Several months ago I read How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams. This is the guy who creates the Dilbert comic strip, and while I like Dilbert I never miss a chance to read Scott’s blog.
Fully realizing the irony of taking life advice from a cartoonist (well, then again, there is Bill Watterson, so maybe it isn’t ironic at all), I adopted at least one tip of his which is to limit your exposure to negativity. While I used to be a news junky, news on the whole leans strongly toward the negative, so now I limit myself to mainly skimming RSS feeds. So I am aware of things like the unrest in Baltimore and the earthquake in Nepal, but I know enough to feel sympathy for the victims without working myself into deep sadness or rage.
In the USA Today that sits unread on the desk in my hotel room, there is a story with the headline “High court split on gay marriage” and a deck of “Justices seeing no easy answer to age-old question.”
I can solve the problem easily, although the Justices won’t do it: get the government out of the marriage business.
The word “marriage” is too loaded with religious connotations. In many religions, specifically Catholicism, marriage is a sacrament (“a Christian rite recognized as of particular importance and significance”).
Now the Justices are supposed to uphold the Constitution, and they have spent over two centuries trying to interpret its meaning. In the first amendment, there is the phrase that Congress shall “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. When asked for clarification, Jefferson (pretty much the dude who wrote it) stated it meant “building a wall of separation between Church & State“.
It will be impossible to both uphold Jefferson’s intent and use the word marriage to describe any government sanctioned relationship. Thus we should throw it out.
I propose the term “household”. A “household” is a social unit that exists for the mutual benefit of its members, to care and raise any of their children, and the sharing of resources and responsibilities.
Note that it doesn’t include any reference to gender or even number of people. I think it should be managed like a corporation, without the idea of ownership shares. Two or more people can form a household by registering it with the government, and there should be a method for both adding and removing people from a household as well as dissolving it altogether.
This would cover one man and one woman, one woman and another woman or one man and another man, a young person and an older relative, polyamorous groupings or even larger communal living arrangements.
I’m not proposing this to promote or encourage any of those living arrangements, but instead to build on some of the work of one of the best social engineers who ever lived, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.
I’m not claiming that we should adopt all of his policies, but he did institute a program that encourages people in Singapore to buy a home through payroll deduction (basically, a tax) that can only be used for that purpose. Having a large part of the population with a vested interest in preserving infrastructure promotes societal stability. In other words, people who own homes, even a small apartment loft, are a lot less likely to burn them down.
I think familial units, i.e. households, work pretty much the same way. By recognizing these relationships in a formal way, it gives them meaning. And by putting up at least some barriers to dissolving them, it gives them longevity. And thus we could apply similar tax breaks given to those who can file as “Married” on their current tax forms to promote this stability, and we can move the question of marriage back to churches and individuals.