I think many people that are sincerely advocating the state get out of the marriage business don’t really understand the depth of what it is they are asking. You are essentially asking us to return to a pre-Civil War civilization (the first government-issued marriage licenses occurred in the mid-1800s). Therefore, it would take a greater uprooting of our current understanding of Americanism than elimination of sacrosanct entitlement programs would. The state’s regulation of marriage is older and far more embedded than even the welfare state itself. It would be easier to privatize social security than it would be to de-regulate marriage.
Thus, if you really would prefer the state get out of the marriage business altogether, it’s not the simple route to diffusing the hot-button political battle over marriage that threatens to rip apart the Republican Party at the seams. Quite the contrary, it is the most radical and difficult to implement solution of them all. Ironically enough, because the church would have to step in to fill the void left by the state in most of these situations (including divorce and child custody cases), this solution would actually empower religious institutions’ influence over the culture all the more.
Literally every aspect of American jurisprudence (tax law, probate law, criminal law, civil law, etc.) currently hinges on at least some understanding of the definition of marriage. So you cannot remove the state from the marriage business as an ala carte option, but it would have to be a part of a sweeping reform package across the board.
For example, this would have to include a massive overhaul of the federal income tax code in place since the enactment of the 16thAmendment. Until those advocating the state get out of the marriage business altogether communicate they understand that, and what their plan is to implement those sweeping reforms, it’s a position that sounds great in the comments section of blogs and on Facebook walls but frankly is as likely as finding a pro-life Democrat in Washington, D.C.
Still, if this is sincerely your long-term goal (and make no mistake, a long term goal this will be) you have a friend in me. However, in the meantime we still must wrestle with the question of what to do in the interim.
Do we validate relationships western civilization, heavily influenced by Biblical moral teaching, has up until now said for over a thousand years were immoral, destructive, and counter-procreative? Do we understand the reasons why western civilization came to those conclusions? Do we allow the validation of these relationships to impose upon freedom of speech and religious liberty, which has happened in every other country that has gone down this road (and is already happening here)?
These questions will be determined long, long, long before you get the state out of the marriage business. And the answers to these questions have potentially dire consequences for the culture in the here and now.
As you can see, maintaining the position of getting the state out of the marriage business altogether may be a noble aspiration, but if it doesn’t include rules of engagement for the current battlefront it is the culture war equivalent of the French hiding behind their Maginot Line.