In an effort to promote health, a bill has been proposed that would require couples seeking a marriage license to undergo a blood test for STDs. If it passes, the bill will be ineffective, violate privacy and face legal scrutiny.
It’s unlikely that requiring couples to get a blood test would do much to decrease the number of STDs. The Tulsa World quotes Jan Fox, Oklahoma’s director for HIV/STD Services, as saying that “premarital testing for syphilis or any other infectious disease does not appear to have any usefulness for disease control efforts.”
Testing for syphilis was required in Oklahoma prior to 2004, and in the five years before it was repealed, only five cases out of 300,000 resulted in someone learning that they were positive.
The ineffectiveness of the measure isn’t so surprising. Many couples, rightly or wrongly, do not wait for their marriage vows to be completed before having sexual intercourse. This bill would do nothing to protect those who do so.
The bill would also put Oklahoma under legal scrutiny for possibly violating both privacy and personal rights. Medical records are protected by federal confidentiality laws. Being required to give one’s records to a court clerk, which may cause the results to become public, could violate those laws.
Federal courts have repeatedly recognized marriage as an inalienable right. The bill hasn’t even made it out of committee yet, but as it’s written, people who test positive and could potentially pass on an STD wouldn’t be able to get married.
These people would certainly have grounds for a lawsuit. Oklahoma would have to prove that the state has a compelling interest in preventing them from getting married. Given that unmarried people can legally have sexual intercourse, and therefore spread diseases anyway, it’s very possible that the regulation will be struck down.
If this bill passes as it is currently written, it will bring problems to the state without improving the health of Oklahomans. The government’s involvement in a such a deeply personal matter raises philosophical questions about the nature of government and human relations.
In this case it isn’t even good policy since it will only inconvenience citizens and quite possibly result in lawsuits while having marginal benefits at best.