QUESTION: I have some reservations on the issue of gay marriage. As a logician, I rely on well-defined terms to solve problems. While I do support civil unions, marriage has always been such a term (i.e., well-defined) historically. By making the definition more inclusive, the meaning of the term “marriage” loses its cultural significance. I fear the degeneration of such cultural structures will lead to further uncertainty and greater reliance on government. Not a good thing, in my view. What do you think?
MY SHORT ANSWER: I understand your concerns. However, marriage is not as well-defined as you might think.
For example, what are you actually agreeing to when you get married? You really don’t know until you get a divorce. The laws in each state differ as to child custody and how property is divided. In some states, everything owned by either party is divided equally; in others, anything brought to the marriage by one partner can be totally reclaimed during the divorce. If you are married in one state, but divorced in another, the marriage “contract” can be quite different from your understanding on the day that you tied the knot.
In some states, you are considered married by common law if you live with your partner for 7 years even if you don’t want to be; in others, cohabitation for decades isn’t recognized. In Texas, publicly claiming another as your spouse is presumably all it takes to become husband and wife.
Custom and culture are subject to change over time. The definition of marriage is one of those cultural norms that has indeed morphed over time and is likely to continue to do so. The question isn’t will it change, but rather, who decides how it changes. Libertarians generally agree that government shouldn’t be the decision maker.
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