by Mario Rizzo
The passage of a same-sex marriage bill in New York State is to be welcomed by all those who advocate freedom of contract. But now further steps must be taken on the road to free marriage from state interference.
The content of the commitment that people make to each other under the rubric of marriage should be up to individual choice, although I have no object to a standard-form contract for those who may find choices confusing. And secondly the existence or non-existence of a marriage should not be a condition for tax or any kind of welfare-state privileges.
On the first, let individuals decide whether “infidelity” violates the contract. Let individuals decide how long the relationship should last. (Note that that Jeremy Bentham, the father of utilitarianism, advocated temporary marriage.) Of course, we already have prenuptial agreements that arrange for property division upon termination of the marriage. But there could also be fine-tuning of other financial arrangements during the marriage.
On the second, there will be much disagreement by those who fought for same-sex marriage precisely for the special tax and welfare-state privileges associated with marriage. The state should neither favor nor penalize those who are married. It should simply enforce the contract as it does with other contracts.
For example, marriage should not lower or raise the taxes of the individuals involved. People ought to be able to transfer wealth after death with the same inheritance tax treatment (preferably zero) regardless of whether the person was a spouse or not. If some Social Security benefits are paid to the surviving spouse these ought to be assignable to any particular individual the individual lists as a beneficiary.
I do not believe that the state should busy itself about providing incentive or disincentives to individual contractual behavior that violates no one’s rights. If the institution of marriage has a good social purpose it is because it enhances the lives of the individuals involved. This is not inconsistent with recognizing that there may be external benefits (or costs) to marriage relationships. At the margin, I would guess (until further strong evidence to the contrary is provided) that the individual incentives to marry are enough to drive to externality to some non-positive point (that is, either zero or negative).
The Churches can bless whatever they like and condemn whatever they dislike. But individuals should be able to follow their own consciences and values in determining the nature of their relationships.
Who knows what the myriad of “experiments in living” will help us discover about society and ourselves?