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Let the Government Tell You When You’re Ready?

I have been hearing reports that a few counties are interested in putting waiting periods on obtaining marriage licenses unless the couples go through premarital counseling. Divorce rates are high, these people claim, and it is our responsibility as the people who allow marriages to make sure couples know what they’re getting into. These defenders claim that divorces cause social stress as well as economic stress, and it is their responsibility to try to correct the problem.

The counseling would come in the form of meetings that would focus on such things as communication skills, dealing with problem solving, compromising and the like. It wouldn’t be a matter of passing or failing; you would get your marriage license as long as you attended, even if you learned nothing. And what would the waiting period for a marriage license be? Three days if you take the counseling. Sixty days if you don’t.

However, there are a number of problems this idea poses.

First, the decision in one county to wait on giving out a marriage license doesn’t stop an anxious couple from going to the next county to get a marriage license. This merely makes people not want to marry in that particular county.

Second, couples can still hold out through the waiting period to get their marriage license, all without marriage counseling. Then the waiting period accomplishes nothing except putting off what the couple wanted in the first place.

Third, there is no clear definition of what kind of couseling would be done. Who decides what kinds of things need to be covered in these small sessions? The people running the sessions? What background do they have, and isn’t it possible their views would conflict with the people they are counselling?

Fourth, who gets to be the counselors? Therapists? Psychologists? Psychiatrists? That costs a lot of money. People with marriages that have worked well? With little training, they would hardly be effective. The lawmakers? I know that personally I don’t want the government to have as much intervention in my life as to tell me how to be a good wife.

Fifth, these counselling sessions are going to cost money. Therapy sessions cost $100 and up and hour, so how is this going to be cost-effective for all people to be able to utilize? The answer is that in order to make it cheaper, the additional paperwork, the counselors, the space people are even counseled in - would have to be supported by tax dollars. In other words, every single taxpayer is going to be paying money so that couples who want to get married can have cheaper counseling. Additional paperwork costs money. Additional staff members to accommodate the work costs money. The rent for space couples use for counseling costs money. The counselors cost money.

For married people and people who aren’t going to get married, or for people who are willing to wait and therefore don’t go through the counseling, this means they are forced to pay money for something they cannot utilize. I know this happens everywhere in our current tax system, but adding more to it is insulting. The citizens of the United States should not have to subsidize other people’s counselling. Counselling that the government is making them take.

Sixth, we have no idea if any sort of counselling or waiting period is effective at all in reducing the rate of divorce. In theory, all this expense, additional paperwork, and time consumed could amount to nothing. No studies have been done to test the effectiveness of this kind of plan.

Some religions offer counseling to people who plan to get married. Catholicism, for instance, requires people to go through a day-long seminars with their priest before that priest will marry them. Religious institutions have the right to do this, because people decide to be a part of an institution that imposes these restrictions. The United States government was designed with the rights of the individual in mind, and the idea of government-imposed counseling for couples who want to marry violates individual rights in two respects. One is that a couple should be able to get married, without the government forcing them to wait (the government is not supposed to apply force; it is supposed to protect its citizens from force). The other is that the government is forcing people to give up more of their money (in the form of additional taxes) and giving it to other people (the people being paid, and the people going through the counseling).

The government is not our moral regulator, nor should it ever be. And economic problems, in a capitalistic society, should be the concern of the individuals within the society, not the government. This is why these defenders are wrong when they claim that it is their responsibility to try to correct the problems of social and economic stress form divorce. The government has no reason - and no right - to intervene in people’s private lives. This includes intervening with marriage - and divorce. There may be a problem with divorce in America, but the government is not the group to solve it. We - as individuals - are.

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