You get headlines like that when an economist schooled in public utility economics encounters a National Review editorial calling for a restrictive view of marriage.
The only good reason to have marriage laws in the first place — to have the state recognize a class of relationships called “marriage” out of all the possible strong bonds that adults can form — is to link erotic desire to the upbringing of the children it can produce.

We have already gone too far, in both law and culture, in weakening the link between marriage and procreation. To break it altogether would make the institution of marriage unintelligible. What possible governmental interest is there in encouraging long-term commitments with a sexual element, just as such?
A previous editorial addresses objections other commentators raised to that position.  A sentence toward the end raises a critical question. "The symbolic message of inclusion for same-sex couples — in an institution that makes no sense for them — would be coupled with another message: that marriage is about the desires of adults rather than the interests of children." Implicitly, it is the state, and not the culture, that is protecting the interests of children.  Doesn't that imply a competence for the state in protecting the interests of children that it has not demonstrated when it comes to providing education, or school lunches, or safe neighborhoods?

Put another way, the culture is doing just fine in protecting children -- in neighborhoods where the adults act responsibly, and not so well -- in neighborhoods where the adults don't.  Maybe it's time for the editors at National Review to unbundle government from culture, or Caesar from Christ?


John McAdams said...

If there is any justification for government recognizing marriage at all, it is just the one that National Review outlined.

If you don't buy it, the logical consequence is not gay marriage, but the privatization of marriage entirely.

This issue separated the true libertarians from those who simply call themselves libertarians, but are really social liberals, and want the state to bless homosexual unions.

Stephen Karlson said...


I think it was a writer in Reason who wanted to unbundle the church from the state where marriage contracts are concerned. The policy prescriptions don't necessarily have to involve privatization, as there could be more than one sort of contract involved. On one hand there's the contract called establishing parentage of a child, and inheritance rights (where bastardy has given way to custody and no-fault divorce). On the other hand, there's another contract called assets for a partner. Whether such a contract ought be called marriage, or civil union, or palimony, is too much for me to think about tonight.

All such contracts, however, differ from a religious-based concept of holy matrimony.