for a later post.

Diamond Border

Related articles by Jennifer Roback Morse at The Witherspoon Institute Public Discourse:

The Heritage Foundation pamphlet, What You Need To Know About Marriage: Questions and Answers Driving the Debate, contains some of the same information and reasoning found in What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. I highly recommend it as an overview of its main points.
1,2,3,4,5,6,7Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert George, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (Encounter Books, New York NY: 2012) 16, 21, 37, 40–41, 44, 42–44, 42.

Polygamy, Polyandry, Polyamory: The Slippery Slope Of Redefining Marriage Is A Greased Skid

What Is Marriage bookmarked borderMarriage has an objective structure with inherent characteristics derived, or born if you will, quite literally, from the very nature of the sexual union of a man and a woman. This union is absolutely unique— you can say what you want and say it’s not so, but you cannot change this objective reality that has nothing to do with opinion or interpretation. From the reality of this objective structure flow the inherent characteristics of marriage that are permanent and inseparable elements of marriage. Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan T. Anderson give these characteristics in their book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.

First, it unites two people in their most basic dimensions, in their minds and bodies; second, it unites them with respect to procreation, family life, and its broad domestic sharing; and third, it unites them permanently and exclusively.1

When, as happened Friday with the Supreme Court ruling, the legal definition of marriage is removed from its objective structure rooted in biological complementarity of the two sexes, the legal definition of marriage becomes subjective and is based on the whims of those who have the most power. In April of 2014 Robert George wrote So You Believe in “Marriage Equality”? Why Not For throuples? and two days ago on Friday Politico published as article saying it was time to legalize polygamy.

Gay Marriage, Then Group Marriage? is a column written by Ryan Anderson, Sherif Girgis and Robert P. George in March 2013. I’ve quoted parts of it many times. These are the inevitable consequences of government redefining marriage. No one should be surprised at the logical end.

If marriage is just the emotional bond “that matters most” to you — in the revealing words of the circuit judge who struck down California Proposition 8 — then personal tastes or a couple’s subjective preferences aside, there is no reason of principle for marriage to be pledged to permanence. Or sexually exclusive rather than “open.” Or limited to two spouses. Or oriented to family life and shaped by its demands….

But don’t take our word for it. Many prominent leaders of the campaign to redefine marriage make precisely the same point. (We provide many more examples, and full citations, in the amicus brief we filed with the Supreme Court on the harms of redefining marriage.)

University of Calgary Professor Elizabeth Brake supports “minimal marriage,” in which people distribute whichever duties they choose, among however many partners, of whatever sex.

NYU Professor Judith Stacey hopes that redefining marriage would give marriage “varied, creative, and adaptive contours …” and lead to acceptance of “small group marriages.” In the manifesto “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage,” 300 leading “LGBT and allied” scholars and activists call for the recognition of multiple partner relationships.

Influential columnist and “It Gets Better” founder Dan Savage encourages spouses to adopt “a more flexible attitude” about sex outside their marriage. Journalist Victoria Brownworth cheerfully predicts that same-sex marriage will “weaken the institution of marriage.”

“It most certainly will do so,” she says, “and that will make marriage a far better concept than it previously has been.”

Author Michelangelo Signorile urges same-sex partners to “demand the right to marry not as a way of adhering to society’s moral codes but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution.” They should “fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely, because the most subversive action lesbians and gay men can undertake … is to transform the notion of ‘family’ entirely.”

These leading same-sex marriage advocates are correct.

Here’s a quote from page 70 What Is Marriage?  Remember this book was published in December 2012.

Professor Ellen Willis, another revisionist, celebrates the fact that “conferring the legitimacy of marriage on homosexual relations will introduce an implicit revolt against the institution into its very heart.”2

Once again there are those on the Left who know exactly what they’re doing and why, and they’re more than happy to manipulate the useful idiots who fall for it.
1, 2Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert George, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (Encounter Books, New York NY: 2012) 23, 70.

Withstanding The Assault On Marriage

When commenting on events with far reaching consequences, one of my pastors would frequently ask David’s question of Psalm 11, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” He would then answer by saying, “Go on being righteous.” In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling yesterday that struck at the foundations of society by redefining marriage and codifying sin into our nation’s law, this is a question Christians must ask, “What can the righteous do?”

In the Lord I take refuge;
How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain;
For, behold, the wicked bend the bow,
They make ready their arrow upon the string
To shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.
If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do?”

Derek Kidner writes in his small commentary on the Psalms:

The feverish scene of verses 1-3 [of Psalm 11] is dwarfed by the Lord, whose name here is emphatic and reiterated. This King is in residence, not in flight: His city has ‘foundations’ (cf. Heb. 11:10), therefore the question of verse 3 can be asked without despair…The collapse of what is built on sand may be distressing; it can also be a beginning (Heb. 12:27).

So the first answer as to what the righteous can do is in David’s answer to his question in those very next verses: by looking to God and remembering that He is sovereign. He is our refuge. We can trust Him to execute justice and to keep us through the storm.

The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness;
The upright will behold His face.

Kidner also provides guidance for two other answers to what the righteous can do. He reminds us that there is a city with a foundation that never crumbles:

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Hebrews 11:8-10

As the Apostle Paul teaches us, “our citizenship is in heaven“; we are to “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth“; and in 2 Corinthians 4:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

I found a third answer as to what the righteous can do in Kidner’s reference to foundations on sand. In the passage we call the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus finished his teaching by telling a story of two houses.

