(1) Consequentialism can argue for all sorts of weird thing. Last week I attended a talk by a consequentialist who argued that premarital abstinence is immoral.
(2) The arguments mentioned are all from the armchair, but of the claims being made involve assumptions about welfare that can be tested. For example, the author assumes that children of heterosexual married couples demonstrate no statistically significant differences from children of one or more nonromantically attached adults. This might not be true. Longitudinal studies could decide this. In fact, some data might already exist as a result of behavioral data banks. Perhaps analysis is the only thing between these arguments and some empirical answers. Whatever the case, until we have data showing how the privatization of marriage can actually make people better off (or produce more utility, etc), I think we can be skeptical of a move towards the privatization of marriage. Making a decision without the germane data would be to opt for a “trial and error” approach to government policy.
(3) I wonder what might happen to idea of ‘family’ if marriage was privatized (or if it became no different than joint guardianship of children). As it is, people frequently use the idea of ‘family’ as a way of expressing their commitment to one another.
1: I lost my job and I have run out of savings.
2: Well you are welcome to stay with us until you’re back on your feet.
1: Wow. Really?
2: Sure. That’s what family is for, right?
I used to spend a good deal of time with homeless people. It seems that quite a few of them would not have been homeless had they had someone in their life with this kind of commitment to them. Some were orphans. Others were children of single parents who could not support them. (disclaimer: I am not saying homelessness, on the whole, is a result of parents not being married).
If the kind of commitment mentioned above would be the same between romantic heterosexual couples and nonromantic partners, then I that would be one reason not to doubt the privatization of marriage. However, theories of evolution indicate that this kind of altruism might only occur when one’s own genes could prosper. If this is true, the heterosexual couples producing their own children will have greater (natural) motivation to be committed to their ‘family’ than two non-romantically attached adults. So again, we might demand empirical data showing how privatization of marriage would make us better off.
(You might notice that I disagree with the author’s belief: “the state should not promote marriage among adults as a way to establish parent responsibility or to avoid poverty.” ‘Family units’ occur naturally and prove beneficial. Though some might disagree, I do not think a government is crazy for supporting this natural and beneficial ideal.)