The question Why do governments legislate marriage? has good answers about why the State has a [historic] incentive to legislate marriage. I'll briefly state interconnected definitions of marriage mentioned in the answer:

  1. A spiritual/romantic union of a set of people into a family.
  2. A legal contract between a set of people (either explicit, or implicitly governed by prevailing laws). This is of course the main Wiki/dictionary definition.
  3. An economic union of a set of people into a family to promote economic well-being.
  4. A cultural construct (an evolutionary stable strategy) which evolved in order to both regulate procreation, and to channel lower-status males into supporting and caring for offspring and society.

My question is this:

Given that the first definition is no business of the State, and three others could be handled by the existing tools, (contracts, family support, etc.), why is there no broad movement in, at least the democratic countries, to drop marriage as a legal concept and live with the concept of family instead, (which, as a nice side-effect, could solve many hot issues of today and of near past)?

  • 1
    Children will still stick around the female. And if male cares enough for his offsprings he will be near. This reads A LOT as "the mother has the obligation of taking care of the children, the father has the option of taking care of them, but is free to do not." Is that really what you meant?
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 14:32
  • No, I'm just stating the situation. The State, I suppose universally, forces the obligation already, if the male fails to by himself, but the "certificate of marriage" does not "force".
    – dEmigOd
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 16:08
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    Possible duplicate of Why do governments legislate marriage?
    – user4012
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 19:19
  • It's not clear to me which 'State' you refer to. I think different states might regulate marriage and guardianship differently, so it might be hard to answer questions in a general sense.
    – JJJ
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 20:11
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    If you establish only the biological mother as the guardian, that makes it a lot less attractive for the father to put in the effort, since he ultimately won't get to make any decisions.
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 20:34

2 Answers 2



Basically; not enough people care enough to get this on the political agenda. Politicians realize it doesn't get them any votes (or lobbying money, depending on the type of place they live in) if they spend effort on it and the general population doesn't rank the concern high enough to change who they vote for if opinions on the subject differ.

The amount of money and effort required to eliminate marriage is huge, given that you need to figure out how to deal with all the marriages in effect, change many laws to work with the new setup, inform the population of how this is going to work, figure out how other countries are going to take your new setup, etc, etc, etc.

Compare it to the struggle just to get marriage changed enough so that same-sex partners can get married. That's a situation where at least a lot of people are loudly complaining about the current system, where the solution is relatively straight-forward, and where the public sentiment has been moving towards "we should have this" for decades, with a majority of people approving for a long time.

And it's still been an uphill battle around the world, because people fight the idea of change and not a lot of politicians are willing to really put in the effort. You're asking for an even bigger change, with an even bigger impact on the laws, with an even smaller group of people who actually care about the issue.

Just an idea being better is, unfortunately, not enough to get in on the political agenda. But hey; a broad movement to get bad things fixed begins with a handful of people asking "why isn't this movement there yet?" and then starting it. So why not get started? You might get some results in, say, 30 years or so. And if that makes you think "too much effort", there's your answer.

  • I disagree. Recent US political history shows that people do care very much about marriage laws. Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 15:51
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    @DJClayworth Very few seem to care about eliminating them completely though.
    – Andy
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 0:45
  • @DJClayworth: I haven't observed any significant ado about what marriage means. I have seen a lot of acrimony about who can marry whom. I've seen people who want the government out of marriage, but no particular will to make it happen. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 22:00
  • If you haven't noticed any conflict over marriage laws in the US then you haven't been paying attention. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 22:34
  • Given that there is currently more support for gay marriage than opposition to it if you look at the polls, the fact that it's still taking years and years of struggle shows there is still a lot of intertia. People and politicians are still fighting the idea of change and it's taking a 60-30 support for gay marriage to get things underway, and even then it's a slow struggle.
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 5:01

Two reasons.


Because historically, marriage has been considered part of a society, and regulating society has been in general considered part of keeping good order, and so falls to government. Society expects that marriage is long term, exclusive (in at least that you not marry more than one person at once), and that it comes with certain obligations to the spouse and children. The government is expected to enforce such restrictions, and in general to enforce societal norms.

Less Historically

It's a reasonable question to ask why governments don't abandon this, and let anyone marry whoever they want. While some of the historical reasons persist (and many would argue should persist), the main point is that certain benefits - tangible and intangible - continue to be given to those in a marriage. For example, insurance companies, pension schemes and governments are expected to make certain payments to spouses of those who die or are sick. If marriage is completely unregulated nothing prevents a person from marrying 100 others and claiming benefits for all. In such a situation the government would have to abandon every benefit that depended on marriage (including common-law marriages).

  • If the marriage becomes a contractual thingie, then you either sign 100 different benefit contracts with insurance companies, or you don't. In the later case you can't claim a thing.
    – dEmigOd
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 5:08
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    The question was about marriage vs family and not marriage vs possibility of 100 marriages.
    – Communisty
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 7:46
  • The benefits would in that alternate universe be obviously divided between the constituents.
    – Communisty
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 7:50
  • Moreover, there are existing practices, where more than one female is allowed to marry the same male (by religion I suppose). In my country, the State pretends the first one is married and the others do not get that status, but in reality the benefits are nonetheless given to all of them. Not only this is our universe, it is already happening.
    – dEmigOd
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 8:20

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