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Why is government in the marriage business?

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

Oregonians are busy debating whether the state should approve same-sex marriages. The better question would be, “Why is the state involved in marriage at all?”

As the government is concerned, marriage is primarily a contract between two adults. There’s no inherent reason why the state should regulate the nature of the transaction. If the state’s role were to simply enforce the terms of the contract, as is done in other areas of law, everyone would be free to pursue marriage in ways best suited to their particular beliefs.

There is ample precedent for this approach. Around the world, all kinds of state-run services are being privatized including government pension systems, electric utilities, highways and schools. This has a liberating effect on local culture. Instead of imposing a “one best way” on everyone, the door is opened to other approaches.
It’s often said that government intervention through taxation and regulation is the price we pay for a civilized society. But such oversight actually makes us less civilized-and more divided as a nation. It pits neighbor against neighbor in a never-ending culture war.

People can debate one or another detail of this issue but the fundamental point remains: Government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in the first place.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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