It was not until relatively recently, in historical terms, that marriage was considered the legitimate business of state government, still less the federal government. Prior to 1987, in Turner v. Safley, when the Supreme Court described marriage as “a relationship that can receive tangible benefits including government benefits and property rights,” there was still some lingering question of the federal government’s power to intervene with the formerly sovereign states of the Union in defining the concept.
The involvement of government in the form of the state in concerning itself with marriage is also relatively new. Virginia’s first legal code consisted of the Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall, enacted in 1610 by Sir Thomas Dale. In this code, Virginia’s Christian ministers were required to record all christenings, marriages and burials they performed. Not until 1631 did the House of Burgesses create marriage licenses.
But these licenses were not required for marriage, and not until 1853 was the Virginia licensing procedure taken away from the churches and given to the county and independent city clerks. Other states made marriage licenses mandatory sooner – in Indiana, for example, county marriage licenses were became necessary in 1800 although the state government did not become directly involved until 1958.
As is almost always the case with everything upon which government lays its venomous hands, it did not take long for the lethal effects of the transformation from a religious sacrament to a government contract to appear. Divorces per 10,000 population rose from .38 in 1900 to 2.4 in 1960, then peaked at 5.3 by 1981.
Divorce rates have fallen slightly since then, to around 4.9 per 10,000, but this is mostly due to the decision of young men and women to delay marriage if not avoid it altogether.
There is a significant difference between marriage – the religious commitment between a man and one or more women – as it has been known in every historical society for at least 6,000 years, and the modern concept of state-granted civil marriage. Self-styled conservative “defenders of marriage” justify their support for state involvement, mostly in the form of tax breaks and social security benefits, in much the same way that left-liberal justify everything – it’s all for the children.
As usual, however, this mistaken notion has worked out about as well as every other government intrusion into the economy and culture. The number of children being produced in the United States has dropped to its lowest level since 1909, when birthrate figures were first calculated. The number of children living with two parents is also at an all-time low, while 33.8 percent of all children are now born to unmarried mothers. So, by every metric, the idea that government can support or defend marriage is a complete failure.
And now, of course, governments from coast to coast have begun to define the concept so widely as to eliminate it altogether. However, cultural conservatives should not dread this – nor do I think they should attempt to circle the wagons in one last attempt to thwart the lavender tide by passing yet another amendment that the corrupt courts will confound with a disingenuous circumvention of logic, reason and reading comprehension.
Instead, if they are truly interested in restoring marriage and the family to their proper places as the twin bulwarks of civilized society, they must leap at the opportunity to remove the state, at all levels, from the process entirely. Marriage is a sacred trinity of a man and a woman before God, there is neither room nor reason for a fourth party to enter into the relationship, still less one that corrupts and destroys the tripartite relationship.
Marriage survived for 6,000 years without government, in less than 1 percent of that time, the government has nearly managed to destroy it in this country. There is nothing to fear from removing government from the equation – indeed, doing so will only strengthen true Christian marriage.
As for the other, non-sacramental commitments that may be announced, what of them? With or without a government document, they cannot and will not be married, exactly as they weren’t before government became involved in the process. And it is only through the illegitimate power of government to counterfeit a redefinition of the concept that these anti-traditionalists have a hope of creating these charades in the first place!
The State and Marriage is a joining made in Hell, conducted by the Devil. This is one divorce that conservatives should embrace with all alacrity and enthusiasm.