Jul 062002

I drew a fair amount of heat, largely justified, for my first post on this subject, which you can read if you like, but I’d rather you didn’t. It’s flippant and smart-alecky and wasn’t really what I wanted to say. I leave it up because I believe in eating my own dog food.

Marriage is a contract. I’m a libertarian, I like contracts. Every contract made and adhered to, excepting the occasional mob hit, is one more small step out of the ooze. Marriage also promotes a division of labor, especially useful for raising children. (Modern feminism is, among other things, an attack on the division of labor.) My dad wrote in reply to my last that “some few of us think that such old-fashioned, two-parent families are the best basis for a good society. We also wish to inculcate such values in our children — a task at which I have obviously failed.” That isn’t true, but I understand how I conveyed that impression.

But people seem to think there’s something too…too cold-blooded, I suppose, about a contract. So we make a big mystic fuss about sexual attraction, the worst possible reason to get married. In countless popular books and movies a character will ask, “But do you love him (her)?” — as if an affirmative were absolutely decisive or it was even clear what the question meant. I don’t knock sexual attraction: it’s necessary for a successful marriage. Just far from sufficient.

We also treat marriage as a sacrament, which is a sure-fire way to screw anything up. The parties to a marriage ought to be able to terminate it by mutual consent, like any other contract. (Liberal divorce laws have their disadvantages but it’s hard not to think that they’ve contributed to human happiness on the whole.) Everyone in the Western world believes that by now, which a look at the divorce rate ought to confirm, yet people still stand up in church and pledge fidelity until “death do us part.”

So I don’t oppose marriage. I just think we’d do a better job with it if we were a little more honest about it.

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