One thing I’ve been guilty about saying in the past is, “no one should need the government’s permission to get married!” I agree. No one should have to get government’s permission to get married. However, is that really the case today? Does someone need to apply for a government license in order to be married?
Government isn’t stopping anyone (straight or gay) from having a wedding ceremony. Go ahead. The couple can write up their own contract and call each other husband and wife. There is such a thing as stateless weddings. Sure, the government won’t recognize your marriage.
That’s not the same thing as permission.
The real fight is over government benefits to legal married couples. Legal gay marriage advocates have long argued that it’s unfair that these benefits are available to straight couples, but not gay couples. These benefits include tax breaks, an expedited immigration process, hospital visitation rights, being able to add a spouse to health insurance, social security payments if a spouse dies, etc. Even couples who hate the thought of government in their marriage might bite the bullet and decide that the pros outweigh the cons.
You don’t need to have the government in your marriage, if you’re willing to forego the benefits.
When someone says that government should be out of marriage, what they are really arguing is that these government benefits shouldn’t be tied to marriage or done away with altogether. The debate isn’t about permission, it’s about government benefits.