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Political: Government and Marriage (Government's Role)

Video transcript

Hello. My name is Elizabeth Brake. I teach philosophy at Arizona State University and today I want to talk to you about the role of the government in marriage. Debates over same-sex marriage raised an even deeper question. Why should the government be involved in marriage in the first place? If marriage is essentially a relationship between spouses and their religious or social community, what is the State doing in it? As Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said, " The State has no business in the bedrooms of the nation." Now, let's consider the arguments for same-sex marriage within liberal-political philosophy. And by liberal, I simply mean political theories which attribute equal civil and political liberties and value equal treatment of citizens. They reject imposing one religious or ethical view on everyone. Principles of equal treatment provide a compelling argument for same-sex marriage if there is any legal marriage. Legal marriage brings a lot of benefits. Over one thousand in US Federal Law alone such as hospital and prison visiting rights, pension entitlements, special tax status, special immigration eligibility, married housing, in-state residency, entitlement to employee benefits such as health insurance, spousal relocation, and even burial with one's spouse in a veteran cemetery, as well as private benefits such as family rates at the gym. More than this, legal marriage provides an expressive or symbolic benefit of social recognition. Some people want their relationships to be recognised as marriages. Under liberal principles of equal treatment, when a government excludes people from benefits it provides, it should have a good reason. For instance, people with vision problems may be excluded from drivers licensing schemes for safety. Their safety and the safety of others is a good reason. But same-sex relationships are similar to different sex relationships. Two men or two women can have just as loving, intimate and committed relationship as a man and a woman. So what's the reason for excluding same-sex couples from the benefits of marriage? Some opponents of same-sex marriage argue that same-sex marriage would harm children. The US courts reviewed the data and found no evidence of harm. Remember, I said that a liberal state does not impose one religious or ethical view on everyone. It upholds freedom of religion. So, the reason for excluding same-sex couples from legal marriage can't be religious. This neutrality extends to ethical views. Just because some people think that different-sex relationships are better than same-sex relationships, does not give a political reason for excluding same-sex couples from the legal benefits of marriage. So, there is a strong liberal argument that if there is a legal institution of marriage, equal treatment requires extending it to same-sex couples. The US Supreme Court recently recognised the strength of this equality argument. But, why should there be a legal institution of marriage in the first place? Why not leave it to the churches, synagogues, Vegas chapels? Why not treat marriage as a private institution? A number of philosophers have argued that on political-liberal grounds, the same grounds that provide such a compelling argument for same-sex marriage, the State just shouldn't be involved in marriage at all anymore than it should be involved in baptisms or bar mitzvahs. All of those benefits the State attaches to legal marriage on this view are really just the imposition of a single religious or ethical view on everyone. The government is, in effect, redistributing tax-payer money through these entitlements to a form a life it deems to have greater dignity or greater value. But that simply seems like a contested ethical judgement. And my view, there actually is a reason for marriage or marriage-like law. But that reason implies that the State should simply recognise pretty much whatever caring relationships people want recognised. There are some qualifications to this view which I'll discuss in lecture two. Subtitles by the Amara.org community