Many libertarians this week are cheering an Alabama state senate bill that gets the government out of the marriage business altogether. Introduced by Rep. Greg Albritton, SB 377 would require future couples getting married in the Yellowhammer State to write up a contract instead of seeking a state license. As explained from AL.com:
The Republican senator from Albritton [sic] said the bill will take the state out of sanctifying marriages, and the probate’s office wouldn’t issue a marriage license. The legislation wouldn’t even require a couple to have a wedding.
“The sanctity of marriage cannot be sanctified by government of men,” Albritton said. “That is where we have gotten ourselves in trouble.”
Albritton’s bill would require couples wanting to be married to enter into a properly executed contract witnessed by two adults. The contract would then be filed in the probate’s office.
It’s easy to see why libertarians and constitutional conservatives would cheer such a policy push. For decades, liberty lovers have been calling to end marriage licensure as a way to end the gay marriage debate. Marriage, after all, is a historically religious institution that has evolved for centuries, and many cultures and religious groups have varying definitions of it even today.
While leaving the complex matter of marriage up to two consenting adults and their community is undoubtedly the best option in a libertarian utopia, the unfortunate reality is that doing so in the American legal system today would put a couple at significant disadvantage. To be specific, the federal government has a number of tax and entitlement benefits earmarked specifically for married couples, and Alabama’s failure to recognize a couple’s nuptials — gay or straight — could lead to a bureaucratic headache.
Without a marriage license, a couple cannot file taxes jointly, potentially resulting in thousands of dollars each year. Worse, a surviving spouse cannot receive an estate tax exemption or Social Security benefits when their loved one dies. The list goes on and on. Until the federal government recognizes contracts as an alternative to a marriage license, it seems to me that Senate Bill 377’s chances of enactment are bleak.