Sharing Marriage–Or Abandoning It

As Ten Miles Square today, Washington Monthly Contributing Editor Steve Waldman observes accurately that the marriage equality movement has always been a combination of progressive and conservative impulses, with the latter appropriately noted prominently in Justice Kennedy’s litany of praise for the institution of marriage in his majority opinion in Oberkefell v. Hodges.

Of course, the political and religious right ignored the centrality of these traditional ideas — marriage, monogamy, fidelity — in the gay marriage drive. Blinded or distracted by their aversion to homosexuality, they could not see that gays were wanting to join the family values movement. So they fought gay marriage for the next 25 years.

Now that the Christian Right has been reduced to the sputtering defiance of Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal or to the sullen silence of many others, one can hope that conservative acceptance of same-sex marriage will follow as rapidly as it did for the public as a whole.

But then there’s another possibility, signaled yesterday by Rand Paul in an op-ed at Time:

Perhaps the time has come to examine whether or not governmental recognition of marriage is a good idea, for either party.

Since government has been involved in marriage, they have done what they always do — taxed it, regulated it, and now redefined it. It is hard to argue that government’s involvement in marriage has made it better, a fact also not surprising to those who believe government does little right.

So now, states such as Alabama are beginning to understand this as they begin to get out of the marriage licensing business altogether. Will others follow?….

[T]he questions now before us are: What are those rights? What does government convey along with marriage, and should it do so? Should the government care, or allocate any benefits based on marital status?

And can the government do its main job in the aftermath of this ruling — the protection of liberty, particularly religious liberty and free speech?

We shall see. I will fight to ensure it does both, along with taking part in a discussion on the role of government in our lives.

Well, the idea of “privatizing” marriage carries all sorts of unsavory associations, such as previous efforts to avoid racial discrimination laws via “private clubs” and “segregation academies,” and even to avoid African-American voting rights via “white primaries” understood as private arrangements.

Beyond that, since conservative social policy in this country has become heavily associated with the practice of attaching all sorts of benefits–especially tax deductions and credits–to married couples with or without children, how is that supposed to work if marriage no longer exists as a state-defined status? What are reformicons supposed to do?

I dunno, but it’s certainly impressive, and not in a good way, that conservatives may be so opposed to equality that they are willing to abandon marriage rather than sharing it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.