This week, a review will begin in parliament on the nature of wedding laws. Following on from the recent legalisation of gay marriage, ministers will be discussing various other ways to liberalise marriage, such as increasing the number of places where a wedding can be held, and introducing the possibility of humanist weddings. Most controversial (and of course, most headline grabbing) has been the idea that it might soon be possible to conduct nudist weddings (I suppose it would save money on the wedding dress). Anyone of a libertarian bent, however, must have had the following thought occur to them: ‘Why is this any of the government’s business?’.

If two people want to get married in the nude, or on top of a skyscraper, or on a boat, or strolling down the aisle at ASDA, why is it the role of the government to decide if they can? Anyone sceptical of state interference in our lives should be wondering such things. UKIP, if I’m not mistaken, is a party sceptical of state interference in our lives; that is why I encourage all supporters of UKIP to have a serious think about the relationship between marriage and the state.

UKIP opposed the legalisation of gay marriage primarily on libertarian grounds. The fear was that, under the Human Rights Act, institutions would be forced to perform gay marriages whether they wanted to or not. It is not right that someone who morally objects to gay matrimony should be forced to perform or sanction it; UKIP were right to be concerned. Nigel Farage has confirmed that, now the bill has passed, UKIP would have no desire to overturn it and risk invalidating marriages that have already been performed. Again, I think Farage is right to take that stance.

Now that the concept of wide-scale marriage liberalisation is on the table, it should be UKIP that supports the only true form of liberalisation: cutting the ties between marriage and the state, or in other words: marriage privatisation.

‘Privatisation’ is a scary word to many people, but in this instance the standard fears do not apply. Marriage is not a government funded institution (unless you count tax breaks), but merely a government licensed and regulated one. Privatising it could never lead to monopolies, price gouging, exploiting the poor or any of the other things that privatisation is often accused of leading to [1].

In this case, as David Boaz explains, ‘marriage privatisation’ merely means “to treat it like any other contract: The state may be called upon to enforce it, but the parties define the terms[2]. He goes on to explain that such reforms would resolve all the debates concerning gay marriage; gay, straight (and transsexual, intersexual etc…) marriages would all be considered equal under the law, but the government would not need to morally endorse any particular type of marriage. The government would only be involved with the strictly legal aspects of the union, but not with who performs the ceremony, nor where or how it is performed. As the long as each party to the contract is a consenting adult who upholds the terms of the contract, the government would have nothing else to say in the matter.

Prominent American catholic Doug Kmiec has supported marriage privatisation on the grounds that marriage is a religious concept, and the meaning of that concept should be for religious institutions to decide—not the government [3]. Feminist Wendy McElroy argues that one of the reasons marriage rates are declining is that marriage has become a three-way contract between two people and the government [4]. It’s time for the people to take back marriage, and they need The People’s Army to assist them.

Of course, one important difference between Britain and the United States that we have to take into account is that the separation of church and state exists in the US, but not in the UK. Disentangling marriage from the state apparatus would prove much more difficult in the UK—but it could still be done. The important thing is to make people aware of the possibility of marriage privatisation, and to convince all groups who care about the nature of marriage—Christians, LGBTQ, nudists etc—that it is in their interest to be able to solve marriage debates in a way that does not involve legislating against one-another. Using law as a weapon is not the way to resolve conflicts; only peaceful, rational, private negotiation can achieve that, and that is precisely what UKIP, as a libertarian-leaning party, should be advocating.

 

[1] Nor would marriage privatisation prevent the government from carrying on its tax incentive schemes for married couples.

 

[2] Boaz, D. Privatize Marriage.

 

[3] Catholic News Agency.

 

[4] McElroy, W. It’s Time to Privatize Marriage.

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