Debate:Should the federal government have the power to define marriage?

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The issue of what should constitute marriage has, of course, been debated at length of late in this country. However, I think another key issue is being overlooked in the process: should the federal government have the right to define marriage?


Yes. Due to the many tangible benifits a marriage license brings (tax credits, inheritance, etc), the government should be able to define who gets what right. However, the government has no place telling two loving adults that their relationship is false and they cannot wed. CraigC 19:22, 22 May 2008 (EDT)

That's begging the question; those "tangible benefits" are examples of government definition/regulation of marriage. Claiming that they should have the power to define and regulate marriage because they've already defined and regulated marriage is circular logic. --Benp 17:34, 5 June 2008 (EDT)


I stand in this camp, for a number of reasons. First among these is the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." I don't believe that anyone can make a credible case for the notion that the Founding Fathers did not consider marriage to be an "establishment of religion." Thus, as I see it, Congress has no right to attempt to dictate the definition of marriage to people of faith, no matter how noble their intentions may be.

The normal justification provided is that marriage has financial benefits, and thus Congress has the power to regulate it as a form of "commerce." This, I think, is a particularly disingenuous back-door route into areas where Congress has no business.

Before anyone leaps to defend Congress on the grounds that they're simply trying to defend marriage by imposing a definition, I would urge that you look to the long run: once we allow Congress to claim this power, it will be extremely difficult to revoke it. A more liberal Congress somewhere in the future could, using the same self-granted power, attempt to redefine marriage in a manner not to the liking of Christians, conservatives, and traditionalists. Is that a door we really want to open?

I believe that no church should be required to acknowledge a marriage that violates the tenets of their faith; consequently, I favor removing government-granted benefits from marriage and conferring them on some sort of purely secular union. Thus, we would render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's--tax benefits and fiscal matters--and render unto God that which is God's--the sacrament of marriage.

--Benp 18:55, 7 May 2008 (EDT)

Benp, "marriage" in the context of government is simple - it is about having the right to obtain a civil marriage license from the government, and to receive all of the rights abnd privileges associated with being legally married from the perspective of the law. One can be married in the eyes of the government without ever participating in a religious ceremony. The government is also not permitted to make any religion endorse or perform marriages that are not recognized in that faith. A good example is that the Catholic Church is not obliged to marry anyone in a Catholic ceremony who is not eligible by their criteria, including people who are divorced by civil law but still considered married to their prior spouse(s) by the Catholic Church. Allowing divorced people to remarry without a church annulment is already an affront to orthodox Catholics, so society has precedents for civil law allowing the freedom to live private lives without bowing to the traditions of one faith or another. --DinsdaleP 18:20, 5 June 2008 (EDT)
But, again, those "rights and privileges" are not inherently part of marriage; they're things the government has, over time, linked to marriage. There's nothing about marriage that inherently carries tax benefits with it, for instance. It seems to me that it would be better to draw a clear line of demarcation between marriage (in which I think the government has no business meddling) and civil benefits (which could easily be conferred through a separate "civil union.") --Benp 18:41, 5 June 2008 (EDT)

The powers of a federal government should be limited to the aspects of society that have a clear and undeniable need to be maintained on a national level versus a state or local level. Defense of the nation, interstate commerce, and basic freedoms (speech, press, etc.) are clearly best defined and managed at the federal level, but something that is subjective and values-based like marriage should not be.

In cases like this, the burden of proof is on those who want to define and legislate marriage at the federal level, and the question they need to answer is this: "What is the compelling justification for this not to be handled at the state & local level, and who is harmed if it's not federal? --DinsdaleP 14:06, 21 May 2008 (EDT) To argue for something

The government should not have the power to define marriage. Marriage should not be taken into consideration when filling taxes, suing for wrongful death, inheritance, hospital visitation, or immigration. The laws against polygamy, polyandry, adultery should removed from the books. The government should instead limit itself to enforcing contracts between (two or more) people. Once the government says "you two people get this benefit because you are married", it is in the business of defining marriage. --Rutm 15:15, 21 May 2008 (EDT)