And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack. And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and you may ask yourself … well…How did I get here? The Talking Heads 1980 song was released on their fourth studio album Remain in Light. The song was named one of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century by National Public Radio. The beginning of August marks my 25th Anniversary, which today is a real accomplishment. According to the Bureau of the Census, though based on data from 2009, only about 35 of all marriages lasted for 25 years. Hopefully we still have another 25 years to go and we can get a lot of applause in the old age home!
Marriage has been in the news a lot with the recent Supreme Court decisions legalizing same-sex marriages across the United States. While there is still a great deal of controversy surrounding the issue, I personally have a hard time thinking that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution does not apply to everyone. Of course that does not mean that the 1st Amendment does not apply either and governments forcing people to deny their religious beliefs is as problematic as not granting licenses simply due to a person’s gender.
The reason that I believe the 14th Amendment applies to marriage is that governments across the United States took it on themselves to require licenses for people to marry. For thousands of years marriage was not greatly regulated by the state, particularly in North America. Rather, marriages were private contracts between two families that generally did not even require the consent of the couple involved. While the Church of England required that individuals publish or orally announce in church a bann of marriage (from the old English word meaning proclamation), the separation between church and state generally kept the government out of marriage in the Colonies. This began to change in the latter part of the 18th century when both North Carolina and Tennessee, in order to prohibit interracial marriages began requiring marriage licenses. This extended to other parts of the country in the 1800s with the rise of Mormonism and its practice of polygamy, and became stricter over time as the notions of eugenics took root throughout America. By the 1950 all states required marriage licenses, and most required blood tests and enforced a range of bans on who could get married. In other words, the state began to regulate marriage in order to limit it to people that the government at the time believed would be suitable parents.
Over the last 60 years most of the bans – outside of age requirements – were lifted, but the government still took it on itself to require licenses, it seems mainly as a source of revenue for local and state governments. This very fact made the restrictions against gay marriages seem extreme, particularly as homosexuality became more recognized and open in society.
Government regulations of most types have unintended consequences and are often put into place for reasons that my simply no longer be necessary. And while there is substantial controversy surrounding the lifting of state bans on same-sex marriage, other outdated regulations are simply not being enforced, protecting favored groups or industries, or hampering economic growth. Regulations restricting taxi services to an entrenched monopoly against the ride sharing Uber service, or rent control regulations like those in New York and San Francisco that were put in place to help supply the Navy Yards in those cities with workers during the Second World War to those that require state licenses for barbers (as if they were still medieval doctors), protect entrenched interests at the expense of everyone else.
Things change over time. Even five years ago one would not have given same-sex marriage a great chance of being allowed nationally; however, public opinion changed on the issue rapidly. Fifty years ago interracial marriage was illegal in many states and today about 10 percent of couples are interracial. With luck, many of the other restrictive regulations that litter our local, state and federal codes will be removed. We only need to ask ourselves … well…How did I get here?