A Tax on Love: The Social Conservative Case for Abolishing Marriage Licenses

By Brewer Arnoult

The Mississippi Senate recently voted to pass SB 2704, which more than doubles the tax on marriage licenses in the state of Mississippi, increasing the base cost of a marriage license from $21 to $50 for Mississippi residents.

Or to put it in a common 20 year-old Mississippian’s terms: the government thinks that a struggling soon-to-be college graduate “owes” them $50, if I decide I want to settle down with one woman– rather than sleeping around with multiple women or avoiding responsibility– and work to raise a family in Mississippi.

To add to the dilemma: I am also a practicing Catholic Christian, and I fully plan to marry in and through the Church. To a Catholic, marriage is a sacrament, like Baptism and Holy Orders, rather than just a community pledge.

Something is troubling about this thought: the government is taxing my desire to have what I believe is a marriage covenant, which many believe was instituted by God for one man and one woman at mankind’s beginning, as we read in the book of Genesis. This is no casual occasion, for God owns it. In Catholic Christian practice, the public marriage ceremony would typically be interfused with a Catholic Mass celebration as well. Catholic marriage moves beyond the social culture and into the spiritual realm.

My faith compels me to do it this way, and I find the Catholic Church way beautiful. From a conservative’s perspective, I also find our American value for freedom of religion, speech, and conscience a beautiful manifestation of both liberty and tolerance working hand in hand. The God-given right to practice faith and follow your conscience free of coercion and government discouragement, even if others disagree, makes me proud to support the Constitution and our country. However, taxing a church sacrament should bother conservatives and all who support religious freedom or the Bill of Rights.

Government-issued marriage licenses, which had originally been a tool for prohibiting interracial marriage in many states until 1967, have always been inclined by nature to also regulate marriage. At minimum, every state continues to steal money through them. In some states today, however, the government hasn’t stopped at taxing marriage. Allowing the government to “give permission” for marriage has led to the following hassles: requiring a blood test before marriage, assigning mandatory counseling classes before marriage, expiring marriage licenses, and mandatory waiting periods of up to five or six days in some states.

So whether it’s in the name of religious freedom, the Constitution, the free market, or just making life easier for young couples who want to do it the right way, it’s time to consider abolishing government-controlled marriage licensing.

For more information on Brewer and his work, check out his portfolio for The Coolidge Review.

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