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Political: Government and Marriage (Minimal Marriage)

Video transcript

Hello. My name is Elizabeth Brake. I teach philosophy at Arizona State University. and today, I want to talk to you about minimal marriage. In the last talk, I suggested that one line of argument for same-sex marriage leads to the conclusion that marriage law needs much more radical reform. Keep in mind, I am talking about marriage law. Not private, religious or social practices such as church weddings, Elvis weddings or jumping over a broomstick. Within the theory of political liberalism associated with John Rawls, law, at least in important matters, should not be solely based on controversial religious views or ethical views concerning the best way to live. Reasonable people disagree on these matters. They have different religious beliefs and different beliefs about the best life. So reasons for important legislation should be able to slot into these competing views and be the basis of an overlapping consensus. Think about it this way. State action uses resources provided by tax payers. How could the State justify it's use of those resources to those tax-payers? How can the extensive legal entitlements of marriage be justified to singles, or people who oppose marriage? Often we hear the reason that marriage has a special value or dignity. But this is just the kind of contested ethical belief liberalism excludes. When we think of the diversity of beliefs people have about good relationships, it's obvious that the value of marriage argument reflects a contested ethical view. Some people oppose marriage because of its history of oppressing women. Under the law of coverture, a woman's legal personality was covered by her husband's, and spousal rape was not a crime until the late 20th century. Some people oppose marriage because they see it as about possession, a ball and chain. Some people embrace free love and multiple partners. Some people believe that finding the perfect lifelong match is a nice ideal, but delusional. The value of marriage argument employs the kind of contentious ethical beliefs which political liberalism bars. Not all reasonable, ethical views hold that marriage is valuable. Some people justify the value of marriage in a widely shared, publicly acceptable reason that spans many different ethical and religious views, child welfare. Indeed! That's the foundation of the US marriage promotion policy. But not all marriages have children. And about 40% of US children are born outside marriage. And that doesn't even include children whose parents have divorced. Furthermore, high-conflict marriages aren't good for children. So marriage promotion seems like, at best, an indirect way to promote child welfare, and at worst, a highly inefficient way to do so. While contested ethical claims and child welfare don't justify the extensive entitlements in legal marriage, I think there is a reason which can be given for marriage-like law. The value of caring relationships isn't controversial in the way that the value of marriage is. Caring relationships are valued from within almost all ethical and religious views. A caring relationship can be with a spouse or a domestic partner or a close friend. Psychological research shows that stable, caring relationships boost people's well-being. This widespread value of caring relationships is a good reason for the State extending marriage-like entitlements to stable, caring relationships of all sorts. But if this is the foundation for marriage -like entitlements, it extends to close long-term friends and small groups, when it's applied consistently. These are caring relationships too. In my book, I call this idea minimal marriage. It's minimal in that it minimises entry requirements into marriage. It doesn't require that one partner be male and one female. It doesn't require that there be only two partners. And it doesn't require that they consummate the marriage sexually. It's also minimal in that it would scale back the extensive benefits associated with marriage now. Minimal marriage is just a name for this proposal. You can imagine it as a form of domestic partnership law which is open to friends and small groups as well as romantic couples. But why would someone want to marry someone who is just a friend and nothing more? Does this mean I can marry my chess club? The friend I met a couple of times at Yoga? I'll talk about friendship in marriage in the next lecture. Subtitles by the Amara.org community