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Government Subsidies and Regulations Don’t Work for Marriage Either
June 17th, 2012 by Arvin Vohra
Like most other government regulated and subsidized programs, government-backed marriage is a spectacular failure. It has a 50% fail rate—a dropout rate more impressive than those at the worst inner city public schools. The financial costs of divorce (mostly lawyer fees) is around 175 billion. That’s about 3 times what we spend annually on welfare, and enough to pay 1/3 of every student’s college tuition every year.
Propping up a Failing Institution: The Government’s Role in Marriage
Government subsidizes marriage in several ways. First, through health insurane regulations, tax incentives, etc. it provides specific financial incentives for the heterosexual monogamist view of marriage. Through legislation, it provides other benefits (e.g. only those who hold government-backed marriages or unions can visit their life partners in the hospital.) It also provides specific immigration benefits to those with government-backed marriages. Marriage dramatically speeds up the green card and citizenship process.
Simply put: government-backed marriage enjoys the same unjustified priviledges and favors that any folly backed by the government typically enjoys.
One Size Fits All?
The notion that heterosexual monogamy is right for everyone is just as ludicrous as saying that the same telephone company is right for everyone (which the government used to say) or saying that the same educational approach is right for everyone (which the government still says). Heterosexuality is right for some people. So is monogamy. But it’s certainly not right for everyone.
The Moghul Emperor Akbar used polygamy to help unite India under his rule. He had one Hindu wife, one Muslim wife, and one Christian wife. He used this to show that the major religions of India were all part of his family. Polygamy allowed a fairly potent political message.
In The Symposium, Plato argued that not only was homosexuality between men okay, it was superior to heterosexuality. This was the foundation for what we call “Platonic” love, but was not described as non-sexual in the original treatise.
It’s true that heterosexual monogamy is a fundamental part of many religions. And those who practice those religions perhaps should consider heterosexual monogamy their only option. But why should those rules apply to those who don’t practice those specific religions? Do we require Presbyterians to keep Kosher dietary practices, or require Methodists to eat only Halaal food? Do we require Muslims to celebrate Easter, and Hindus to give up foods during Lent?
Should we to believe, in the face of thousands of years of human history, in the face of the direct experiences of millions today, that the ONLY possible appropriate form of human relationship is heterosexual monogamy? Or should we use some misinformed childrearing argument, that tells us that sons of (polygamist) Chinese emperors got an inferior upbringing to the sons of married couples who send their kids to inner city, government-run public schools?
Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and specific sects of other religions all have scriptures that suggest polygamy. The Greeks and Romans, who created our notions of Democracies and Republics, had no shortage of homosexuality. And while both cultures fell, most historians agree that it was their insistence on expensive empire building, not buggery, that lead to their collapses.
The Cost of Misplaced Trust
People often trust the government to make their educational decisions for them. After all, they think, if a school has been approved by government bureaucrats, it must be pretty good. So they send their kids to a public school, and take no real active interest in their children’s education. The result of this misplaced trust is often a pretty poor education. On the other hand, parents who don’t trust the schools to do everything perfectly usually take measures to ensure a quality education. They work with their children at home, send their kids to learning centers, etc. Or they homeschool. The result is often a better education.
Right now, most people basically take a default marriage contract handed out by the government, put no real thought into creating something that works for them. The result is the current 50% fail rate. If we all ordered the same entre at a restaurant, one that had been selected by the government, there’s a good chance that 50% of us would be unhappy with what we got.
In fact, innovations as simple as prenuptial agreements, while they don’t make a bad idea into a good one, at least limit the devastation that results from the bad idea.
Innovation and the Future of “Marriage”
I’m not trying to argue that everyone needs to be gay and polygamist. But I do believe, as Socrates put it, that the unexamined life is not worth living. An unexamined choice in something as momentous as a permanent relationship is not a good choice to make. Some people, having thought about the choices openly and deeply, will choose heterosexual monogamy. Others won’t. And with three hundred million people really thinking and innovating, we will probably end up with some ideas that end up having a higher success rate than the current 50%.
Heterosexual monogamy does not deserve special subsidies. Neither does homosexual monogamy, or heterosexual polygamy, or Christianity, or Islam, or any other private, personal behavior or belief. It’s time to get the government completely out of marriage.
Arvin Vohra is the author of Lies, Damned Lies, and College Admissions.