Privatize Marriage!

170630 Marriage

Although you can (and should) have your own, independent opinions on social issues, you shouldn’t force others to follow your views.

Walter Block’s guideline for political decisions is well known to be: “If it moves, privatize it. If it doesn’t move: privatize it. Since everything either moves or doesn’t move: privatize everything.” Even though this maybe goes a bit too far, it still can be seen as a good orientation for politics: The more is done by the market – and with that by the people – and the more the state stays out of the lives of its citizens, the better.

Starting from this point makes one hot-button issue particularly interesting: the “marriage for all,” or the complete equality of gay marriage to the traditional form. On Friday last week, Germany passed the “marriage for all” as the 13th country in Europe.

From a libertarian point of view, the “marriage for all” seems to be a huge win at first sight. It’s hard to understand how the government can dictate who can marry whom – as Steven Levy from the Cato Institute notes: “Heterosexuals should not be treated preferentially when the state carries out [the] role [to define marriage].” One should recall Walter Block again, though, and ask if it goes far enough: Does marriage move? No. Does marriage not move? Yes. So? The correct solution is the privatization of marriage.

How is that possible? How can marriage be privatized? It’s actually quite easy: Saying it a bit too matter-of-factly, marriage is nothing more than a contract between two (or more) parties who agree to live together for a certain period – ideally lifelong – found a family etc. – depending on the conditions which are agreed upon. It doesn’t matter who the contracting partners are: According to the freedom of contract all these agreements are legitimate if all parties have voluntarily consented to them.

Surely some already think: Doesn’t this make even more extreme cases of marriage than the homosexual one possible? Wouldn’t it be legal that one man marries three women – or one woman five men (or a hundred)? Couldn’t transsexuals marry each other? Or even one of the other dozens of genders that supposedly exist (one has to imagine a wedding between a “non-binary” and a “four-spirit”)?

The answer is: Yes! Even if a man decides to “marry” his cat – or the apple tree in his backyard – nothing could be legally argued against it. It is solely a voluntary agreement between several individuals (or objects which are in possession of an individual).

Of course this doesn’t mean that all of this should happen as well. Someone who “marries” his cat and introduces her as the love of his life at the next barbecue should be sent off immediately (if possible to a mental hospital). A woman who searches for a photographer for her upcoming wedding with her bonsai should come away empty-handed. And yes, if parents give their child up for adoption it should be possible to exclude homosexual couples. Thus, privatization goes both ways: Everything is possible when it comes to marriage – but one can also react to it however one sees best (as long as it’s peaceful).

Those – especially conservative voices – who try to use the government to save traditional marriage should meanwhile reconsider their position quickly. The task of the state is to protect its citizens and their property – not to dictate which lifestyles are better than others. It also poses several moral questions, for example: How can someone have the right to force another to adopt the lifestyle he thinks is the best? And how can someone penalize others just for not living the way he wants them to? That exactly this is not possible was actually shown by someone many stubborn “conservatives” often refer to: Jesus Christ. One just needs to remember the following story from the Gospel of John:

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women: Now what do you say?” … When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” … At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:3-11, NIV)

This story shows that although you can (and should) have your own, independent opinions on social issues, you shouldn’t force others to follow your views. As Tom Mullen writes in the case of Christians, “no one has a right to use violence against those who engage in behavior that does not harm another person, regardless of whether or not that behavior violates the laws of God.”

It should be noted that nobody says that all the lifestyles mentioned here should be happily endorsed. And nobody says that all examples given are actual cases of what Christians (or in some parts just normal people) call marriage. But all other forms diverting from the traditional marriage – from marrying your cat to polygamy to homosexual marriage – could be peacefully rejected by conservatives as humbug.

In the end, it is not the state who should decide on this topic, but the people. For Christians and other believers, the church wedding remains as the “true” marriage – and those whom this isn’t enough can go out, start campaigns and try everything to convince as many people of their own opinion (just as homosexuals and others can do the same). It should be permitted as long as they don’t hurt anyone at that. And because of that, Germany’s “marriage for all,” despite being a progress, isn’t going far enough – it only legalizes one more form of marriage without getting to the heart of the issue. It’s still a long way to the final goal: the privatization – and by that the complete liberalization – of marriage.

Source: Hayek Institute (adapted for international audience)


  • Kai Weiss

    Kai Weiss is the Research Coordinator of the Austrian Economics Center, a board member at the Friedrich A. v. Hayek Institute, and a graduate student in politics at Hillsdale College.

The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

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