Marriage, at its civil root, is a property arrangement.
It always has been. It’s a state-sanctioned means by which families can grow and preserve wealth.
Marriage concentrates society’s buying power and increases stability. It decreases our use of resources for protection of our youngest, sickest, and oldest citizens.
When the happy couple wants to call it quits, family law gives predictability to the division of property. Sure, there are options as to what could happen post-bliss, but the majority of property divisions in divorce are quite similar.
From a societal perspective, the only role “love” plays in marriage is to further stabilize the arrangement. You’re more likely to happily share your assets if you love the person with whom you’re in a contract. And you’re less likely to intentionally breach that contract if doing so would harm someone you love.
Yeah, all of this sounds cynical, but when you boil down why we have the institution of marriage, it’s hard to deny society’s interest in economic and interpersonal stability.
The cold, hard truth is that societies evolve by (1) propping up the institutions that help and (2) tearing down the institutions that hurt.
The Judeo-Christian world doesn’t have legally sanctioned polygamy, arranged marriages, dowries, or prohibitions on interracial marriage anymore. Those longstanding realities harmed society’s interests. And you don’t have to drive to Nevada to get a divorce anymore. Why? Because the rest of the states realized that predictable, court-ordained dissolution of your marriage is of help to the rest of us.
Now, there’s nothing liberal about anything I just wrote. Government creates a license to make sure you don’t marry your sister or a 12-year-old. Government gives you a slight tax break in recognition of duplicated income and overlapping expenditures. And government gets back involved as the referee if you decide to end the arrangement. Beyond that, it’s all about individual freedom and responsibility. Sounds conservative, actually.
Religious folks view this property arrangement differently. Marriage is a holy sacrament, ordained by God himself (and they don’t even say “herself,” as we liberals like to toss in there!). It is a priest-approved lifelong bond between a man and a woman. It’s the only venue in which sexual intercourse is allowed. It’s the means by which the world is populated.
So what should be (and is) a civil matter for the benefit ofall society gets tangled up in the “handed down from on high” viewpoints of one sect.
The problem is that somewhere along the line, the religious folks’ version of conservatism got linked to the economists’ version of the same. The logical theories of Ph.D.’s and statesmen got hitched to the spiritual views of a loud, narrowly focused few.
In theory, one could be a small-government-loving fiscal conservative, while nonetheless being socially liberal. In other words, you can believe in small government and pro-capitalist economics, AND be pro-choice and anti-gun.
Or vice versa. You could believe in robust social safety net programming, higher taxes, but think abortion should be illegal and that the Flood wiped out the dinosaurs because Noah ran out of room on the Ark. Whatever floats your boat! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).
In America, however, the majority of “conservatives” are really not ideological, fiscally motivated conservatives. Rather, they are social conservatives who got sold a bill of goods on economic matters.
They are Southern Baptist, literal-Bible-believing, hellfire and damnation fundamentalists who, through political and societal programming, believe in the Jesus-approved glory of trickle-down economics.
They are staunchly anti-abortion, praying for intercession, saintly Catholics, who also curiously want to cut Medicaid and WIC programming because welfare creates dependency instead of self-sufficiency.
They are deeply devoted, eternal marriage entering, no-coffee-drinking Latter Day Saints, who also randomly believe in the flat tax and think our defense budget should be increased.
But I digress. I’m a professional digresser, don’t try to take on the level of digression I do unless you work up to it. I’ve been practicing for years to make this level of randomness work.
So back to marriage: the truly economically conservative position would be to encourage marriage between any two people of the age of consent. Hell, it might be economically advantageous to allow marriage between three or four people. And from an economic standpoint, it certainly shouldn’t matter what gender the participants are. Reduce the government hurdles to enter/dissolve marriage down to the minimum they can be, encourage marriage through tax incentives, and stay the heck out of people’s personal decisions.
But enter Christianity’s social conservatism, and the economics and societal stability needs take a backseat. It has to be between one man and one woman. No sex education in schools, because abstinence is the only Church-sanctioned method of birth control. If you want to have sex, get married. And then stay married for life. Want a divorce? Let’s make it expensive, lengthy, and hard as hell, because what God has brought together, let no man put asunder. Marriage is the subject matter of religion, and as such, religion should rule the day. Well, one religion, anyway.
Let’s be honest: the GOP wouldn’t exist as a viable party in 2017 if it weren’t for this weird link-up between Jesus and supply-side economics.
Fiscal conservatives recognize that they’d lose every single election if their pitch was, “I know you’re just a poor ol’ dirt farmer, but the best way to solve your economic woes is to give your boss a gigantic raise.” Academic and philosophical reasoning go directly out the window of your Mercedes when you’re asking a poor country boy to vote against his own self-interest.
Need the poor folks in Mississippi and Alabama to vote for pro-business economics? It used to be as easy as being blatantly racist, as in the early days of the Southern Strategy. As society shifted, blatant racism gave way to dog whistle politics. You know, y’all can’t just say the N-word these days, what with 24-hour cable news around. So just start talking about entitlements and welfare cheats. Talk about affirmative action robbing poor Cletus of his rightful place at Auburn while Tyrone got in. Maybe call Tyrone a thug while you’re at it…can’t hurt. Oh, they’ll get it. You’re speaking their language, now.
But the Southern Strategy’s effectiveness is fading. We all grew up watching The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. We all grew up listening to Run-DMC and Wu Tang Clan. We all grew up with friends who look and sound different than us. It’s just getting harder and harder to rely unilaterally on racism to get poor Southerners to vote for people who’ll enact anti-poor-folk policies.
Religion runs deeper than shifting societal norms. The politicians couldn’t care less about your religious views, except to the extent they’ll influence your vote.
So, if being anti-abortion gets you to vote for me and my supply-side economics? BAM, I’m anti-abortion. Always have been.
Putting the Ten Commandments in the county courthouse gets you to vote for me and my flat tax? Done. Just as Moses himself would have it.
Being anti-gay marriage gets you to vote for me and my hawkish, lobbyist-dictated, war-profiteering ways? Now y’all know, mah daddy and mama always sed them queers wuz sick in the head and the Good Lord wuz gonna send ‘em to hell, and y’all, I don’t know about y’all but I respect mah daddy and mah mama.
Someday, the fake religious pandering will be as unpalatable as dog whistle racism is becoming.
Someday, the Americans who value reason and vote accordingly will greatly outnumber the ones who are so easily duped by a southern accent and a few code words.
And someday, our rich, diverse, incredible nation will no longer be bogged down catering to one group’s backwards interpretation of an otherwise peaceful, progressive religion.
I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish when that day comes.