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Why Not Privatize Marriage? Here’s Why

Law professor Colin P. A. Jones argues that marriage should be privatized — severed from public control and laws. Writing in The San Francisco Chronicle, he set forth his case:

A fundamental problem with marriage is that it only comes in one size. As a legal relationship, matrimony is a monopoly product supplied by the government. At the same time, however, as a personal relationship, the institution has unique, personal importance to those who partake of it. To some it even has deeply felt religious significance.

Thus, there is a mismatch between what is demanded of marriage and what is supplied. It is this imbalance that makes the prospect of same-sex unions a seemingly intractable problem. Because there is only one legally sanctioned version of marriage, those who personally view homosexuality as a mortal sin (rightly or wrongly) are hostile to the prospect of sharing it with gay couples. As with many things in life, a free-market solution that offers people choice may provide a solution.

Well, you can see where this argument is leading. Just trust the marketplace and the business model, he asserts.

Couples entering into marriage should be able to use a partnership agreement that is tailored to their own circumstances and aspirations, one that reflects the values and expectations that they themselves attach to marriage. Of course, it will be impractical to expect everyone to be able to draft a workable partnership agreement that will govern a (hopefully) lifelong relationship. Off-the-shelf marital partnership kits would be developed by lawyers and other private enterprises to fill this need. Customized products would be available, too.

Even greater participation could be achieved through the establishment of marital corporations (MCs), which could have hundreds or thousands of couples as shareholders, all sharing common values about marriage. Couples getting married would subscribe to the shares of an existing marital corporation. Its charter documents would set forth the terms of the marriage to which the subscribing couples agree. Here is where a plethora of choices would become available to prospective newlyweds.

This is just what we need — a “plethora of choices” for those who would marry. Why, we may ask, does Jones stop with a couple? Why not a free market union of several or of many persons? Actually, he suggests that polygamist corporations should be allowed.

His conclusion?

There are, after all, as many types of marriage as there are marriages. Recognizing this reality in the law would doubtless save us all from endless strife among those who would seek to turn the institution into something that they control through defining what it is. The tremendous business opportunities that privatizing marriage would create would be a happy side benefit.

So, privatizing marriage would also create “tremendous business opportunities” as a “happy side benefit.”

Market economies have produced unprecedented wealth and the free market seems to be the best economic system yet devised. It rewards labor and investment while decentralizing authority. A quick look around the world should be sufficient to sustain this judgment.

Nevertheless, markets do not always encourage or support moral behavior. Here is a classic example–a libertarian and free market argument for destroying marriage as a public institution.  Marriage is not just another commercial partnership.