In Defense of Marriage: A Modest Proposal

It is a fact generally acknowledged that the institution of marriage in the United States is troubled.

Editorial writers, television journalists, and politicians are agreed that less people are marrying, less are taking their marriages seriously, more are ending their marriages, and those who end them often have several. The importance and permanence of marriage appear to be badly eroded.

More recently, the attempts by homosexuals to have their marriages legally recognized have alarmed many of the same people. They’ve urged others to stop these proposed changes, on the grounds that marriage between anything other than a man and a woman is against Nature, and that this change will further damage this wounded institution of marriage or even finally kill it.

Whatever the measurable facts might be, there is a perception among the educated middle class that marriage is reduced, threatened, devalued, and possibly outmoded, and it’s a great cause for concern for many people. It would be generally helpful to calm their fears and, if possible, to revive marriage as a serious institution for those who choose it. Mistreating homosexuals is not helpful, nor is theocracy.

Prohibiting divorce and remarriage is the most obvious approach, but is politically impossible. Religious or simply conservative individuals who dislike homosexuals and fornicators are still unwilling to abandon serial marriage as an option, and will resist this fiercely, despite implied contradictions in their thinking.

Instead, I propose that we treat this as a matter of state incentive, and make our improvements with pricing as we do in the case of roads, for example. In this particular case, the problem is not the first marriage itself, which must be kept simple and inexpensive, but the mechanism of divorce. Easy divorce erodes the permanence and seriousness of marriage.

I propose a new set of taxes or fees, which will at once act as a brake on casual marriage and benefit the people financially. The act of divorce also must remain simple and inexpensive; the cost of endless failed marriages is measured not only in misery but in the cost of domestic violence and child abuse, which unduly burdens us all.

Instead, the schedule of fees will apply to remarriage. A second marriage, for example, might cost $5,000. This is a reasonable fee for a serious commitment, and will emphasize to both parties that they are taking on a serious responsibility. The third marriage in this case would require a $15,000 fee; the fourth, $50,000; and the fifth, $100,000. Whether to continue increasing the fee or not is a matter for further discussion.

This schedule of assessment on new marriages would apply to any marriage license issued by the government. Religious institutions would remain free to declare marriages valid or not by their own accounting, but none of this would apply to the legal status of those marrying.

In the case of polyamorous marriage, fees would apply to all participants.

Widows and widowers would be exempt from the remarriage payment for the next marriage after the death of their former partners. Legal penalties for the intentional death of a spouse to avoid the marriage fee would be increased over and above those for other murders, to reduce moral hazard from this rule.

The advantages of this system are obvious. No one is prevented from legally ending an insupportable marriage. Those who are seriously committed to further marriages are free to do so after paying the fee. Feckless and flighty couples with money will progressively enrich the state and the people. And as in all such plans, the cycle of divorce and remarriage will be dramatically slowed. Finally, the power of the institution itself will be greatly enhanced both in practical decision-making and generally respect. Nothing commands more authority in American society than a very large price tag.

I hope you’ll join me in sharing this proposal with friends, family, church leaders, and government representatives. I think that all of us, whether we intend to marry or not, can support a rescue of the power of marriage that restricts none of us and enriches all of us.

14 thoughts on “In Defense of Marriage: A Modest Proposal

  1. Just askin’… not looking for a loophole.
    What about some of us poorer folk who wish/need to marry to acquire our spouse’s medical insurance coverage/benefits, but one of us had a failed first marriage?


    1. Re: Just askin’… not looking for a loophole.
      Sounds like a good argument to fix access to healthcare, not use marriage as a band-aid (no pun intended).


  2. OH, YOU


  3. Your proposal suggests introducing discrimination in the form of additional taxes against people who want to get married more than once. Not everybody feels that having multiple marriages is necessarily and inherently “wrong” though, or even that multiple marriages is something that really needs to be discouraged. Personally, I don’t see how permitting serial divorces and remarriages negatively affects society enough to care so much about discouraging it.
    The ethical ramifications of your suggestion aside, the biggest problem with it is that this form of taxation doesn’t discourage people from getting divorced. It only discourages people from getting remarried, so all it would do is result in the country having a lot more persistently single people instead of married people working harder to avoid divorce. Requiring that subsequent divorces be increasingly heavily taxed would be a more effective way to discourage serial divorces without discouraging marriage.
    Keep in mind that marriage is already purely a state matter, and the only aspect of DOMA that Obama has abandoned support on is section 3, which forbids just the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. This does not affect section 2, though. The constitution explicitly requires states to recognize marriages that were licensed in other states, though. Only the eligibility requirements for applying for a marriage license in that state and the rights that are afforded to married people can vary by state law. Section 2 of DOMA is what gives states the ability to deny the same rights to people in same-sex marriages, and even though it also seems blatantly unconstitutional, Obama is not refusing to defend that because there there are still legal arguments that can be made to justify trying to prevent its annulment. That doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be annulled from law, just that there are legal arguments that can still be made to support it. The administration just doesn’t see any point in continuing to spend money on trying to prevent the judicial branch from ruling section 3 as unconstitutional.


    1. If I’d meant any of this seriously, this would be the starting point of a great conversation. Since the sole intent was Swiftian satire, I’ll just egotistically chalk one up to my mad skills.


  4. I like, but it should be a proportion of individual assets rather than a fixed amount. Donald Trump could marry 16 times with no noticable effect, while this would prevent poor folks from using marriage as a way to deal with health insurance, debt, or children’s inheritance.
    (Do you notice that I’m totally taking you seriously? I am. But I still think that we should provincialize marriage and make it an artifact of the supernatural religion brokers, and have separable contracts for all other aspects.)


  5. The problem here is that you used “a modest proposal” for something that is actually, on further analysis, a good idea.


  6. underneath that crust of cynical humor lies a surprisingly insightful mind. I could not be more different from many of your friends and followers, but I think you have a very interesting idea here.
    of course, all attempts – no matter how clever – to substitute legislation for personal responsibility (which is what the divorce rate, and virtually all other societal ills, really boils down to) are going to fail to solve the problem in the end, but I think yours has a better shot than most.


    1. You may think you’re different from the rest of them, but we’re all nerds! NERDS! NERRDDSSSSSSSS
      The core of a good “modest proposal” is to have just enough truth and practicality in it to get the payload through. πŸ™‚


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.