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Get government out of marriage, period

BY ADAM B SULLIVAN | JUNE 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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The anti-gay marriage crowd in this state argues that the Iowa Supreme Court overstepped its bounds when it effectively legalized gay marriage two years ago. A handful of robed judges dictating law to the rest of the state is quintessential big government, they argue.

But former state Sen. Jeff Angelo is calling them out.

The Iowa Republican — who served in the Statehouse in the late-90s and 2000s — earlier this year launched Iowa Republicans for Freedom, a group of conservatives who support marriage rights for same-sex couples. Angelo argues that the state deciding whom you may marry is the real example of big government.

But I’m calling Angelo out: What’s really “big government” is state-sanctioned marriage itself.

I admire what Angelo is doing. It’s really tough to speak out against your associates on such a divisive issue — especially when your associates are the Iowa Republicans, a crowd known for having a small-tent approach to social issues. And I agree with him that as long as we do have government-approved marriage, we should probably let gays in on the fun.

But it seems a bit flimsy to use conservatism and small-government ideals as an argument for any marriage, gay or straight.

“I think there needs to be government recognition of marriage,” Angelo told me this week. “I think when we talk about why we favor marriage in our society, it’s a stabilizing force. It’s a force to organize our community. It’s very positive for the community.”

The fundamental belief behind modern conservatism, the way I understand it, is that government should get out of the way, unless there’s a task that the market can’t do on its own. If that’s the case, Angelo’s defense of government-sponsored marriage seems to suppose that without a piece of paper from the courthouse, the commitments people make to one another would no longer serve as stabilizing forces and no longer be good for the community.

None of the married couples I know would decide to stop cohabitating and child-rearing because the state phased out their tax breaks. They’d still call themselves married, and they wouldn’t throw away their wedding albums. And if we do have people who are coupling just for the tax break and marriage license, are those the types of couples that we want acting as the bedrock of our society?

And if “sanctity of marriage,” as traditional marriage advocates say, can be used to describe a bureaucratic union, why can’t we start talking about the sanctity of the tax code? After all, there’s more talk of taxes than of marriage in the Bible.

In fact, loving couples had perfectly fine weddings for a long time before the government decided it had to regulate and subsidize the process. The only difference was that instead of asking your democratically elected county recorder for permission, you sought guidance from your family and religious leaders.

I’ve read a verse or two from the Good Book, but I’m no biblical scholar. So if one of my more devout readers has the time, I have a favor to ask: Find me the passage where Adam and Eve trek all the way to the Eden County Courthouse to get their marriage sanctified by a government official.


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