As the debate over gay marriage goes on, some people have raised the question of why the government should even be involved in marriage at all.
It's actually a very legitimate question. Perhaps it's time to look at the government's role in registering and regulating people's relationships.
What makes marriage so emotional is the fact that married people have sex. In fact, many people would argue that the only legitimate time for people to have sex is after they're married.
When an engaged couple goes down to the county clerk's office and gets a marriage license, the government is sanctioning that relationship, and – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – sanctioning that couple to have sex.
No one talks about it, but expanding the range of options beyond one man, one woman, 'til death do us part, means the government would give those people permission to have sex, too.
Yet, people don't need the government's permission to have sex.
Marriage, however, is so much more than sex. By law and by custom, matrimony confers many substantial benefits on the partners.
For many people, there are tax benefits; estate planning benefits; government benefits, such as Social Security survivor's rights; employment benefits, including the right to be on a spouse's health insurance; medical benefits; death benefits; family benefits, including receiving child support if there's a divorce; housing benefits, including being able to live in family-zoned neighborhoods; immigration benefits; even the right to visit one's spouse in jail, and to be the first to know if the spouse dies.
All of this happens as soon as the members of the couple say "I do," and perhaps, more importantly, when the paperwork registering the relationship is filed – with the government.
The government actually is, and should be, in the business of registering all sorts of relationships and transactions. Transfer a piece of property, and it doesn't become official until the deal is filed with the Register of Deeds office. Get a mortgage, and the same office keeps the record on file. The mortgage isn't really gone until the discharge paperwork is filed.
Some might argue that marriage is different from a mortgage. Certainly it is, but both are legally registered, and legally enforceable, relationships that confer rights and obligations.
There's also the argument that marriage is a joining of two spirits before God. That's not the realm of government; that's the realm of religion, and government has no business regulating the spiritual. Government can, however, register the relationship of a couple who believes their spirits have been joined together by God, so that couple also may enjoy the temporal benefits of that relationship.
Perhaps it's time for us a society to look at marriage as a whole. Society works best when couples have long-lasting, stable relationships. We need to look at why that doesn't seem to work for so many people despite the strong incentives to enter into matrimony.
And as we have that discussion, we need, above all, to be honest.
Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.