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Currently there's a lot of legal benefits that come with marriage: getting tax and employment benefits, visiting your spouse in the hospital, making life-death decisions, getting assets after he's dead, etc. There's also legal issues that come from terminating a marriage (divorce): paying alimony, child support, etc.

In a free market society, what role (if any) should the government have in people's relationships? Would marriage and divorce entitlements exist as they do now, or would they be considered unnecessary and immoral?

asked Sep 17 '12 at 01:21

mdegges's gravatar image


edited Jan 16 '13 at 10:22

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I think marriage probably would exist in a free market society, and that it would be, to some extent, regulated by government. Many of the reasons for government regulation of marriage would go away - tax, unemployment, government run hospitals. Others would be easier with government involvement - default inheritance rules, guardianship issues, interspousal immunity. And still others I think are somewhat inseparable from government involvement - citizenship, spousal privilege, loss of consortium, other various longstanding provisions of tort law.

(Sep 17 '12 at 20:25) anthony anthony's gravatar image

You could, of course, choose to have a relationship without having it signed off by the government, but then you don't get spousal privilege, the ability to sue for loss of consortium, the presumed fatherhood (and therefore citizenship) of a child born abroad, etc. And you'd have to enter into special contracts to get the special inheritance rules, medical decision rules, interspousal immunity, etc.

To use just one example, I don't think we want people able to sue for loss of consortium with an unmarried sex partner - it'd just be too easy to game that system.

(Sep 17 '12 at 20:33) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Welcome to California. We love raping producers.

$55,973 in monthly spousal support despite $6K / month prenuptial agreement.

(Jan 16 '13 at 13:58) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image
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Marriage entitlements are a form of social engineering, something quite antithetical to the Objectivist position. The purpose behind such entitlements is to encourage people to bond, start a family, and otherwise make a stable life for themselves. It is a collectivist morality that permits such logic. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with stable homes or the family unit, Objectivists see no reason government must be involved.

Objectivists’ hold that government’s only moral purpose is to defend individual rights – “the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life.” Individuals are the authors of their own destinies; they have a right to their own lives, their own liberties, and their own happiness, none of which are given, but are instead earned. Marriage is an extension of a person’s pursuit of happiness, something government should protect if threatened, not subsidize if desirable.

Also keep in mind that in an Objectivist society, taxes would not exist. Taxation is force, and Objectivism is explicitly against the initiation of force. So the term “entitlements” in a civic sense would have very little meaning, if any at all, in a free society. There would be no government-sponsored laws regarding hospital visitation (other than any rules set forth by the individual hospitals), for example. Government could not provide “employment benefits” of any kind because of the separation between economy and state.

A proper government should have no opinion of marriage, but it should have an unwavering interest in protecting the rights of its citizens.

answered Sep 17 '12 at 09:38

JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

JK Gregg ♦

Something similar to marriage would exist in a free society. JK Gregg is correct that a proper government's job is protecting the individual rights of its citizens, and that "social engineering" is not proper. However, that does not mean that the government should not have any role in marriage (or marriage-like institutions). Protecting rights does not merely consist of catching and punishing criminals---a huge part of the governments job is to settle honest disputes between citizens (civil courts). As part of discharging that function, courts often establish "default rules" for problematic situations that arise frequently. For example, default contract clauses are common and proper--e.g., if you forget to specify who has the risk of loss for purchased goods, there is a default rule specifying who has the risk of loss and what events trigger its shifting. The rule is a "default rule" because parties are always free to specify however they would like things to be, and the rule only kicks in when the issue was not addressed by the parties.

In a free society I believe marriage should be similar. Anyone would be free to arrange their legal relationship with another person however they saw fit, by executing the proper legal procedures (contracts, trusts, etc.). However, if people fail to address certain eventualities the court could provide a default rule to fill the gaps. If people where happy with all of the default rules, they could simply opt for a "default" legal relationship--i.e., a marriage. This simplifies the entire procedure for the vast majority of people who might want to establish the legal relationship that marriage entails, but don't want or need to go through the hassle and expense of getting customized legal documents drawn up and executed. Instead, they can simply go to the courthouse and get a default "of the shelf" package with terms already settled that everyone pretty much understands (for example, visitation rights in the hospital are "standard" unless provided otherwise). Default terms might touch on all of those important issues raised in your question, and more. People would be free to make their own, different agreements if they wanted to, but they would also be free to opt for the default as well.

Furthermore, situations in which people did not provide their for their own legal arrangements, whether by executing custom documents or exercising the default option, but where questions of whether some legal relationship should nonetheless be recognized might arise, in which case the court will need to decide what to do. It is not feasible to simply say that, because the parties did not provide for the relationship, they are out of luck. Third parties rights might be involved, such as those of children or creditors of the couple, to name a few. For example, a couple has lived together for 20 years but never got "married" or created their own legal arrangement. Now one is in the hospital, incapacitated. Does the other partner have legal rights, for visiting, billing, other considerations? By providing a default rule (e.g., 5 years of cohabitation = marriage unless expressly provided otherwise), the government can protect everyone's rights, not to mention make its own job practicable.

The foregoing does not endorse any sort of social engineering or the like.

answered Oct 20 '12 at 19:39

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

Marriage, fundamentally speaking, is a contract between two persons.

In a free society, people have the right to make contracts with one-another.

There's nothing about marriage as such which is antithetical to a free society.

answered Jan 16 '13 at 22:38

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

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Asked: Sep 17 '12 at 01:21

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Last updated: Jan 16 '13 at 22:38