Previously on this site, I argued that marriage allows you to unambiguously define your family. Now I want to add to that point with regards to children. Marriage can arguably be said to have been designed for the protection and provision of children (I am not sure that the state would ever have got involved if it had not been about children - it would have just been a private contractual matter).
Essentially, you get married, you have children and the state says "get on with it" (there is, of course, a law relating to compulsory education and more and more interference - but they are breaches of the principle). When somebody has a child without two parents there to bring him or her up, the state tends to get heavily involved - not always but generally. It is still broadly true when people are married with children, the state keeps its nose out. Sadly, this is becoming progressively less true over time and Libertarians should support policies that reverse this ‘State creep’ into family life.
The reality of family break down can mean a sudden influx of State lawyers, social workers and, in worse case scenarios, the police, into your private life. Once agents of the State come into your life, they are usually there for a long time. I recently watched as the break down of a friend’s marriage not only involved all of the above but also made him effectively homeless as he was not entitled to social housing because he had equity in the shared home he was prohibited from returning to.
In cases of divorce or abandonment, the State will normally end up either financing the child care while the mother goes out to work (empirically it is nearly always the father who is absent); pay the mother an income while she brings up the child; or, if both parents are there and they split up, the State ends up adjudicating about the family finances, who sees whom when and so on. Marriage in the context of children can be thought of as a liberal buffer against the state poking its nose in to the upbringing of children. It is not a necessary condition for that to be the case, but it is the case with remarkable regularity.
Marriage allows the whole family unit to be treated unambiguously as one - though the fact that it is treated as one for benefit purposes but not for tax purposes leads to discrimination against family formation. This is a quirk of the tax code that should be vehemently opposed by those of us with an anti-State persuasion.
Libertarians have long neglected emphasis on family relations, perhaps because it is seen as the domain of Conservatives who taint anti-statist arguments with notions of “morality” that not everyone can subscribe to. Healthy, in tact marriages, however, mean less intervention from the State. We can not argue in favour of reeling back the State without articulating, bolstering and defending the social structures that should replace it; and one of those institutions is marriage.
Marriage was designed to protect women and children physically, emotionally, and ensure the property and financial conditions conducive to their well being were in place. Even though the institution has changed over time, what is interesting is not how the institution has changed but what remains the same. Libertarians should see marriage as part of an organic safety net and advocate for its strengthening as buffer against the State’s pernicious involvement in our family lives.
For Conservatives For Liberty, March 2016.