Imagine you’re traveling one day, not far from your home, when you’re in an accident.
You’re taken to the hospital, unconscious and incapacitated, and the doctors are deciding what to do with you. Little do they know, the decision they’re leaning toward is not what you would have wanted for yourself in your condition. But you’re out like a light, so what are they supposed to do?
Well, listen to your spouse, that’s what they’re supposed to do. Once they show up, the hospital has to recognize your spouse as authoritative when it comes to making emergency medical decisions. And so you wind up getting the medical care you wanted but were unable to demand.
Of course, this time you got lucky. Had the accident happened in a different state with different marriage laws, they might not have recognized your spouse as your spouse. And your wishes would have been ignored, despite the fact that someone was standing right there telling the doctors what you wanted for yourself.
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Particularly in light of the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision, and Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to issue same-sex marriage certificates, we hear a lot about how government shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all. Marriage is a private, religious matter, the argument goes, and all government does is codify benefits and such.
But that’s mistaken. Government may have dipped its fingers into marriage in ways that it has no business doing (for instance, on taxes), but that doesn’t mean everything it does is illegitimate. One thing we absolutely want government to do is to force doctors and hospitals to recognize our spouses as our advocate when it comes to emergency medical situations. Otherwise, your wishes could just be declared inoperative and superseded by the doctors’ judgment and the government’s interests.
More than that, we want this recognition to be effective nationwide, so that our marriage is recognized in each state of the union, without having to get remarried each time we leave one state and enter another.
And that’s why we want government involved in marriage.
Really, this is no different from what we want when it comes to other relationships: we want government to recognize us as parents to our children, and to enforce our decisions about how they should be raised and on what is in their best interest. Granted, there are some exceptions to this, like when parents won’t allow their child to get a blood transfusion, and the government vetoes them. But, by and large, government is there to protect the rights of parents to raise their kids.
Without that protection, any number of private institutions – or even state or local governments – could override parents’ wishes for their children.
Now, the exact extent of parents’ rights is a matter of debate and is somewhat in flux, just like the exact legal status of marriage. In both cases, constitutional amendments are being proposed to clarify where things stand.
But the idea that government should simply have no role in these relationships whatsoever is just wrong. Government intervention isn’t all about inheritance rights and government benefits.
When it comes to your spouse or your kids or your parents, we want government there to recognize someone other than government as being our best advocate.
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