In a 24/7 news cycle driven by a national political scene in which everyone appears to be losing their minds, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there is A LOT happening at the local level. Though generally less fun to talk about at dinner parties, state-level issues can often have just as much, if not more, of an impact on the everyday life of an average American. And rest assured, the things being debated are just as inane as those in Washington.
Take the bill that was just recently proposed by Oklahoma state representative Travis Dunlap: House Bill 1277, titled the “Fairness in Fault Act,” seeks to put restrictions on the reasons for which a person can file for a divorce.
If the bill is passed, couples will no longer be able to cite “incompatibility” as the reason for their intended divorce if one of three conditions applies: the parties have children who are minors, have been married for over ten years or either party has filed a written objection to the divorce.
Including those provisions seems to be an effort to paint this proposed legislation as somewhat moderate, a sort of common-sense approach to maintaining stable households. To the contrary, It is a gross intrusion on individual liberty and if passed, a stunning allowance of governmental overreach from the party that supposedly abhors big government.
The underlying reasoning for the bill seems clear enough to me: it is the latest Republican attempt to reinforce the existence of the traditional nuclear family. Commonly heard in the platform of GOP politicians over the past decade is the refrain that “traditional marriage,” and by extension the families that arise from them, is under attack by the left. Certainly there is some (not-so-thinly-veiled) homophobia in this rhetoric, as much of the reasoning for it comes from the particular religious views of the Evangelical wing of the party.
Still, it’s a dangerous game to assume that every defense of the traditional American family is a bigoted one, as there are plenty of secular conservatives who choose to stake their argument on the importance of a stable, two-parent household. This is a position that I actually agree with; as study after study emerges which links childhood in a single-parent household to a higher risk of crime and poverty later in life, why shouldn’t it be a noble imperative to keep families together? However, my support for the idea only extends so far as it does not affect the autonomy of the individuals in the marriage.
When the government is dictating such a personal matter as who I can or cannot spend the rest of my life with, that is going way, way too far. This is simple stuff folks, right along with legalizing interracial or homosexual marriage. Two consenting adults can decide for themselves what is best for their relationship without government approval. If I get married because I think I love my spouse, then it turns out I’m miserable, I have every right to remove myself from the situation in pursuit of my own happiness. It may be emotionally difficult on my family, against the creed of my religion, a shirking of my own responsibilities as a husband and father… but as long as I am not harming my family or bringing about financial ruin, these would be my burdens to bear, not the government’s.
Furthermore, even if one was hard-line on the idea that marriages must be made to stay together to protect the children, the bill oversteps and includes the over-ten-years provision. So after giving it a real go for eleven years in a childless marriage and then deciding that there just wasn’t a romantic connection anymore, a couple couldn’t get divorced? Give me a break.
This seems as good a place as any to propose a truly radical idea regarding marriage: perhaps the government shouldn’t be involved in it at all. If the role of government is to protect individual rights and further the common good, then what business does it have in the private lives of its citizens? Perhaps one could make the argument that government regulates marriage in much the same way it does education or drug use; that is, to prevent negative externalities, in this case the higher likelihood for crime in emerging from a single-parent home. But if that is the case, then it has utterly failed at its intended purpose.
According to the US Census Bureau, 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 is being raised without a father, an appallingly high figure that shows a clear lack of effectiveness at incentivizing marriage. Plenty of people would still choose to get married for personal fulfillment if government removed itself entirely, and it really does not seem likely that significantly more people would choose to live life on their own.
Finally, I believe taking this libertarian approach to marriage would be the first step towards ending one of our country’s great present-day sectarian debates. A person, whether from a place of traditional religious convictions or genuine bigotry, may not like that two people are getting married, but remove government from the equation and they will no longer have any tool with which to fight it.