Waves Crashing Over The North Pier Tynemouth
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.

“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

Matthew 7:24-29

“What can the righteous do?” We are to go on being righteous by remembering God is sovereign and trusting in His punishment of the wicked and His care for us, by remembering that our citizenship is in a lasting city built by God and so setting our minds on the things above, and finally, by hearing and heeding God’s Word and building our lives on the rock that is a foundation that will never crumble .

I have other thoughts and quotes on yesterday’s ruling, but this is where we begin.
Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Inter-Varsity Press, London: 1973) 73.
Waves crashing over The North Pier, Tynemouth: FreeFoto.com

Affected Justice: SCOTUS & Marriage Arguments

There are a few optimists, but after the hearings on marriage at the Supreme Court most conservatives are having a “Gird your loins,” reaction as we wait for the upcoming decision in late June or early July.

Steve Deace’s evaluation is summarized in his headline: Supreme Court grandstands on marriage by embracing cognitive dissonance, and he begins by pointing out the White Queen logic of SCOTUS if it goes through the looking-glass with marriage:

Supreme CourtTwo years ago, a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled it was a terrible thing for the federal government to dictate the definition of marriage to all 50 states. Despite the fact it was done lawfully via a bill passed through both houses of Congress, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Two years later, the same five justices who made up that majority are poised to reverse themselves, and say it’s perfectly fine for the federal government to dictate the definition of marriage to all 50 states. Provided it’s done so unlawfully by judicial fiat this time.

As for grandstanding:

Listen, I don’t want to label last week’s Supreme Court hearing on the definition of marriage as nothing but political theater, but there was enough overacting and cheesy dialogue to inspire Michael Bay’s next film.

There’s laying it on thick and then there’s flat-out grandstanding. In this case, the latter was in full effect as the nation’s highest court called upon its fork-tongued spirit animal – who looks conspicuously like Pontius Pilate – for inspiration. The Supreme Court pretended to agonize over an unjust decision that everyone on both sides of the divisive marriage debate knows is coming with metaphysical certitude.

Some have taken remarks by some of the justices at face value, but it’s difficult to believe that the forgotten virtue of humility has suddenly been discovered and embraced. Not only that, but I find it difficult to believe that the justices weren’t aware of the lies and illogical conclusions perpetrated by themselves and by others during the hearings. In Correcting Six Mistakes from the Same-Sex Marriage Oral Arguments Last Week James Phillips points these out:

Error Number One: Massachusetts Marriage Rates Have Stayed the Same…

Error Number Two: Because Some Men Leave Their Wives and Children, Marriage Does Not Help Keep Fathers Around…

Error Number Three: The Purpose of States’ Recognizing and Regulating Marriage is to Bestow Dignity on Couples…

Error Number Four: The Only Harm to Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage Is Making Marriage More Adult-Centered…

Error Number Five: There Is a Parallel between Brown/Loving and Lawrence/Obergefell

Error Number Six: Age Restrictions on Marriage Are Equivalent to the Definitional Element of One Man and One Woman…

Remember, each of these statements is not true. Phillips gives backgrounds and explanations, and I recommend reading his article if you’ve encountered any of this fallacious thinking in conversations.

Robert George gives this solemn warning:

For the Court to strike down laws defining marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife would be to abolish the idea that men and women matter—equally—in the lives of the children they create. And it would be both a judicial usurpation of legislative authority and a federal intrusion into a matter left by the Constitution in the hands of the states.

Despite the solid logic and explanations in the many articles that have been written on natural marriage and its importance to society, it appears that SCOTUS is careening down the path to an egregious decision with devastating consequences. This does not mean, however, that we are not to pray. God is sovereign. Continue to ask for His mercy on our nation. He has had mercy in the past, pray He does again now. In the sidebar I keep several featured posts. If you’ve not read them, I invite you to look back in our nation’s history to other bleak times in “…the acts and choices of ordinary people…” and The American Crisis: November 2012 for the examples set before us by other Americans.

Pray that the Justices will administer true justice according to the Constitution they have sworn to uphold.

Safely Home

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love babies and children. From my first days of babysitting to college and volunteering with autistic children and working part-time in the church nursery, and later taking care of professors’ children on weekdays and weekends, I loved little ones and looking at the world through their exploring eyes of wonder.

MGerber baby

Before I had children of my own, I knew I wanted to stay home with them. Children learn the most from the one who spends the most time with them. That’s an undeniable fact. What children learn of love and trust and relationships, and how they grow in their understanding of the world comes primarily from whomever is there with them. Motherhood can be draining and frustrating, but that is countermanded by its serendipity of delight in “Look, Mommy!” and “Hey, Mom, guess what?” and the dailiness of love, joyful chatter, and hugs. Children are not only a stewardship given to us from God—children are also a gift from God.

My children are grown now, and the weekend before Mother’s Day, we welcomed our first grandchild into the world. Above she is slightly bemused as her mommy photographs her through her crib bars, and here she is with sweet dreams.


When I look at my children and see their character, their love for each other, their kindness and integrity, their accomplishments, and their perseverance in the face of difficulty, I am grateful to God. Now they are grown. My life’s work has been to teach them the course that goes safely home.

“…may you see your children’s children.”

When I look at my little granddaughter I am grateful to God. She is brand new, yet with her birth and the beginning of the next generation, she is a marker in my marathon of being a mother:
“Thus far the LORD has helped me.”

Children are a blessing.