Marriage and the Limits of Contract
By Jennifer Roback Morse
A libertarian case
Marriage is a naturally occurring, pre-political institution that emerges spontaneously from society. Western society is drifting toward a redefinition of marriage as a bundle of legally defined benefits bestowed by the state. As a libertarian, I find this trend regrettable. The organic view of marriage is more consistent with the libertarian vision of a society of free and responsible individuals, governed by a constitutionally limited state. The drive toward a legalistic view of marriage is part of the relentless march toward politicizing every aspect of society.
As males and females united fortuitously according to encounters, opportunities and desires, they required no speech to express the things they had to say to each other, and they separated with the same ease. The mother nursed her children at first to satisfy her own needs, then when habit had made them dear to her, she fed them to satisfy their needs; as soon as they had the strength to find their own food, they did not hesitate to leave their mother herself; and as there was virtually no way of finding one another again once they had lost sight of each other, they were soon at the stage of not even recognizing one another.
Women and children . . . (according to the welfare reform model) should depend on men for basic economic support, while women care for dependents — children, elderly parents, disabled family members, etc. Under such a model, married-couple households might “relieve” the state of the expense of helping to support single-parent households, and of the cost of a wide range of social services, from childcare and disability services to home nursing. Marriage thus becomes a privatization scheme: Individual married-couple households give women and children access to higher men’s wages, and also “privately” provide many services once offered through social welfare agencies. More specifically, the unpaid labor of married women fills the gap created by government service cuts.
Jennifer Roback Morse is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and the author of Smart Sex: Finding Lifelong Love in a Hook-up World, and Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work, both from Spence Publishing.