|In Defense of Marriage: A Modest Proposal
||[Feb. 28th, 2011|11:41 pm]
The American Caliban
It is a fact generally acknowledged that the institution of marriage in the United States is troubled.
Editorial writers, television journalists, and politicians are agreed that less people are marrying, less are taking their marriages seriously, more are ending their marriages, and those who end them often have several. The importance and permanence of marriage appear to be badly eroded.
More recently, the attempts by homosexuals to have their marriages legally recognized have alarmed many of the same people. They've urged others to stop these proposed changes, on the grounds that marriage between anything other than a man and a woman is against Nature, and that this change will further damage this wounded institution of marriage or even finally kill it.
Whatever the measurable facts might be, there is a perception among the educated middle class that marriage is reduced, threatened, devalued, and possibly outmoded, and it's a great cause for concern for many people. It would be generally helpful to calm their fears and, if possible, to revive marriage as a serious institution for those who choose it. Mistreating homosexuals is not helpful, nor is theocracy.
Prohibiting divorce and remarriage is the most obvious approach, but is politically impossible. Religious or simply conservative individuals who dislike homosexuals and fornicators are still unwilling to abandon serial marriage as an option, and will resist this fiercely, despite implied contradictions in their thinking.
Instead, I propose that we treat this as a matter of state incentive, and make our improvements with pricing as we do in the case of roads, for example. In this particular case, the problem is not the first marriage itself, which must be kept simple and inexpensive, but the mechanism of divorce. Easy divorce erodes the permanence and seriousness of marriage.
I propose a new set of taxes or fees, which will at once act as a brake on casual marriage and benefit the people financially. The act of divorce also must remain simple and inexpensive; the cost of endless failed marriages is measured not only in misery but in the cost of domestic violence and child abuse, which unduly burdens us all.
Instead, the schedule of fees will apply to remarriage. A second marriage, for example, might cost $5,000. This is a reasonable fee for a serious commitment, and will emphasize to both parties that they are taking on a serious responsibility. The third marriage in this case would require a $15,000 fee; the fourth, $50,000; and the fifth, $100,000. Whether to continue increasing the fee or not is a matter for further discussion.
This schedule of assessment on new marriages would apply to any marriage license issued by the government. Religious institutions would remain free to declare marriages valid or not by their own accounting, but none of this would apply to the legal status of those marrying.
In the case of polyamorous marriage, fees would apply to all participants.
Widows and widowers would be exempt from the remarriage payment for the next marriage after the death of their former partners. Legal penalties for the intentional death of a spouse to avoid the marriage fee would be increased over and above those for other murders, to reduce moral hazard from this rule.
The advantages of this system are obvious. No one is prevented from legally ending an insupportable marriage. Those who are seriously committed to further marriages are free to do so after paying the fee. Feckless and flighty couples with money will progressively enrich the state and the people. And as in all such plans, the cycle of divorce and remarriage will be dramatically slowed. Finally, the power of the institution itself will be greatly enhanced both in practical decision-making and generally respect. Nothing commands more authority in American society than a very large price tag.
I hope you'll join me in sharing this proposal with friends, family, church leaders, and government representatives. I think that all of us, whether we intend to marry or not, can support a rescue of the power of marriage that restricts none of us and enriches all of us.