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Is Your Marriage Anyone Else's Business?

This issue always comes up during election years, doesn't it? Some of us find the news that a candidate left his wife for his mistress a bad sign. Others want to forgive it as a mistake or simply keep everything about a candidate's personal life off-limits.

I would argue, though, that marriages matter. They are not entirely private. They are not entirely our own business.

Yes, we make mistakes. LOTS of us make mistakes. Many of us cheat on our spouses, whether once or many times. Many abandon our spouses or decide it is just not worth dealing with our irreconcilable differences any longer.

But it is not entirely our own business.

Christianity Says Yes

Many Christian churches read Matthew 19:6 (repeated at Mark 10:8-9) at weddings: "Therefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." In other words, if any of you attending this wedding pursue one of them as a sex partner or spouse, or if you encourage one to abandon the other to better share their earnings or efforts with you, you're way out of line.

The Catholic Church outlawed secret marriage at the Council of Trent in 1563, when it required marriage banns, in which the bride's and groom's parishes were asked on three different occasions, "If any of you know cause or just impediment why these persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it." Among the reasons to be reported: living together before marriage, previous marriage not annulled or ended by the death of a spouse, or causing the spouse's death to get around that rule. This rule endured for 420 years, until 1983, and both the Lutheran Church and the Church of England went along with it, too.

The United States Says Yes

In the US today, the rules may have changed, but marriage licenses are still required, and they are a public matter. When I first married in 1973, we had to publish notice of our marriage in the local newspaper.

When you marry, your fellow citizens give you a rather large wedding gift. If one of you ends up supporting the other for any reason, we give the other one a nice tax break. In other words, we help pay the cost of supporting your spouse, because it is important and valuable to all of us that you do this.

When you marry, we cut you a break in court proceedings. You are as likely to know of your spouse's illegal misdeeds as a business partner or paramour, but you alone cannot be forced to testify to them. Why? Because this relationship is that important to the functioning of society.

When you marry and stay married for ten years, even if you later divorce, Social Security, a program funded by all of us who work for a living, gives you a choice of receiving the Social Security payment you personally qualify for or one based on what your spouse qualified for, and this continues beyond the death of your spouse. Free money, in many cases, to say thanks for staying married for at least ten years.

Buy a house and live in it alone or invite a friend to live with you, and you must pay tax on any capital gains in excess of $250,000 when you sell. In 2013, you may also need to pay Medicare tax on some or all of that $250,000, too. Bring a husband or wife to live in it with you for at least two years, and you can avoid both taxes on another $250,000 in capital gains. Your fellow taxpayers offer you up to $47,000 in additional tax savings just for being married.

Do married folks deserve all this? I think they do. They reduce welfare costs, home health care costs, long-term health care costs, disabled care costs, prison costs. Their lifestyle is typically greener. Even if they divorce, the law holds them responsible for each other's care through alimony and division of assets deemed to be shared regardless of who purchased them, much to the dismay of many who might prefer just parting company like two roommates moving on. Society invests in marriage because there is generally a good return, for society, on the investment.

Are Candidates' Marriages Our Business?

What does this have to do with candidates for president, vice president, senator, and representative? A good deal, I think. Forgive them for their private mistakes, sure. However, as you choose stewards for society's investments in our common good, consider how they have treated society's investments in their marriage(s). As you choose those who will untangle thorny problems in our relationships with other nations and with industries supported by government, take note of how they have handled the thorny problems in their primary relationship with a person of their own choosing, even if it ended in divorce or annulment.

Is Your Marriage Our Business?

Marriage is far from irrelevant and far from a private matter. We all have a stake in each other's marriages. I want so much for yours to be satisfying and long-lived. Please reach out if you need help insuring this. Not all marriages succeed, but many more could if we reached out to others instead of to those willing to put our marriage asunder for their own benefit.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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