PHILOSOPHY – Political: Government and Marriage (Government’s Role) [HD]


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

Maurice Vega

18 Responses

  1. Until now I agree. Bit hard to reply on the subject at hand, when not everything has been presented yet. Still, I would like to say a few things

    I do think government should have a hand in marriage, similar to how they have a hand in the rights and privileges of family members. You are added to a register and seen as part of family 'x' and certain rights are granted to you concerning that family. Similar, marriage would be the bond between two families, through a couple, and with it, there should be similar rights and privileges given.

    Of course, we could completely make this private and only let families rights and concerns be set up by lawyers. Beside that being idiotically expensive, you also don't choose to be part of a family, you're born into it. And thus I think the social construct of family be handled in a matter that society deems 'ok', since a child cannot speak for themselves; which can be done through the government. Marriage would be the extension of this.

    I do think, over time, 'living together' will be more of a thing than actual marriage and the law will have to be adjusted (if it hasn't already – I don't personally live in america) to handle this. Until then, I don't see much that has to change. I'm already glad that equal rights are given to same-sex couples

  2. Despite the origins of the tradition of marriage, I think that, for a lot of people, it holds no religious symbolism. People who are not religious still marry, because a marriage (mostly) represents that their caring relationship is very strong and permanent. The benefits given to married couples are in place to make living so closely with another person during close and caring relationships easier to deal with. A marriage is just the people in the relationship stating that their relationship is caring and long lasting enough to warrant these benefits.

  3. Hey Elizabeth, will you talk about the issue of ''ageing'' in you part 2? As a political liberal discussion could about that the country could be endangered by gay marriage, because gay couples can not produce children.

  4. If marriage will provide any kind of financial benefit to couples, then denying it as a right to anyone is a violation of their civil liberty, PERIOD. If people have an issue with this, then this component should be removed. This is not about opinion.

  5. Essentially "marriage", as a description, should have no meaning whatsoever beyond describing some entity called a relationship. Does this relationship have to be between two people? If we are talking about people living fulfilled lives and being genuine in their feelings, it should be extended to any form of human contact with any other entity. There is a small segment of the population who feel genuine feelings toward inanimate objects, and human-like figures. Marriage as a concept is exclusive by its very nature which, secularly, has an arbitrary cut off defined by cultural norms. It annoys me that people who wish to intellectually justify same-sex marriage, act as if they are somehow more enlightened than their predecessors, when their definition is just as arbitrary as the one before. Loved the video as always ;)!

  6. This is a horrible argumentation, because you just leave kids out altogether. Which are the reason that the state gives benefits to married couples. Which is also the answer why the institution should be in state law. Because it benefits the country. Same-sex couples are useless for society, no one needs them. Actual marriages give the best known environment for children to grow up in. With their natural parents.

  7. We have to eat something, whether it be a pig or a pineapple, we have to eat something. Something must die in order for another thing to dine upon it. Therefore, it is morally permissible to kill anything for food – human, alien, plant, or animal – even if we don't need to; because if we don't, something else would have to die for us to eat.

  8. i do not think the state should not get involved in marriage or anything else i do as long as i do not hurt anyone or anything.
    so for now i am not going to get married but i think I should have same rights as someone who is.

  9. As someone who is for same-sex marriage, this was a very hollow argument based entirely on the emotional aspect and not at all with the practical. The government's role in marriage is a result of the government protecting and encouraging nuclear families. When these laws were created, people who were married were also people who raised children, and the government protects these individuals because raising children is resource intensive, time consuming, and difficult. Without long term growth and stability, nations inevitably topple and fail, and this means children are important to everyone, even if you never have children.

    I think there should be a legal decoupling of the emotional aspect of marriage from that of the child-raising aspect. If you have a marriage with someone, you should get hospital visitation rights, right to burial together, etc. If you are raising a child in partnership with someone, whether you are straight or gay, you should get the financial incentives and support of the society in recognition of how difficult that is and how important that is for the nation's future. Since it has been proven time and again how much single parenthood is significantly detrimental to raising children, those who choose to become parents despite not having a committed child-raising partnership with someone else should receive less support, if at all. The trend of governmental subsidies and welfare programs to people who are single parents has only exploded the problem and created more children ill-equipped to be productive citizens. As much as I dislike denying children of single parent households the support that dual-parent households would receive, the incentive to go it alone and not have to answer to a co-parent and still maintain a livable household only creates broken households. In this day and age, there is no excuse to bring children into the world without at least two stable individuals willing to work together because of birth control, abortion, and adoption. It is time we had higher expectations of people wanting to start families other than assuming that sexual maturity entails full maturity.

  10. Trudeau is quoting John Kerry from 1995. He doesn't own that quote, he didn't come up with it on his own. And, it was said in the context of the abortion debate. Trudeau is using it for political purposes, nothing more. It's a soundbite for him so he can pander to the distant, progressive left in Canada. I agree that the government should be as small as possible, and as much out of our lives as possible, marriage not withstanding. However, I find it interesting that you 'quote' Trudeau, one of the biggest Marxists/socialists/communists in the west. You played your cards early.

  11. Look I don't like same-sex marriage to be in a society. However I don't want to force the government to chose between legalising or criminalising same-sex marriage. The state should neither be in the affairs of marriage at teh first place. If there is any comprise between liberals and conservatives this is: the government should not impose any view of marriage

  12. Very unimaginative and shallow analysis of the subject. "…to a form of life it deems to have greater dignity or greater value." yea, let's just throw stupid assumptions and beliefs into the air without breaking them down, explaining them or analyzing their source. Since she just utters it like it is an obvious truth and moves on to the next subject while ignoring the evil in the root of this view, it seem to be her personal opinion that there is greater dignity or value to marriage, but you know what they say about opinions.
    If it were indeed the government's view, she should have quoted the source of that claim, but gov. doesn't have such bigoted principles. If you claim there is greater dignity and value to marriage, it is up to you to prove it. In fact. benefits to married couples are a remnant of post WWII view, according to, the more population, the better. Over the past 20 years, this view is no longer relevant or beneficial to anyone.
    Moreover, idolization of marriage is immoral, because it shames and delegitimizes people who don't share these orthodox-christian-catholic beliefs, that marriage is good, and you should live your life in your small cell of torture, and suffer your whole life, and pay for your "sins" of daring to express love to others.
    I support the right to marry. You should be able to marry whoever, how many you want to etc. but you don't have the right to coerce anyone into getting married or discriminating against us. That is, unless you want the next generation to suffer the consequences of an overpopulated world, which would include war over shortage and scarcity of means of production. And don't lecture me about the right "form of life" (did you mean "way of life"?). In fact, as I said, we, people who don't get married are making you, and the world, a favor. So dot't judge us, don't dis. us and we should get just as much benefits it not more.

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