Creative Approaches in the Gay Marriage Debate

In case you haven't seen it, the Associated Press had a fun story about a tongue-in-cheek ballot measure in California: Til death do us ...
by | December 3, 2009

In case you haven't seen it, the Associated Press had a fun story about a tongue-in-cheek ballot measure in California:

Til death do us part? The vow would really hold true in California if a Sacramento Web designer gets his way.

In a movement that seems ripped from the pages of Comedy Channel writers, John Marcotte wants to put a measure on the ballot next year to ban divorce in California.

The 2010 California Marriage Protection Act is meant to be a satirical statement after California voters outlawed gay marriage in 2008, largely on the argument that a ban is needed to protect the sanctity of traditional marriage. If that's the case, then Marcotte reasons voters should have no problem banning divorce.

When it comes to gay marriage, here's the vaguely-serious-but-still-off-the-wall idea that I find more interesting: Governments shouldn't be in the marriage business at all.

This approach is sometimes held up as the solution to the political struggle over gay marriage. If individuals and religious institutions simply decide for themselves who is married and who isn't, then we get to avoid the divisive political debate over gay marriage.

Conservatives are happy: less government! Liberals are happy: gays couples and straight couples are treated the same!

So why doesn't this idea ever gain real traction, except in occasional thought experiments? One big reason is that conservatives wouldn't really be happy (though some libertarians would). Even if they're generally skeptical of government, they'd view this concept as an assault on the institution of marriage. If governments weren't recognizing marriages, would marriage become less significant?

Another reason is logistical: Governments and employers already acknowledge marriages in lots of ways, starting in the tax code. While universal use of domestic partnerships might help, the transition would be messy.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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