Utah is deeply concerned about the state of modern marriage…scratch that, Utah is deeply concerned about the state of a certain type of marriage that fits into the traditional nuclear family model that lawmakers are comfortable with. We know this because of how the legislature has responded to scary things like gay marriage (also known as “marriage”) by passing (unconstitutional) laws attempting to ban that form of marriage.
Of course, the state was ultimately unsuccessful in banning gay marriage, so, instead of overtly saying what type of marriage is legal in Utah, one lawmaker has chosen to be a little more covert in pushing his preferences.
[pullquote]This bill exposes a subtle bias taking place that amounts to a poll tax on marriage. To put it bluntly, this bill would penalize those who choose to marry that are not religious, homosexual, or both.[/pullquote] And so we turn to SB 29 – Utah Marriage Commission Amendments from Senator Allen Christensen (Republican – North Ogden).
The bill is a simple one – it would mandate that everyone seeking a marriage license in Utah would, in addition to having to pay the traditional processing fees associated with the licence, have to pay an additional $20 specifically towards the Marriage Education Restricted Account – a new fund created by the bill that is designed to “promote programs and activities that educate individuals and couples on how to achieve strong, successful, and lasting marriages.” Now, if a couple actually attends some form of pre-marriage education a year prior to the marriage or 90 days after the marriage, the state will refund the $20.
The bill does state that a couple must attend counseling from an ordained minister, someone that is allowed by the state to perform marriages by the state, or a counselor in order to receive the refund. The counseling must include premarital education or counseling that includes, as a minimum, discussions about commitment in marriage; the importance of providing a safe and nurturing environment for children; effective communication and problem-solving skills, including abound violence and abuse in a relationship; and effective financial management.
To be sure, readers would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t feel that these are important values to have in a relationship. But, this is the problem with the legislation. These are good things .- but one has to wonder why the state feels it is necessary to advocate for such skills by essentially dangling an iTunes gift card in front of a couple’s face.
It isn’t difficult to argue that it is in the state’s interest to try and impart these values into the population – from a purely budgetary standpoint, children who are not given stable households tend to have slowed development, perform worse in school, and have fewer opportunities as adults; adults who can better resolve their arguments and avoid violence and abuse mean that police officers need to be called less often to homes, freeing up more resources; and, as finances are a leading cause of divorce, better knowledge of financial matters could result in fewer divorces – freeing up more resources in the legal system.
However, one has to wonder then why Senator Christensen is attempting to require marriage classes through the use of a refundable tax that is so low that it really isn’t worth the time and effort to chase after, but just high enough to fund the coffers of the Utah Marriage Commission. After all, how many people actually return rebate forms when they go shopping on Black Friday? If the state truly has an interest in strengthing marriages through “strongly suggested” courses, the state should either require mandatory courses and/or testing prior to allowing the issuance a licence (just as we do for every other license in the state), or provide free courses to couples and penalize those who don’t attend with a more hefty fee prior to allowing a licence to be issued.
In reality, this bill exposes a subtle bias taking place that amounts to a poll tax on marriage.
To put it bluntly, this bill would penalize those who choose to marry that are not religious, homosexual, or both. Why? Because of the allowance of clergy to be an authorized counselors.
If a couple attends regular services they will have easy access to an individual that can provide and certify training. This training will, most likely, be in relatively close proximity to one or both of the betrothed’s home. In addition, these institutions will most likely provide an easy framework for allowing couples to apply for the refund once they have actually received the marriage license.
Non-religious heterosexual couples will have the extra hurdle of having to find a marriage/life skills counselor that is available – and there is no guarantee (particularly in more rural settings) that the counselor will be close to a home or work. Homosexual couples will have the added burden of finding a marriage/life skills counselor who doesn’t object to the union and is willing to provide the training to the couple – making it even harder to find a counselor and, thereby, able to apply and receive the refund.
This bill is subtle government interference at its finest if only because it sounds so reasonable on its surface. But the reality is that it creates a de facto bias against certain marriages that some within government feel are “less desirable.” All appears fair on the surface until you actually start to dig in and think about the consequences of what the bill does.
No, $20 is not a lot of money – but that isn’t the point. A poll tax of $1 in 1900 is roughly worth $20 in 2016 dollars. These poll taxes were found to be a fundamental infringement on the basic right to vote and was seen as a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. As the state likes to point out, there is nothing more fundamental than the family and, by extension, marriage. By this logic, then, it could be easily argued that Christensen’s bill would cause a fundamental infringement of the 14th Amendment – offering it as a refund is just an attempt to sugarcoat this fact and try to make it appear as though this provides an option to the couple to still be married, but suffer a slight penalty for not doing it the way the state would prefer.
Offering courses and training for couples isn’t a bad idea – but the way Christensen has structured this bill is ineffective at best and underhanded and deceitful at worst.
To contact Senator Christensen, click here or call 801-782-5600 (Home).
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