Friday, March 29, 2013

National Review: Why Not Separate Marriage and State?

It would appear that at least a few people in the public spotlight are now considering a position that I discussed back in 2006 and that my father was talking about for several years prior to that.


JamesQMurphy said...

There's a little more to it than taxes and medical benefits, but you're right, those are the biggies and yes, "marriage" is actually just a legally binding contract. But there's a little more... a "spouse" is a special person, in that they have access to certain areas that others don't.

For example, if a person needed a medical decision made while they were incapacitated, that decision lies with the spouse (I believe - IANAL). Would doctors now demand to see the specific contract that the couple signed, to see if medical decisions are allowed? That could get unmanageable.

Shamino said...

Absolutely true, but we already have a legal apparatus in place to handle situations like this. Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, etc.

It's really no different from having to make critical decisions for a parent or grandparent. Yes, you may need a special piece of paper on hand, but if government gets out of the marriage business, you can be certain that everybody would get this paper. Clergy would almost certainly ask couples to sign appropriate paperwork before performing weddings, much like how today they make certain that couples have a marriage license signed and ready to go.

The biggest issue, IMO, is that if the inheritance laws aren't rewritten, people would have to set up an appropriate trust in order to avoid unnecessary inheritance taxes. (Today, spouses can inherit tax-free, but a very high tax is charged for all inheritance over a statutorily-defined threshold. Wills and trusts are used to avoid as much of this tax as possible.) Unless, of course, the government would decide to eliminate the death tax altogether. (Yeah, I know. That's not very likely, given how desperate the government is for money.)

In other words, under a system where government doesn't deal with marriage, things would change from the way they are now, but I don't think the new situation would be any worse than what we have now, and in many ways I think it would be better.