Why marriage?

A viewer from Thailand writes:

My friend is a big fan of your show and would like to know why, given your Atheism, you still believe in marriage. His point of view is that marriage is a religious institution, so why would an atheist have anything to do with it? He asks if it’s for a tax break, or if polygamy is somehow wrong for an atheist?

As a guy about to be married for the second time, I support the institution of marriage — both gay and straight. I recommend you start by reading this article on Wikipedia:

Rights and responsibilities of marriages in the United States

Marriage carries with it a host of federal benefits assumed to be conferred automatically on each spouse. These prominently include:

  • Numerous tax benefits, as you mentioned, including the right to file jointly
  • Legal status with stepchildren
  • joint parenting rights, such as access to children’s school records
  • family visitation rights for the spouse and non-biological children, such as to visit a spouse in a hospital or prison
  • next-of-kin status for emergency medical decisions or filing wrongful death claims
  • Survivor benefits on death
  • Automatic recipient of life insurance for some jobs
  • Tax-free transfer of property between spouses (including on death) and exemption from “due-on-sale” clauses.

This is only scratching the surface, but I hope you get the idea. Is it possible for all these legal issues to be settled by signing a few hundred individual contracts? Naturally. But what’s the point? Two people committing to living together is an incredibly common arrangement, and it’s a reasonable assumption that a couple would want these legal rights explicitly spelled out in one big contract. That contract is called “marriage.”

Your friend is simply misinformed when he says that marriage is a religious institution. It isn’t. Marriage existed long before religion got its hooks in it, and the fact that religious people today are going around demanding that their views of marriage ought to be “protected” is simply bunk, and pointless entanglement between church and state. A church can “marry” you in the sense that they can perform a ceremony, but unless you sign those legal papers that are recognized by lawyers (or in some states, meet various other requirements that make you married), you’re not married in the eyes of the law, and that’s where it counts.

As for polygamy: I’m on the fence about it, along with many other atheists. Legally, a contract between three people is much more complicated than a contract between two. For instance, what happens if person A wants to divorce person B, but still loves C, while B and C wish to remain married? Because it’s so complex, I’m not pushing for legal polygamy. There is also the concern that polygamy as practiced is often used as a smokescreen for coercion and sex with minors, as in the recent case of epic scumbag Warren Jeffs. That’s not okay, since it doesn’t involve consenting adults who are in a legal position to make their own large life-changing decisions.

Having said that, I’m not particularly morally opposed to polygamy, as long as it’s between consenting adults and as long as I don’t have to sort out their legal affairs. I wouldn’t do it, but other people can for all I care. In the absence of legal polygamy, I’m also not opposed to people being polyamorous. (Hat tip to Dan Savage‘s excellent podcast and column, where he discusses this regularly.) Fool around with other partners as much as you want, as long as nobody in the arrangement is deceived about what they’re getting into.

Note that my description of it as legally acceptable doesn’t amount to my recommending it as a good idea for anyone in particular. In the worst case, miscommunication could occur, jealousy could pop up, feelings could be hurt, and relationships could be broken. But as long as everybody’s aware of that going in… you’re adults, I’m not responsible for your therapy bills. :)

Can I just be the 5 millionth person to say, “Eeewwww!”

Possummomma, being a parent, has quite a lot to say about this:

I know I haven’t commented much on the recent FLDS raid or its subsequent fallout, particularly as it’s practically a local occurrence. Mainly, my reaction was just to shake my head. It now appears that the state was completely punk’d, at least as far as that original phone call that led to the raid, now widely considered a hoax, is concerned. And the state’s draconian approach to its raid — simply to swoop down and haul everybody off without much at all in the way of a preliminary investigation — has led to its humiliation following the court’s recent ruling that the raid was just all kinds of wrong.

On the other hand, what clearer evidence do you need that pedophiliac sickness was part of these people’s standard operating procedure than the above photographs, showing übercreep Warren Jeffs smooching one of his child brides? I mean, it just makes you ill to look at it.

Something clearly has to be done to put the kibosh on these little cults that victimize children — as yes, you can call what you do “spiritual marriage” all you like, but all you’ve done is concoct a spiffy metaphor for “rape” — and shield themselves from repercussions by saying “But it’s our religion!” But the state’s raid wasn’t the right one. And you just know the FLDS will simply see this as a vindication of their way of life in opposition to the Satanic government that seeks to oppress and criminalize them. What to do?