Daily Catch

Government does not belong in the marriage business

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I recently officiated my younger brother’s wedding.

It was a Southern Maine outdoor venue, and everything went perfectly. The ceremony solemnized their love, and two families were brought together. Everyone in attendance was happy — and the state of Maine was very happy, too.

You see, instead of sending a note of congratulations, the state of Maine sent an invoice — demanding payment for the privilege of getting married.

Every year, approximately 2.3 million couples get married in the United States. A marriage license costs between $10 and $115 depending on state and county, with a national average cost of $55 per couple. In York County, my brother paid $40 for his marriage license. Nationally, there is a transfer of approximately $126 million annually from the pockets of hardworking Americans to government agencies for marriage licenses. We should question the necessity of the financial burden, and also question whether the government should be involved in marriage at all.

The data are important here:

Unmarried men have a 250 percent higher mortality rate and unmarried people spend twice as much time in hospitals as married people. Children in married homes have higher GPAs, are less likely to be incarcerated, and have higher paying jobs compared to their peers. So why do we allowing Augusta to put a barrier between Mainers and the benefits of marriage?

For couples who can afford to throw large weddings, the $40 license fee may not be much . But for young couples who took a non-traditional path and had children before they got married, or for those who fell in love but had the financial burden of taking care of an elderly parent , the license fee becomes a significant cost.

In Maine, additional costs imposed on new families are especially problematic; almost 15 percent of Maine children live in poverty. Why is the State of Maine placing additional financial burden on people who need the benefits of marriage the most?

We know that marriage promotes healthier households. Maine’s policy of charging for the privilege of getting married means that, for the most vulnerable among us, the choice is between paying for a marriage license, and buying diapers.

As fees have risen in the last ten years, rates of marriage have dropped. While correlation does not necessarily mean causation, this cost is another barrier to those who want and need stability the most. To invest in our children, we should eliminate barriers to strong and healthy homes.

This is partially about financial burden, but it is also about general health. The health of families and children and the cultural costs we bear for those who grow up without the benefits of a married household. Maine should end its practice of requiring government permission to get married.

After all, marriage is about personal, religious and cultural traditions. Why should the state be licensing any of these personal choices?

We don’t need more government to solve these problems, we need government to get out of the way of happy and healthy relationships. My brother and his bride gained nothing from added bureaucracy on their wedding day, and neither do the millions of loving couples that get married each year.

Maine should eliminate the licensing of marriage entirely.

It is vitally important for our families, our children and for our country that we remove the financial barriers to marriage. Love shouldn’t cost a penny, nor is love any more or less real after being certified by government.

About Conner Drigotas

Conner Drigotas is the Director of Communications and Outreach at the Fairness Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm helping those who have been hurt by public-sector union officials. Prior to joining the Fairness Center, Conner managed local, state and federal political campaigns, and worked in the financial industry developing financial strategies for at-risk populations. He is also a wedding officiant. A native Mainer, Conner spends his free time hiking, fishing, and hunting with his fiancé Danielle. All opinions expressed are his own.

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