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Separate marriage and state?

By Scott Tibbs, July 9, 2014

Along with the controversy over homosexual marriage nationally and in the state of Indiana, there has been some discussion among libertarians about getting government out of the marriage business altogether. I do not necessarily disagree with the idea, but simply saying government should get out of marriage is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy unless a concrete solution is offered in how to separate the two.

The question for people proposing separating marriage and state is obvious: How do you propose getting government out of marriage? Revamping the tax code alone would present a long and complicated task. All exceptions (and penalties) for married couples would vanish. Married couples would either need to file as individuals, and would lose the automatic exemption under the inheritance tax.

That is only the beginning of the tax consequences. One possible change could be a generic "household" filing status so people living in the same residence would combine their income for tax purposes. This could cover situations like a fully-employed adult offspring living with (and possibly caring for) a parent who also has income.

But again, this would require a massive overhaul of the tax code - and there are many more consequences of being married in the law than just in the tax code.

We should also not forget that the preferential status of marriage in the tax code, and other areas of law, were designed to promote and encourage marriage. This provides an economically stable and a statistically much safer place for children to grow up. We should be wary of throwing out these benefits in an effort to eliminate the political controversy of whether government should recognize homosexual marriages.

Whatever one's position on homosexual marriage may be, it is simplistic to just declare that government should get out of the marriage business altogether. (And no, that position does not mean "banning" marriage for everyone, regardless of what some hysterical pundits are screeching about.) It is a much more complicated issue than simply eliminating the national and statewide political controversy over homosexual marriage.