Rat's Nest
Bloggage, rants, and occasional notes of despair

Secularization and/or privatization of marriage, take two

R. Alex Whitlock and Ginger Stampley both have considerable doubts about privatizing marriage.

I think there is some confusion, although not a hopeless amount. We ought to distinguish between secularizing marriage (actually, I would object to calling it "marriage" thereafter, as "marriage" is a religious rite) and privatizing marriage. The two exist as points on a spectrum, and there is some ground between them where one or two bright lines should be drawn, probably arbitrarily.

Whitlock’s grounds for objection appear to be confused. He argues that a privatization of marriage would discourage people, especially men, from entering in to it. This is, I think, an attitudinal problem (on the part of people getting married, not on Whitlock’s part). "No default" divorce has made the formal dissolution of a marriage an almost trivial thing (although as Robert Heinlein had one of his character say, even if divorce takes ten seconds, sorting out the consequences can take ten years). This fact, combined with a societal attitude that divorce carries no stigma, means that marriage is now viewed as a temporary affair suited to the emotional whims of the participants. It is not surprising that any proposal to make marriage more binding, whether through a revision of the current laws, secularization, or privatization, would make people more reluctant to undertake an obligation that they could not shirk at will.

I note again that there is a difference between the legal, religious, and social significance of marriage. Several Christian sects do not recognize divorce, or place considerable limitations on its perceived efficacy or on the actions of a person who is involved in it. Somewhat ironically, some (not Whitlock) who are opposed to the privatization of marriage decry this attitude. At the other extreme, I am told (I have not searched for evidence to confirm or to deny this) that some Muslim cultures, with or without the endorsement of the Koran, recognize a form of "marriage" so temporary as to be indistinguishable from prostitution. Whitlock objects that that in a wholly privatized religious regime, the officiating party might attempt, through a presumed legal enforcement of a marital contract, to restrict or even abolish the right to divorce. In a purely libertarian context, such a contract might indeed be deemed efficacious by the court. On the other hand, short of that context, the courts do not enforce such agreements, as being contrary to "public policy" (this has, in fact, been the primary reason that the courts are reluctant to enforce pre-nuptial agreement).

Whitlock writes

The legal entanglements of marriage in its current state is beneficial for keeping couples together. . It makes staying the path of least resistence during the tough times until they get better. I don't want the government viewing marriage sacramentally, as many social conservatives do, but I do want to, if not encourage, avoid discouraging the family unit. Study after study has shown that the state has a vested interest in keeping (most) families together when possible. Despite all its faults, the current system does that.

However, the current legal regime, reflecting (however imperfectly) the social attitude, does not do this.

John "Akatsukami" Braue Friday, July 19, 2002