TCS Daily

In Private Hands

By Deroy Murdock - July 13, 2004 12:00 AM

NEW YORK - The U.S. Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on the Federal Marriage Amendment. It legally would define each marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Something so intimate is none of the government's business.

Senators are involved because officials in Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; Asbury Park, New Jersey; Sandoval County, New Mexico; greater Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere have granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That's exactly where the trouble begins. If states and cities did not require couples to beg bureaucrats for permission to wed, politicians would not decide this issue.

One could assert that marriage licenses are appropriate to government, since couples affect third parties (primarily their own children). The state, this argument goes, essentially protects children and the public from the havoc that unlicensed couples could wreak. And yet numerous family affairs exist in which people may operate without government's green light, even when they influence third parties, for good or ill. To wit:

*No one needs a government license to reproduce. One of the most profound things two humans can do is bring children onto this planet. Most parents are loving and caring. Others are not. In 2002, the federal Administration for Children and Families estimates, 896,000 boys and girls suffered neglect or abuse, 1,400 of them fatally. Among the perpetrators of these deaths, 79 percent were the victims' parents.

Meanwhile, some 90 percent of children attend K - 12 government schools, while 6.7 million college undergraduates received federal financial aid in 2000. Babies cost America's taxpayers who underwrite education from the sandbox to the seminar room. Thus, some parents beat their progeny and bill their neighbors without government approval. How can this be?

*There are no licenses for baptisms, first communions, Bat Mitzvahs, or even participation in unusual cults (such as deadly "rebirthing" ceremonies) that have been known to warp kids' minds -- or worse.

*Licenses are not required for parents to serve their offspring junk food, even though 15.3 percent of 6 - 11-year-olds are obese, the American Obesity Association reports. Parents also need no government permits to smoke around their kids, despite tobacco's health hazards.

*An estimated 2.1 million seniors endure physical mistreatment, financial exploitation, and otherwise are abused annually. Two-thirds of their tormentors are relatives, including adult children. Most, but not all, grown kids treat live-in parents with love, valor, and compassion. Despite these risks, moms and dads move into their adult kids' homes without applying for government licenses. How safe is that?

Why on Earth are Americans free to conceive children, feed them as they please, involve them in exotic religious rites, and tend to elderly parents, even though these activities sometimes go tragically awry? Why not license such behavior?

On second thought, these are just four more of life's spheres that government should avoid. Marriage is another.

If two adults want to wed, let them. If they find a cleric to grace their nuptials, hallelujah, although signing a contract should suffice. Clergy and laity should decide who may and may not marry in America's religious institutions.

As for child-rearing, same-sex marriage opponents should explain why couples who fail or refuse to reproduce or adopt may enjoy matrimonial benefits. If "the core purpose of marriage is to bind children to their mothers and fathers," as Stanley Kurtz argued July 1 on National Review Online, marriage licenses should expire after, say, five years, if husbands and wives neither bear nor adopt children.

When the religious Right embraces civil unions as "marriage lite" for gay couples, I hear a voice with a deep drawl purr to Rosa Parks: "Don't worry, ma'am. You'll find the seats in the back of the bus perfectly comfortable." Ironically, while churches that perform gay weddings at least do so in the private sector, civil unions would grant the state's approval on same-sex relationships that bedevil social conservatives. Civil unions should induce night sweats among the cultural Right: government-blessed homosexual unions absent ecclesiastical oversight. Is this truly what socio-cons want?

Consider also the slammed door that repels gay couples who seek marriage licenses versus the fast lane that greets straights.

"Virtually any different-sex couple can walk in and get a marriage license," says Evan Wolfson, Executive Director, Freedom to Marry, and author of the forthcoming Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People's Right to Marry (Simon and Schuster). "Deadbeat dads, people on their eighth marriage, convicted felons, people in prison, even people in prison for killing their wives can get marriage licenses. But committed same-sex couples cannot. I can sum this up in one word: Britney."

The Senate should stop molesting the Constitution.To secure equal justice under law, the public rights and responsibilities that pertain to husbands and wives also should adhere to same-sex spouses. Government should license drivers, not couples. Marriage belongs precisely where we find wedding rings: In private hands.

New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.


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