I recommend Coulter’s column this week where she remonstrates against libertarian dismissals of publically sanctioned marriage: “Get Rid of Government—But First Make Me President.” In response to Ron Paul’s suggestion at Monday’s Republican presidential debate that the state should not regulate marriage, Coulter, J.D., presents several practical problems that would result from the institution’s complete privatization:
If state governments stop officially registering marriages, then who gets to adopt? How are child support and child custody issues determined if the government doesn’t recognize marriage? How about a private company’s health care plans—whom will those cover? Who has legal authority to issue “do not resuscitate” orders to doctors? (Of course, under Obamacare we won’t be resuscitating anyone.)
Who inherits in the absence of a will? Who is entitled to a person’s Social Security and Medicare benefits? How do you know if you’re divorced and able to remarry? Where would liberals get their phony statistics about most marriages ending in divorce? . . .
Some of those legal incidents of marriage can be obtained by private contract—such as the right to inherit and make medical decisions. Gays don’t need gay marriage to leave their electric spice racks to loved ones.
But there are more obtuse Americans than there are gay Americans, so courts are going to be bulging with legal disputes among the unalert, who neglected to plan in advance and make private contracts resolving the many legal issues that are normally determined by a marriage contract.
Under Rep. Paul’s plan, your legal rights pertaining to marriage will be decided on a case-by-case basis by judges forced to evaluate the legitimacy of your marriage consecrated by a Wiccan priest—or your tennis coach. (And I think I speak for all Americans when I say we’re looking for ways to get more pointless litigation into our lives.)
If one spouse decides he doesn’t want to be married anymore, couldn’t he just say there never was a marriage because the Wiccan wasn’t official or the tennis coach wasn’t a pro?
Under Paul’s plan, siblings could marry one another, perhaps intentionally, but also perhaps unaware that they were fraternal twins separated and sent to different adoptive families at birth—as actually happened in Britain a few years ago after taking the government-mandated blood test for marriage.
There are reasons we have laws governing important institutions, such as marriage. As in landscaping, you don’t remove a wall until you know why it was put there.
Marriage is a legal construct with legal consequences, particularly regarding rights and duties to children. Libertarians would be better off spearheading a movement to get rid of stop signs than to get rid of officially sanctioned marriage. A world without government stop signs would be safer than a world without government marriage.
I went through my libertarian phase in adolescence, and I still maintain libertarian sympathies when I consider how reckless and wicked government power is when wielded by the vicious and idiotic. However, libertarianism is unworkable. Man is social, and government is the name that we give to the general management of human community. As Coulter notes, contract law cannot substitute for cultural norms codified in law. The statutory law itself cannot foresee all circumstances, and the libertarian demands that each person create an individualized contractual framework for handling all life’s affairs. Myopic is too generous a word for such foolishness.
I disagree with Coulter that Ron Paul’s argument was only a “chicken-s**t, I-don’t-want-to-upset-my-video-store-clerk-base answer.” Rather, I think that libertarians try to avoid the culture wars by avoiding culture. As modern Europeans avoid the religious question by privatizing religion, libertarians follow their “Enlightenment” forebears in seeking their own Edict of Nantes. For toleration, though, they trade everything else. In “A Diagnosis of Modern Political Disease,” I wrote:
Therefore, I find the liberal strategy for the past two centuries rather unfortunate. Instead of attacking directly the flawed understanding of human nature of Rousseau and friends—chiefly their radical egalitarianism—liberals have sought to deny the collective claims of the city upon its citizens. Their principles have thus forsaken political life altogether. Instead of a city, they propose a marketplace—a meeting place where individuals have dealings with one another based only on consensual agreement. In a marketplace, there is no common view of the good, there is no religion, there is no culture, there is no duty—all that matters is common adherence to some basic rules of exchange. There is nothing wrong about the market as such, but there is something gravely diseased about reducing the city to a bazaar. The city, then, becomes the individual himself and perhaps a collection of voluntary associations in which he immerses himself. What we call the state, in this liberal sense, is rather a collection of polities in agreement about the terms of trade—the World Trade Organization rather than a commonwealth.
The human consequences of this barter are difficultly perceived while the relief promised is easily sensed. It is no wonder that congenitally and constitutionally liberal Americans would find Paul’s solution to the marriage war congenial. I love Lady Ann, but she fails to acknowledge the sincerity of and underestimates the depth of her opponents’ confusion.